Sanity-saving strategies for running errands with toddlers

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Running errands with toddlers can be daunting for any parent or caregiver. Whether it’s a quick trip to the grocery store or a more extended outing, keeping a toddler entertained, comfortable and safe can be a challenge. But with some planning, preparation and the right tools, running errands with toddlers can become a manageable and enjoyable experience.

A toddler holding an orange above a shopping cart.
A toddler holding an orange above a shopping cart. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

There are a variety of sanity-saving strategies, planning tips, safety measures and packing essentials for running errands with toddlers.

Whether you’re a seasoned parent or a new caregiver who needs to handle something urgently or are just looking for an activity to get through the day, these tips and tricks will help you easily navigate your next errand outing.


Schedule your errands for a time when your toddler is well-rested and fed. Avoid going out during your child’s nap time or when they are hungry, as this can lead to meltdowns and tantrums.

Try to limit your errands to a few critical tasks and keep them short. This will help your toddler stay focused and prevent boredom or restlessness.

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Plan ahead

Before running errands, make a list of the places you need to go and the items you need to purchase. This will help you stay focused and avoid unnecessary trips.

If possible, try to visit stores that are located near each other to save time.

You will also want to decide how your child or children will get around the store:

  • Shopping carts with child seats: Some stores offer shopping carts with built-in child seats, which can be a great way to keep your toddler safe and contained while you shop. Use the seat’s safety strap and keep your child buckled up.
  • Strollers: Bring a stroller with you, allowing your child to ride comfortably while navigating through stores. If possible, keep an umbrella stroller in your car. These strollers are small, sturdy and will come in handy for errands where your toddler doesn’t want to walk around anymore or you need to keep them contained.
  • Baby carriers: Baby carriers are an excellent tool for parents who need to run errands with a toddler in tow. They allow you to keep your hands free while keeping your child close and secure.

Shopping cart safety

Improperly putting your toddler in a shopping cart can lead to serious injury. Be sure to only use a cart with a safety strap that buckles to secure your child in place. Do not allow your toddler to stand up in the cart or ride outside the cart.

Be sure to keep the cart stable and avoid placing bulky items on one side of the cart, which could cause it to tip over.

You should never leave your child unattended in the cart. Always keep the shopping cart within arm’s reach.

What to pack

Pack essential items to help keep your child comfortable, happy and entertained while running errands.

A woman packing a bag with diapers while seated on a chair.
Packing bag for running errands. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Consider packing things like:

  • Diapers, wipes and a changing pad: These are must-have items for parents of toddlers who are still in diapers.
  • Snacks and drinks: Pack snacks, like these homemade Cheez-Its or granola bars, and drinks for your child to keep them satisfied and happy while you run your errands. Consider using snack cups and water bottles with spill-proof lids. This will avoid any potential messes if cups get dropped in the store.
  • A favorite toy or stuffed animal: A familiar toy or stuffed animal can provide comfort and entertainment for your toddler while you’re out.
  • Entertainment: Bring along some books, toys or a tablet to keep your child occupied while you run your errands. While relying on screens to keep your toddler occupied is not always ideal, sometimes it’s necessary. Download age-appropriate apps or videos to keep your toddler entertained for a short period. Look for apps with games, songs and interactive activities. Consider purchasing a phone clip that can attach right to shopping carts so that your child can easily watch videos or play games on your phone without worrying about them dropping the phone.
  • Extra clothes: Bring extra clothes in case your child spills something or has an accident.
  • Sunscreen and hat: If any errands are outdoors, pack sunscreen and hats to protect your child from the sun.
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes: These are useful for cleaning hands and surfaces to help prevent the spread of germs.

“When I run errands with my toddler, I try to go right after he has eaten and with enough time to finish before naptime. I bring along a couple of books and a sippy cup of water. I talk to him a lot and explain what I’m doing and where we are going. When I have a choice to make, I let him help me choose so he is involved and feels important.”

— Heidi Bruaw, Real Life of Lulu

Give them a job

Giving toddlers simple tasks to do while running errands can help keep them involved and happy and provide opportunities for learning and development.

Toddler holding hand with parent walking in store.
Toddler walking with a parent in a store. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

“Running errands with my toddler girl can be super fun if I do it at the right time and in a way that it’s enjoyable for her. I make sure she is well rested, fed and knows what we’re doing. My girl loves feeling important by helping. So I give her small tasks like picking the fruit when grocery shopping and placing it in the bag. That way she knows what’s her responsibility and actually helps.”

— Tamara, Thriving In Parenting

Some examples of jobs you can give a toddler while running errands:

  • Holding the shopping list: Toddlers can help hold the shopping list and “cross off” items as you find them.
  • Picking out items: Allow your toddler to help pick out items and put them in the cart.
  • Pushing the cart: If your toddler is old enough and capable, let them push and steer the cart (with supervision).
  • Carrying a small bag: Give your toddler a small bag with a few items to carry, like a snack or toy.
  • Putting items on the conveyor belt: Let your toddler help put items on the conveyor belt at the checkout.
  • Helping to pay: If your toddler is old enough, let them help hand over money or swipe a card to pay for items.
  • Finding the car: When leaving a store, let your toddler help find the car in the parking lot.

Unexpected errands

If you have to run errands with your toddler unexpectedly and don’t have much time to plan or prepare, there are still things you can do to keep them occupied and happy.

  • Talk and engage with your toddler: Engaging your toddler in conversation can help keep them occupied and provide an opportunity for learning and development.
  • Point out interesting things: While you’re out, point out interesting things in the store for your toddler to look at.
  • Play simple games: In the car or store, play simple games like “I Spy” or “Simon Says” to keep your toddler entertained.
  • Sing songs or play music: Singing songs can help distract your toddler and keep them happy. If you’re stuck in a car while running errands, play some of their favorite music to keep their spirits high.

Be flexible

Toddlers can be unpredictable, so it’s important to be flexible and adapt to changing situations. It’s okay to cut an errand short or skip it altogether if your child is struggling.

  • Be patient and understanding: Remember that toddlers are still developing and may not have the same level of patience and self-control as adults. Be patient and understanding if your child is struggling. Offer your child comfort and reassurance if they’re feeling scared or overwhelmed. A hug or kind words can go a long way.
  • Keep a sense of humor: Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but keeping a sense of humor can help lighten the mood and keep everyone smiling.
  • Redirect their attention: If your child fixates on something causing stress or frustration, try redirecting their attention to something else.
  • Take breaks: If you’re feeling overwhelmed or your toddler is getting fussy, take a break to regroup and reset. Find a quiet spot to sit and take a few deep breaths.
  • Focus on the positive: Instead of focusing on the challenges of running errands with a toddler, focus on the positive moments and small victories.
  • Use positive self-talk: Talking to yourself positively and encouragingly can help you stay motivated and upbeat.
  • Reward yourself: It can be challenging to run errands with toddlers. Feel free to reward yourself with coffee or ice cream, like this keto frosty, for taking on the challenge.

Final thoughts

Be realistic about what you can accomplish and prioritize the most critical tasks when running errands. Try to tackle only a little in one outing. Remember that toddlers can be unpredictable, so be prepared to change your plans if needed. If your child becomes upset or overwhelmed, take a break or go home and try again another day.

Sara Nelson is the food blogger behind Real Balanced, a site that shares easy and balanced recipes. Since 2017, she has shared delicious, nutritious, and allergy-friendly recipes with thousands of blog readers and social media followers. Sara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and their dog.

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