Dear Amy: I have a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. My son (age 3) really acts out when I take him shopping. I find it very stressful and hard to control him. He screams, kicks and bites me when I try to keep him in the cart. If I let him down, he runs and hides.

Do you recommend any tactics on how to handle this? My husband works a lot so I don't have much choice but to bring my kids along.

Amy says: I shared your question with Claire Zulkey: journalist, author of a parenting newsletter ( and also mother of two young children. She responds: "Second-born 3-year-old boys are the number one cause of gray hair, at least in my home.

"The ideal solution is to get out of shopping with the kids, or at least the youngest. If you can, throw bit of money at the problem — ordering groceries online, or hiring a babysitter so you can shop solo. Unless cash flow is very tight, don't talk yourself out of this like it's a luxury. Your sanity is a worthy investment, and your child won't be like this forever.

"Also, talk to your husband. Can he do the shopping on the way home from work, or stay home with the kids while you shop? Or do you have a friend who will trade sits with you? If those options are untenable, try to go to the store as early as humanly possible when the kids haven't started to melt down yet and, more importantly, the store has fewer people in it to heighten the stress.

"Bring distractions that you only pull out once you're at the store, including a device if you have to. Mete the treats out over the visit if you can — one or two fruit snacks per aisle. Or if you're really hard up, go straight to the snack aisle. (But stay away from tiny child-sized shopping carts because those just annoy everyone.) Hang in there. You're not alone."

I'd also recommend some old-fashioned emotional manipulation. You should play hard to get, by "refusing" to take your youngest shopping. You get a sitter or a friend to watch him. Tell him, "Well, I'd like to bring you with us, but I guess you're not quite old enough. You don't know how to behave in the store."

You and the older sibling return, having had a couple of adventures. Younger child will beg to go with you. He will promise to be good. And you'll respond, "Well, I don't know if you're ready. I'll think about it."

Breakdown recovery

Dear Amy: About two years ago, due to the stress of a move and taking a new job with much responsibility and little support, I had a nervous breakdown. I tried to go back to work in that same profession twice, but I had to quit due to mental health issues.

I am on disability. It is so hard to think about doing something else after 20 years in the same profession.

I feel that no other job will be as challenging or interesting as my original position.

My confidence is extremely low and despite new medication and very little stress, I feel that I am floundering. I take classes and volunteer, but it's not the same. Please help!

Amy says: It must be hard to continue to concentrate on your mental health and healing when you are also (quite naturally) champing at the bit to dive back into your profession. Your challenge now will be to manage your stress and paralysis, to put one foot in front of the other, and to see each day as a unit. Looking too far ahead creates too much pressure and might make you relapse. Talk this through in therapy.

There is a job for you. It won't be the job you had. As you continue to recover, you will shift and open yourself to new possibilities.

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