How to Keep Toddlers Entertained in Public (Without a Phone!)

Toddlers. They’re miniature people with ginormous attitudes sometimes. The problem is, occasionally you find yourself out in public with them; exposed to the elements and all the other mommies out there.

We’ve all been at the store and witnessed tiny people languishing on the tile floor or demanding candy bars from the checkout upon pain of death (or just motherly embarrassment).

We’ve even been some of those mothers who’s little angels have just.had.enough.

I once left a completely full grocery cart in the middle of the aisle when my 2 year old was losing it.  Yes, even frozen food.

That was several years ago and I’ll never forget it.

Ever.Great tips to prevent tantrums and keep your toddler entertained when you are out in public places like restaurants, grocery stores and department stores.

Today I’m going to share four tips for keeping it cool and entertaining toddlers in public – and I’m not talking about handing them your phone.


This is a big one because it requires no props.  But it’s risky because it depends on how far gone they are.  This is definitely a first resort – not a last one.  If they’re already flailing on the floor, this WILL NOT work.  I repeat, WILL NOT.

If they’re just starting to get a little antsy and you’re only half way through your list, it’s time to implement distraction mode.  It goes a little like this:

Take stock of your surroundings and start asking your toddler questions about the environment.  No, not global warming or recycling.  Ask him if he sees anything red.  Or if he can hear a puppy barking.  There doesn’t even have to be a real puppy.  Sometimes just the idea will make him stop crying so he can listen better.  If this works to calm him down – keep talking.  Your voice will most likely soothe him and the individual attention will definitely make him happy.  Talk about all of the things you’re seeing as you go down the aisle.  Blue boxes, orange bottles, that boy with the green shoes.  Aren’t they awesome?  I wonder if you’ll ever have a pair of green shoes like that.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a forced conversation, and sometimes you have to be creative and overly excited about something (like green shoes) – but it can drive out the tantrum mode and bring him back to reality by listening and talking with you.

Toddler Involvement

If your child is a bit older and you have the time, by all means, let them help you with the shopping.  You’re most likely going to abandon the 47+ item list and stick to the bare necessities, but allowing them to help make some of the decisions and do some of the work goes a long way in keeping them happy.  Ask which peanut butter they’d rather have.  Let them throw the cereal into the back of the cart.  All big deals to a little one.   By showing them that they are a part in helping get this job done, they will feel involved and important – perhaps instead of bored and confined.


I’ve had a stash of Cheerios in my bag for years.  Not the same stash – I refresh it occasionally.  Food is a very strong motivator for toddlers (and me for that matter, who am I kidding?)  We all have been told not to take our toddlers to the store when they’re hungry – but life is not always rainbows and roses.  Sometimes you’ve got to get milk or there won’t be any lunch.  (Meal plan fail!)  So, when distraction doesn’t work, break out the snacks.  I also hoard free suckers from the bank in my bag – you never know when your toddler is going to turn up their nose, and their volume when they’re sick of Cheerios.


The most important thing to remember here is to calculate the risk of potentially losing these toys or books.  No one wants to create a tantrum (the very thing we’re trying to avoid) by misplacing a treasured stuffed animal on the floor of Target.  So, throw in a few non-issue toys.  You could hit up the dollar store and grab some small, inexpensive trinkets to stuff in your bag just for such occasions.  The newness will thrill your child and the disposable nature will tickle you.  No big deal if it finds it’s way under a clothes rack.  No one will get their heart broken over it.

When all else fails

Eventually, your luck is going to run out and you’re going to be faced with a nuclear situation in the middle of the store.  The best advice I can give you, is to scoop up your toddler (and anyone else you’ve had the misfortune to bring) and proceed as calmly as possible to the exit door.  Don’t fret too long about the full cart you left in the shoe department.  Someone will put the items away and life will go on.  And you can always bring up the story to your child when they’re older.  The one where you left a cart full of ice cream and cream cheese at the checkout because he was throwing a fit about being denied a candy bar.  As if he even needed a candy bar – you’re the one who needed the candy.

A couple of things to remember:

Toddlers change on a daily basis.  One tactic that worked last week at Target to entertain him might not work this week at Kroger.  Be sure to be flexible and willing to change it up as they do.  

And not every trip out with a toddler is going to turn out to be a nightmare!  Check out how one shopping trip went for me here.

Mom life continues through everything we do.  The only way to avoid toddler behavior at the store is to leave them at home – but what fun would that be?  

Wait, what?


Corinna is the author of The Mommy Clause. She is a wife and mother living in Louisiana and wrangling eight children. She loves baking but doesn’t like cleaning up the mess. She spends her days teaching the kids, making lots of lists and even checking a few things off those lists. She is a multitasking ninja with a great love for spending time with her family. Her organization style involves piles. And she can make a lasagna that will knock your socks off! Everyday as a mother is an adventure and she wouldn’t trade this difficult, rewarding, messy, happy, noisy life for anything! You can connect with Corinna here: Facebook Instagram.

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  1. Great tips! We do something similar to this, we certainly have the discussions! My kids always have their little backpacks with them. We let them pack up their toys before we go somewhere and then they have toys to play with while we are out. This is also useful when we are with other children whose parents don’t bring things to keep their children occupied, we have plenty to share with them!

  2. Yes! Questioning and asking them to help with something are my 2 go-to’s! Usually we can sneak in some teaching that way too and prevent a melt-down. I also sometimes give him a few options of how he can proceed, and he usually picks the “stay with mommy and be good” option. haha! Great list though 🙂 Very helpful suggestions!

  3. I so enjoyed reading this post. You have a great way of writing that makes it funny and entertaining while still conveying useful information. Thank you for the pleasant read!
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