I sent my kids to the grocery store with an empty wagon, $35, and a list…here’s what happened.
It was a Sunday afternoon and my youngest child was out with my husband. I was cleaning the house and getting ready for the week ahead. My big kids (seven and ten) were underfoot and creating clutter everywhere! (Did I mention I was attempting to clean?) I was getting ready to meal prep and I was missing a few things. So…. I sent the kids to the store. We live about a half-mile from our town center, which happens to be a quaint little village. My kids are comfortable out and about without me and I’m at ease with it as well.
This little trip would shoo them out of my hair, and get me the groceries I needed. Win-win. I gave them $35, which was more than what they would need, a list, and our wagon. They were instructed to walk straight to the market and then back home. No stops along the way.
I trust them to follow my instructions because they’ve practiced for years. We started when they were very little. I would allow them to drop something at the next-door neighbor’s house all by themselves when they were three years old. I would watch through the window as their self-confidence EXPLODED. As they matured, I provided them with the opportunities to go a little farther. In the grocery store, I would let them go to another aisle, get one thing and come straight back. They practiced ordering from the deli counter at a very young age. They know how to order food in a restaurant and how to ask for directions to the restrooms. When they were little, and even sometimes now, I watched and stayed nearby to keep them safe. They all learned our phone number and last name just as soon as they could talk. (I taught them by making up a little song to help them memorize it).
So, on that Sunday, Nate and Ruby went to the store, filled the wagon with what they needed and returned home. They were happy, I was happy. Off they went to play.
Later that evening, I asked them how it went, and what challenges, if any, they ran into. They looked at each other and giggled. Then they explained the two main issues they ran into.
The first problem was that the wagon wouldn’t fit through the narrow doors of the supermarket. They didn’t know where to park it because they were worried it would get taken or that it might roll away. They weren’t sure they’d be able to carry the groceries home if they didn’t have the wagon. After some discussion, they decided on a spot they thought would work and it did.
The second issue they encountered was when the store was out of our usual brand of whole milk. They couldn’t decide if they should skip it altogether or buy another kind. In the end, they decided to purchase another brand.
Neither of these situations are particularly problematic. Nothing bad would have happened if they had made an alternative decision. The important thing is that they had the opportunity to problem solve in the real world when the stakes were low.
I’m going to say that again because I think it is so important. They had the opportunity to problem solve in the real world when the stakes were low. Why is this so important? I fear that many of our children are not learning how to navigate situations without us or without relying on technology to solve the problem for them. Giving children the opportunity to practice important life skills when they are young is crucial to how they will handle real life when they are older and the stakes are much, much higher.
And no, my kids did not have a cell phone to bring on their journey. If they had one with them, what do you think they would’ve done when they ran into problem number one? They would’ve called me and asked me to solve the problem for them.
As parents, it is so tempting to keep our children cocooned up as long as we can. We are hardwired to want to catch them before they fall. But what if we thought of keeping them safe in another light? What if we thought about letting them fall down while we are still here to help them get up? I want my kids to learn how to fail. They must know how to face a small problem before they can attempt a big one. They need to get lost so they can practice finding their way home. They need to develop confidence in their ability to help themselves. I am teaching them to trust their own instincts and abilities by giving them the opportunity to practice.
Do you allow your children some independence? I know it is not your typical sighting to see a seven and ten-year-old shopping alone at the grocery store...
Please let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments below. Thank you for reading and for following along on my parenting journey.