IKEA – A Survival Guide for Parents

Shopping! I love shopping! I love spending hours in a store, perusing slowly down the aisles while I look at every single little thing. I imagine where I might place that lamp in my living room. Or how I could use that mason jar to create some insane Pinterest craft. Or how I could match those boots to a certain sweater in my closet. It’s such a happy, enjoyable time… 

Oh wait, I have a 2 year old. I get to spend no more than an hour tops before complete and utter meltdown occurs. And he only lasts that long because I arm myself with drinks, snacks and his trains. Sometimes, I break out my phone in case of emergency. 

Shopping is stressful with a child. Every parent can understand that pain. You don’t enjoy yourself. You get in, get what you need and get out. If you’re lucky, maybe you can convince your husband into watching the kids while you rush through Target… with your 10 page wishlist and a Starbucks Grande Caramel Macchiato. Sucker.

Most stores are not really “kid-friendly”. Sure, most kids can tolerate a trip to Target or Big Y but a furniture and housewares store? That sounds terrifying. I can picture the glass vases shattering and the pillows being thrown everywhere. 

IKEA is a major game changer when it comes to shopping with little ones. They want you spend a lot of time in their store, because then you’ll spend more money. So they have made their stores super family friendly. And it’s a brilliant marketing ploy on their behalf because it works. The only thing stopping me from going there every weekend is the fact that it takes almost an hour to drive there. 

IKEA in New Haven is a destination shopping trip for those of us in Northern Connecticut. It’s not something we do every week, heck even monthly. I think I go down there maybe twice a year.  When you are traveling that far to go shopping, it needs to be worth the car ride with a child. 

I will admit, the drive to IKEA is not bad. Until you reach New Haven. With all the construction and road work, you will want to make sure your GPS/phone is up to date with its maps, and even then you will probably be sent around in the weirdest way because there are road blocks or closed ramps or something else that changes the route. We had no issue getting to the store from 91N. Getting home though, our GPS took us into downtown New Haven, and even then, we had to follow the signs for the highway (because our GPS was being dumb).  IKEA should be easy to get to, it’s right off the highway (you can see it from the highway!) but road construction manages to make it more challenging than you imagine. 


The New Haven store is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  


As you can see, we visited on a dreary, rainy day. The perfect kind of day for shopping! It was a Wednesday morning/afternoon so the store was not busy at all, despite being the holiday season. 

When you first pull in, you’ll see they have a huge parking lot! On a day like the one we visited, you could easily find parking close to the store. But I recently discovered on my last trip, there is a family friendly parking lot. On a busy shopping day, that could really come in handy so you can avoid walking through the entire parking lot with a child in tow. 



The family friendly parking lot is located on the side of the building, right near the entrance, and just below the big IKEA sign. This convenient  parking is the just the first of the many perks this store offers families.  




The family lot is really close to the entrance! 


We decided to let our boy walk into the store. Having been there before, I was aware of their many shopping cart options (I’ll go into those further below). A stroller works pretty well in this store since they have wide aisles and elevators, but only IF you are shopping with someone else or IF you are not buying big items. If you are alone and plan to take home a HEMNES bookcase, rethink the stroller.  It will be very hard to push the stroller and pull a cart full of furniture. 


When you first enter the store, you’ll find a few things going on. First, right in front of you will be a sales associate ready to direct you around the store and answer your questions. You’ll also find the escalator to the upper level (you enter at the ground level), and an elevator tucked in the back. At the entrance, you can also pick up an IKEA catalog, a store map, and a big yellow shopping bag. Since we planned to eat first, we decided to grab all our shopping tools after we had lunch.

IKEA - entrance

The best part of IKEA for parents is also located near the entrance: SMALAND.  What’s that you ask? 


Yes, I said free child care. 

Smaland is a supervised play area for children ages 4 to 10 (or between 37″ to 54″ tall). The child MUST be potty trained (meaning able to use the restroom completely on their own, as the associate explained to me, ‘wiping and all’!). They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.  You can drop off your child for 30 minutes, or if you are an IKEA family member (which I’ll explain further down), you can leave your child there to play for an extra 30 minutes!  They ask that the children understand the rules of the play area, and if they do not behave, they will have to leave.  The play area also gets very busy on weekends and holidays, and as such, you may have to wait to drop off your child. 



Sadly, our child was neither old enough, tall enough or potty trained to play in Smaland. However, you can bet that I am counting down the days until that shopping trip!  Since he could not enter, I was not able to really get a good look at the play area or take any photos. From past experience with my nephew and niece playing in there, I do know they have a lot of climbing structures and a ball pit. 

We decided to head upstairs to have lunch at the IKEA restaurant. 



The restaurant is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It is self-serve/cafeteria style. They offer a variety of foods from pre-made sandwiches and salads to hot food like chicken tenders, mashed potatoes and of course, their famous Swedish Meatballs.  They have desserts and many options for beverages as well. 

They have a great kids menu and it’s super cheap! (Sorry for the blurry picture in the elevator!). Basically, the meals are for 12 and under, and cost 2.49 each.

