Shop, Shop and You Don't Stop

The back-to-school shooping breakdown, in three manageable steps.

It’s August, which means by this time you’re probably overjoyed at the prospect of emptying the house of messes, spats and dirty footprints. But before the reward of seven hours of daily peace can be yours, there’s one more trial to endure: the back-to-school-clothes shopping trip.
Let this be the year you do it with maximum efficiency and minimum yelling. Seriously. This can be you.

Plan Ahead
“Know what you need and where you want to go,” says Ellen Ferrone, a preschool teacher at Valley Christian Preschool in Chagrin Falls, “and set reasonable limits on what you can accomplish in one day.”

Then communicate this to your children. For example, tell Junior and Sis that you’re going to Dillard’s, the Gap, the ice cream store (strictly for good little ladies and gentlemen) and then home. “Make sure they know the agenda. Then stick to it,” she says. And, always give the five-minute (or 10-minute, or 10-second) warning about what’s next so your little Shopalong Cassidy can easily shift gears.

Plan ahead by calling stores in advance to schedule your shopping trip. Fran Broda, store manager of Nordstrom at Beachwood Place, says sales clerks will happily pull sizes and styles according to a parent’s needs, and can even have a dressing room all set to go. “Families can breeze in, try on clothes and breeze out in half the time it would take unassisted,” says Broda. Nordstrom offers this as a free service, and many smaller, boutique-type stores would likely oblige as well.

MJ Lehman, owner of the local Nicky Nicole stores, encourages parents to lean on the built-in expertise of boutique store employees. “We are very familiar with the inventory,” she points out. “We can advise you on sizes and make suggestions to help complete the looks.”

Come Prepared
Part of this step involves knowing what you need to buy, and part involves knowing what your children need to keep calm.
Before you go, take inventory. Try on clothes from last year to see what still fits, and set a plan for exactly what you need to buy and how much you would like to spend. Make a list, and try to stick to it.

Also, stock your purse with Cheerios, juice boxes, lollipops, video games or other toys — whatever will appease a bored or fussy child. When it comes to behavior on a shopping trip, plan for the worst but expect the best. “And give lots of praise when you get it,” says Ferrone.

Involve and Engage
This is where the real fieldwork comes in. You have two strategies depending on your kids’ ages and interests.

For children who like to shop and pick out clothes, let them in on the decision-making process. “But don’t overwhelm them with choices,” says Ferrone.

Lehman suggests picking two or three items you like so your child can choose between them. She gets to participate and have fun, but you’re still in control of the shopping.

If your kids haven’t quite reached that stage yet, take advantage of stores with distractions. Gymboree stores usually have children’s programs on a TV in front of child-sized chairs. Nordstrom has a coloring table in the shoe department, and gives away free balloons to anyone who asks. In stores without these lifelines, play a game of I Spy, find colors or shapes, or count how many ball caps (or strollers, or yellow shirts) you can spot.

The Last Resort
If all else fails, bag the shopping trip and go online. Almost every brick and mortar store has an easy-to-navigate Web site. As long as you know your child’s sizes and styles, you should have no trouble. Returns can often be made in person at the corresponding store, so don’t worry about having to ship back items that don’t work out. Internet shopping is great for basics like socks and underwear, and perfect for shopping for infants and toddlers.

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