Taking your kids to the mall might sound like a nightmare.
Surely they’ll be begging for toys and sweets the entire time, right?
Well, maybe. But if you’re not regularly going to the mall with your kids on rainy days you’re completely missing out on a fantastic parenting hack!
IF, that is, you do it right.
So here’s my complete guide to taking young kids (babies, toddlers, and more) to the mall.
The mall is an outstanding place to take kids — especially on cold or rainy days. Just try to find one nearby that has a play area and some good food and other stores for you to explore. With a little planning, you can spend hours and hours here — and you can spend as much or as little money as you want!
Here are my best tips for taking kids to your local indoor mall.
1. Find the best kid-friendly mall near you
It all starts with picking the right mall.
Not all malls, it turns out, are created equal.
You’ll want to find one that’s still at least somewhat vibrant. Indoor malls are a bit of a dying breed and many of them can be a bit depressing!
But many of them are surviving precisely by catering to families like us.
Some kid-friendly features to look for in your local mall would be:
- An indoor play area or playground
- A carousel
- A good selection of fast food (can’t go wrong with Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, or generic mall pizza)
- Some good kid’s clothing stores
- Bookstores, toy stores, and other fun places to visit
- Clean family restrooms
If you can find a mall with all of the above, congrats! You can have hours of fun there, especially on cold or rainy days.
2. Set expectations about toys and treats (or set a budget)
The big problem with taking your kids to the mall is that, if you’re not careful, it can become Whine City.
They’ll want to buy toys. They’ll want ice cream and Cinnabon. They’ll want more rides on the carousel.
The best way to mitigate this is to have a discussion beforehand (if your kids are old enough to be reasoned with) where you set expectations.
Ideally, you’ll offer up enough to make the outing exciting for them without breaking the budget. For example:
“We’re not getting any toys, but if you can behave and not whine we can get an ice cream,” or, “No toys or treats today but you can pick out one book from the bookstore.”
Of course, you don’t have to spend any money at all if you’d rather not! That’s the beauty of the mall. Just make sure your kids know ahead of time what to expect.
3. Get some essential clothes shopping done while you’re there
Going to the mall can be a great mix of productive and fun if you plan it right.
This is a fantastic time to pick up new clothes for your ever-growing kids and have them try some stuff on, have them pick out things they really like.
(It’s nice for older kids who are starting to develop their own tastes. It’s fun for them to explore a couple of different, unique stores instead of wearing Target exclusively!)
The mall is also a good place to find:
- Kids shoes
- Formal wear (if you’ve got a wedding or other event coming up)
- And more
Take your time and browse around! Save yourself a separate trip to the store and make a day checking some things off your list.
4. Save money by packing lunch and snacks
I mentioned above that going to the mall doesn’t have to cost you anything, if you don’t want it to.
There’s usually plenty of room to spread out in the food court or on benches throughout.
Pack lunch and snacks for everyone and you’ll save yourself a ton on fast food costs! You can pack a dessert or treat too for when the kids start eyeballing the Cinnabon.
You can even bring along some toys for the kids to play with in/near the play area to keep them entertained for free.
5. For older kids, establish a meeting place and time
If your kids are old enough to wander off on your own — and especially if they’re just old enough to accidentally get lost — you’ll want to practice some basic mall safety best practices.
Establish a place to meet if you get separated somehow.
If the mall has a fountain or playground or other central landmark, that’s always a good choice.
Malls are huge with lots of places to hide, so trying to find a lost child in the mall is terrifying for parents. If your kids are old enough to understand the instruction, have them go to a certain pre-determined spot if they can’t find you.
6. Choose the best time to go to the mall with your kids
In my experience, it’s rare to find a mall crowded these days. They’re just not as popular anymore and most of the ones near me are running low on good stores.
So when it comes to avoiding crowds, it’s hard to really go wrong.
The more important thing is building your mall trip around meals and naps properly. If you have a baby or toddler who must have a nap (especially if they don’t sleep well in the stroller), you’ll want to be conscious of that — you’ll probably get your best mileage out of younger kids in the morning and then high-tail it home before nap starts.
(Pro tip: Be careful about those car naps on the way home. Some parents like them, but others find the brief car snooze wrecks the entire rest of the day.)
If you get out of there before lunch, that’s another good way of saving a few bucks!
7. Get some much-needed solo time at the mall
Once your kids reach a certain age, they may be able to explore the mall on their own.
(The exact age is up to you. Remember to go over safety rules and your meeting spot!)
It’s a large space but it’s contained, and as long as the kids know not to leave without you, that means you’re free to peruse on your own for a while!
Go ahead, treat yourself!
Grab a coffee and read a book. Browse the bookstore. Try on some new clothes. Treat yourself to lunch. Get a pedicure.
If your kids are happy running around the mall (as long as they’re safe and behaving), this is actually a pretty cool place for you to relax and get some much needed independent time. Enjoy it!
Going to the mall on rainy days is one of my family’s favorite activities. We love the playground and carousel, and it’s fun to treat the kids to Chick-Fil-A, ice cream, or whatever they want.
It doesn’t take much planning to make it happen, either! But knowing these couple of tips can make sure everything goes smoothly.
Before you go, don’t miss more guides like:
- Going to the zoo with kids
- Going to the aquarium with kids
- Going to the grocery store with kids
- Going to the library with kids
- Going to the pool with kids
Hope this helps!