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By Meghan Overdeep
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Girl Pushing Small Shopping Cart
Credit: paul mansfield photography/Getty Images

Something happens to young children when they’re given their own shopping carts. Their backs straighten. They become proud… happy to show off their independence. Suddenly they have a mission. (Just remember to watch your ankles.)

As Joe Pinsker writes in a recent article for The Atlantic, these mini carts serve many purposes. They’re available in so many grocery stores not just because children love them, but because they benefit retailers’ business strategies by building families’ loyalty to the store. They also help children to learn a thing or two about courtesy.

Sheila Williams Ridge, who teaches early-childhood education at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, told The Atlantic that kids relish the sense of ownership that comes with pushing their own cart. “Children get to do real work and they love that. They get to drive the cart independently because the grown-ups have their own. That feeling of autonomy is important for young children.”

Pushing a tiny shopping cart around a store also teaches children “important life skills” such as “making selections, negotiating, planning, [and] courtesy,” Williams Ridge added.

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As for retailers, kid-size carts have two main benefits: They keep young ones engaged so parents can shop, and they can encourage repeat business.

“Children have a lot to do with what goes in a household's grocery cart,” Meg Major, the vice president of content at Winsight Grocery Business told The Atlantic. “I do think it’s a loyalty builder for kids that get a vote to say, ‘Let’s go to Store X.’”

But with great shopping cart power comes great responsibility. Don’t just put your kid in the driver’s seat and let them run amuck in the aisles. Though, as Williams Ridge points out, the “what happens if you crash into someone” lesson does have to happen sooner or later.