Kids: shop, don’t strop!

5th July 2017

NewRiver recruit child psychologist to help parents 
tame toddler temper tantrums in their shopping centres

  • Almost a half (45%) of parents from Belfast claim their child has thrown a tantrum whilst shopping, with almost two in five (38%) saying they would rather avoid a trip to the shops with the kids for fear their children misbehaving
  • Over a third (35%) of parents from Belfast polled admitted to promising their child a reward to get them to behave when shopping
  • TV psychologist Dr Sam Wass explains why children might find shopping a stressful experience and shares top tips to help make shopping more enjoyable for families

The all too familiar experience of witnessing a toddler meltdown in public is inhibiting mums and dads from hitting the shops, according to research commissioned by NewRiver – which owns and operates Abbey Centre, Newtownabbey. Almost a half (45%) of parents from Belfast complained about their child having a tantrum while shopping, with almost two in five (38%) parents with children of school age saying they avoid going to the shops for fear their offspring might misbehave.

The UK wide poll of 2,000 parents highlighted a need to help solve a common problem for customers shopping with young children in tow, as 1 in 5 of parents surveyed even confessed to having to leave a shop because of their child’s bad behaviour. Mum’s are seen to be the most self-conscious, with a third (32%) saying they felt judged in a shop when their kid started playing up, compared to just 1 in 5 of dads (22%). However, men admitted that they were the quickest to turn their noses up at mischievous children with 42% of those polled saying they have judged another parent whose child was misbehaving.

NewRiver is one of the UK’s largest shopping centre owner/managers with 33 community shopping centres including Abbey Centre, Newtownabbey. It has been looking at ways to improve the retail experience for families with young children and has brought on board child psychologist Dr Sam Wass. Sam, who appears in Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four Year Olds series, suggest ways to help understand the reasons behind shopping centre temper tantrums:

“Most children throw tantrums at some point – but, of all the times when they might misbehave, shopping is one of the most common,” Dr Sam Wass comments. “From a scientific point of view, we understand quite well why this is. Children tend to be more up and down in their moods than adults are – and are more affected by moving from a calm environment to a stressful one. Shops tend to be full of unfamiliar people and can be quite an unstructured and unpredictable experience. Children can feel they have no control over what happens next which can cause anxiety.

“Over a third (35%) of parents from Belfast polled admitted to promising their child a reward to get them to behave when shopping – but this can be quite counter-productive. The more presents you buy for children, the more presents or treats they will ask for. This might calm a child in the short term – but in the long term it can lead to further oppositional behaviours and naughtiness. Instead of costly gifts, try buying healthy snacks which are still considered a ‘treat’ for the child.”

Dr Sam Wass has worked with NewRiver to provide some top tips for parents to help manage the structure of shopping:

  • Time: “Time is a difficult concept for children to grasp so giving your child a clock or timer to look at would be a good way of helping them feel in control of the situation. Agree a time limit for being in the shop, encouraging them to watch it countdown.
  • Checklist: “Make the experience interactive and agree a shopping checklist which children can help to tick off, understanding that once the list is complete it’s time to go home. Ask them to help find the items they like: ‘Oh look, we’re in the cereal aisle, can you find the Ready Brek?’
  • Breaks: “Plan regular breaks in between shops with intervals of play or refreshments to keep children stimulated and give structure to the trip.
  • Rewards: “If you do want to buy a present for a child, it’s better not to give them the treat the moment they ask for it. Learning to wait is an important life skill for children to develop. Rewards for good behaviour are most effective when they are predictable, consistent – and when the child can see them coming in advance.
  • Warning signs: “Look for early warning signs of an outburst (agitation, hunger, tiredness or stress) and try to pre-empt the problem with a break, or a healthy snack. Be aware that your mood affects your child’s mood: shouting at an already anxious child is likely to make them behave worse, not better.”

Taking a hands-on approach to asset management, NewRiver is developing a ‘Kids Club’ to enhance the retail experience for families shopping across its centres. With the help of Dr Sam Wass, NewRiver will be rolling out a series of initiatives to help parents feel more at ease when shopping with their kids. NewRiver will be training local security teams in ‘tantrum taming’ this summer as well as implementing tactics such as treasure trails, free Kids Club Packs and activities for children, creating a more relaxed shopping experience for the family.

Mark Stewart, Centre Manager at Abbey Centre, comments: “Most of us have all experienced our own kids having a meltdown or felt the pain of other parents struggle to keep their toddler happy while shopping. At Abbey Centre we’ve been working with Sam to come up with several tactics to make shopping more fun for small children. Our Kids Club will offer free events for children throughout the year, special offers for parents who sign up, and a ‘child safe’ scheme giving parents piece of mind when out shopping. Based on our research, we believe this will help keep children amused and incentivise good behaviour meaning happy families all round.”

Register your child to join the Abbey Centre Kids Club today at Once registered you will receive an automated email. You can then collect your Kids Club Pack at our Customer Services Desk.