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Mall Trips Made Easy

How to corral your kids during holiday shopping

We've all had to make that harrowing holiday trek to the mall. But with kids along for the ride, it can reach epic battle-ground proportions: Braving the jam-packed stores, balancing shopping bags in one arm and pushing the stroller with the other.

Battling frenzied crowds is bad enough, so the last thing you need is to fight with your kids. We can't control the insanity – er – "holiday cheer" at the mega shopping center, but we can offer some handy tips to help make your shopping experience a bit merrier.

1. My, that pricey vase looks fun! Before those curious little hands reach out for every overpriced and way-too-breakable knickknack within arm's reach, give them something to do. The key here is diversion – whether it's a pile of animal crackers on the stroller tray or a cherished toy. Nobody wants to shell out cash for a pile of glass shards.

2. It's not bribery; it's survival. Remember, if a trip to the mall makes you cranky, imagine how it must feel to the child imprisoned in his or her stroller (or pint-sized shoes) for hours at a time. Anyone, regardless of age, deserves to be rewarded for surviving the stores during the holidays. Let kids know ahead of time that good behavior will be compensated with a tasty treat, small toy or other special reward.

3. Hell hath no fury like a child without a nap. During the holidays, there's really no "right" time to hit the mall. But you may be able to save your last frayed nerve by making sure your youngster is well-rested before heading out. In other words, if your little angel reenacts scenes from The Exorcist at 3 o'clock on the dot, avoid all public places during this time of day. If your child is a super-sound sleeper, however, you may want to turn their naptime into your mall time.

4. Mission: Mall (it's not impossible if you plan ahead). Like most things in life – and parenting – a little preparation can make all the difference between success and failure. Be sure to consider what stores you want to hit before heading out. If you know you'll be spending more time at one store in particular, plan to go there during snack time, so the kids will be less anxious. Or arm yourself with a bag of pennies and make a stop for some fountain fun before making the pilgrimage to Pottery Barn. And remember: Build-in time for the kids to burn off some energy at the kid court or stand in line to see Santa.

5. Even Santa needs a break from the elves. Make a list, check it twice; hire a babysitter, that's our advice! When all else fails, drop the kids off and plan to do some hardcore shopping. Whether you make a night of it with your spouse, pals or hoof it alone, the point is that you have to think long-term. The few bucks you dish out to a neighbor teen will be less painful than an ulcer – and nothing compared to the cost of a hefty dose of Prozac.

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