Just when you've managed to get everything on your grocery list with toddler in tow, you wind up in the checkout line with the cashier-in-training. The man ahead of you is demanding a price check on every purchase, and your daughter starts whining, "Go home NOW!" You search for something to distract her, but all you see are racks of TV Guides and National Enquirers and a woman behind you with that my-child-would-never-behave-that-way look on her face. The best you can come up with are those useless words, "Let's try to be patient. It's almost our turn."
At moments like this, most parents wish they were carrying a purse like the one Mary Poppins had -- a bottomless bag of treasures to keep a child amused until the groceries are bagged, the waitress finally brings the burgers, or the doctor is ready to see you. However, with a bit of planning, you can have an array of interesting items and activity ideas on hand to distract your child -- and stave off a tantrum.
"Prepared waiting" not only makes things more pleasant in the present but teaches children a lifelong skill: how to take waiting in stride. When my youngest son, Nate, was 6, he got so used to sitting through school-committee meetings with me that he came up with a new word. "Wait! I have to get my occupiance!" he'd say, dashing off to collect paper, crayons, or comics to bring along.
Of course, you can't expect your kids to be patient if you're fuming about the wait yourself. But just saying, "Hey, maybe we have time to play a game" can put everyone in a fresh frame of mind. I talked to parents around the country to get their best save-the-day strategies.