How do I handle my child who wants to touch everything in stores?

Everyone likes to touch interesting and attractive objects. Adults in stores are drawn to gadgets they can manipulate and products they can pick up and feel. Children also want to handle what they see in stores, but many store owners and parents are too impatient or fearful to let children touch.

Touching is one of the main ways your child learns about things around her, especially in new surroundings. Young children explore with their hands and often can only “see” something by feeling it. One three-year-old told her mother, who was holding an interesting object right in front of her daughter’s eyes, “I can’t see that far.” The child was really saying that she wanted to touch it.

When children shop with their parents, struggles often develop as parents pick up, handle, and buy items, and children want to do the same. And because most stores try to display their products in the most attractive and appealing ways possible, the temptations for a child to touch are great. Parents usually keep their children from handling merchandise because they’re worried about items getting broken. While it’s true that young children don’t understand the consequences of breaking things, it’s also true that most children, if properly supervised, won’t damage items in a store. Parents can hold fragile objects for close-up viewing or gentle touching, and can patiently allow their children, within limits, to pick up interesting merchandise.

Sometimes your child will be satisfied and more cooperative in a store if she’s just given enough time to examine a few objects. Parents are often in too much of a hurry while shopping to wait while their child looks at boxes of paint brushes, shoes on display, toys on shelves, or piles of scarves. But many struggles can be avoided if you slow down a bit and allow an extra few minutes to accommodate your child by looking at what she’s interested in. Your child is continuously receiving mini lessons in learning to value herself and her interests by the way you treat her.

Some stores make shopping easier by providing toys and play areas for children. If possible, patronize such stores and let the owners know that you value their service. Always support their efforts by watching your child while she’s in the play area and by straightening up some of the toys before you leave the store.

Although play areas are very helpful, most of the stores you shop in will not have them, and many have little tolerance for children. Since that’s the case, carry small toys from home when you shop with your child, or have her bring a backpack with her choice of a few small items. Such playthings may distract her from some, but not all, of the attractive merchandise around her. If parents, store owners, and employees recognized and became more patient with children’s needs to see, touch and explore, shopping would become easier and more enjoyable for everyone.