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Kids: Don't Leave Home Without Them

Shopping-Spree Smarts

Shopping teaches kids crucial real-life skills: interacting with others (such as the admiring sales staff) and paying for things you buy, says Powers.
■ How to pull it off: Go when your child is fully rested - after a nap or in the morning. Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. are the least crowded hours, says Jennifer Brown, a personal shopper at Macy's West in San Francisco. Before you go, map out kid-friendly lunch spots where you can take a break, or bring a (nonmessy!) snack from home and rest on a bench. And get your child involved: Darlene Link, 32, a clinical psychologist in King of Prussia, PA, allows her daughter to try on clothing, and teaches her what "on sale" and "cheap" mean. "It keeps her brain turning," says Link.
■ Biggest saboteurs: Even a mall filled with stuff can get tiresome to a kid. To buy more shopping time, promise a small reward. Say, "Once Mommy finds the skirt, we'll look for a Hello Kitty store." Says Link, "It's a lesson in patience and how things work. 'I help Mommy with this now, she'll help me do what I want later.'"

Sweet Music to Little Ears

At concerts, "Children will hear sounds they want to make themselves, and see instruments they are interested in," says Bonnie Simon, cocreator of the children's symphonic music series Stories in Music, from Magic Maestro Music. "And if it's a great concert, a child will be touched to the very depth of his soul."
■ How to pull it off: To start, try events at community centers, high schools, or churches. Avoid concert-hall performances - which can be overwhelming - until your child turns 6. Kids do best when they're familiar with what's coming, so show him pictures of the instruments he'll see, and listen to a recording of the music before the event. Once you're there, choose an aisle seat for a clear view - and a quick escape if needed, says Jim Joseph of the New Victory Theater, a performance venue for families in New York City. And stay near the middle of the auditorium. "Kids feel detached from the action when they sit far back," says Joseph. "Up front, the height of the stage might block their view."
■ Biggest saboteurs: Little kids often get scared of the darkness when the lights dim in the concert hall, says Joseph. Arrive early to allow your child to grow accustomed to the space, and explain what's happening when the lights go down.

Let's Party!

Who doesn't enjoy a festive evening? Jenny Coniff, 41, of Clinton, CT, says her 5-year-old son "loves feeling that's he part of a fun 'big boy' event" at adult parties. Link likes watching her shy daughter open up at such events. "Once she's comfortable, she loves it," says Link.
■ How to pull it off: Ask your host if it's okay to bring your child. And don't assume that a yes means kiddie activities and food will be provided, says Debi Lilly, owner of Chicago's A Perfect Event, an event-planning service. Buy inexpensive toys, candies, and fun snacks just for the party, and bring your child's favorite movie in case she needs some quiet time. Once there, greet the host and familiar faces together so your child feels more comfortable, but don't say hello to everyone - it'll likely overwhelm her.
■ Biggest saboteurs: Gnazzo has observed that the more fun the party is for adults - say, a cocktail shindig - the more attention-getting behavior and tantrums kids exhibit. So take notice of your child's needs, and take time out to play together or let her run around outside.

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