IKEA - restaurant

I love the carts they have for you to use while you pick up your food. It’s pretty challenging to wrangle in a toddler, and balance multiple trays of food! Plus, it gave him something to do while we went through the line! He loves helping! 

IKEA - restaurant

After we bought way too much food, we settled into a new section of the restaurant – the family seating area! Since we last visited in the spring, this was a new addition. They offer colorful little tables and chairs, fun decor, freestanding puzzles throughout the area and televisions running cartoons. You can only guess what someone did the whole time (instead of eating). 




While my husband sat with our slow eating toddler, I poked around the area and discovered even more ways IKEA makes their restaurant family friendly. First, they offer booster seats and highchairs, which we totally took advantage of! 


They also offer a microwave and bottle warmer! Because not every little visitor will enjoy the Swedish meatballs, at least not before the age of 1. I thought this was awesome! You can bring your baby a bottle and baby food, and both of you can enjoy your lunch! 

IKEA - restaurant

We stayed in the restaurant for a little while since it was not crowded, and well, we had to watch the entire opening scene of Toy Story 3. 

Once we finally finished our meal, we headed out to do some shopping. Normally, I have the stroller but since we decided to rely on the IKEA shopping carts, we had to go find one. I was a little bummed because they normally have these cute little carts that you can hook the big IKEA yellow bags onto, and your child can sit in the front. Well, I couldn’t find one ANYWHERE. So, I asked a store associate, and he sent me down into the marketplace to get a regular shopping cart. I was able to grab one of those and come back upstairs through the elevator. I wasn’t thrilled to push a big shopping cart around the showroom but we made due and honestly, it worked out better since it gave me additional space to buy more things! Plus, this guy had a lot more room to hang out! 

IKEA - carts

If you choose to bring your stroller, or let your child walk, they also have their big yellow bags available that you can either carry or hook onto your stroller with a carabiner. 


You’ll also want to grab a map, a pencil and if needed, measuring tape. On the back of the map, you can keep track of the furniture pieces you are interested in so you can pick them up in the self serve area. You’ll also find these displays throughout the store, so if you lose your pencil or forget a tape measure, you can find one pretty easily (they are literally everywhere!) .


The last thing you’ll want to do before you start shopping (you may even want to do this before you eat lunch), is sign up for the IKEA family card. If you already have one, you’ll want to scan your card to check out the latest offers and deals.  As I mentioned above, one of the best perks of being in the IKEA family is longer play time for your kids in Smaland. You can also get free tea or coffee while in the restaurant. They offer sales on products throughout the store, and they always have savings on items in the IKEA family store.  It’s free to sign up, and it saves you money (and gives you additional child-free shopping time), so make sure you sign up!  For more information on the savings with the IKEA family card specific to IKEA New Haven, check out their site

IKEA - family card

Now that we were armed with all our necessary tools to shop at IKEA, we headed into the showroom. If you have not been yet, the store is set up with many model displays: living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, etc., to help give you ideas on how to use their products. They also have open areas with all of their pieces on display. If your kids are down in Smaland, take the time to navigate through all the little nooks and crannies. My husband and I once found four of our best pieces of furniture tucked in a random hallway behind a huge display in the bookcase section. It was a new style of furniture that had yet to be put on display, and it was on sale. We ended up buying most of our basement furniture that day, for a fraction of the normal cost! And it’s still some of my favorite pieces in our house! 




I love walking through the model kitchens and imagining it being my house… I can dream, right? 


You’ll also notice that there are maps throughout the showroom and signs pointing you in the right direction.  Most people follow the flow of the map, since the showroom is set up in a certain way. You can cut through certain areas if you don’t care about office furniture or kitchens, but it’s such fun walking through the whole place! 



We came here today specifically to replace a side table in our den, and to buy a stool (so that I can do this IKEA hack). Once I found both of them, I added them to my list on the back of the map so I could find the boxes in the self serve area! 



We made our way through the showroom quickly since it was pretty boring for my toddler. He was pretty happy when daddy would spin the carriage around, but that would only last so long. Thankfully the last part of the showroom is the kid’s section, so that perked up this bored little boy quite fast! 

The kids section of IKEA is incredible and they have a lot of products and ideas for the little ones! I have bought a few things from here over the years for this child, including art supplies, toys, stuffed animals and storage containers. They sell cribs, toddler beds, art easels, activity tables, changing tables, high chairs, bed linens, and so much more. 




Another reason we came to IKEA: to buy a back up stuffed puppy that has become my son’s favorite snuggle buddy. I want to have a back up in case something happens to one of them! 

IKEA - showroom

When you walk out of the children’s section, you’ll find that you are back to almost where you started: the IKEA restaurant. If you chose to shop first, you can stop now and have a bite to eat. Or, you can either head down to the marketplace via the elevator (which we did since we had a shopping cart) or you can use the staircase. 


By this point, if your children are in Smaland, your time is probably close to running out, especially if you took your time through the showroom. When you finally make it downstairs to the marketplace, the pickup area for your child in Smaland is right near the staircase. Please don’t leave your children in Smaland… as tempting as it seems! 

IKEA - smaland

The marketplace is full of many different smaller items- kitchen supplies, lighting, framed artwork, fake plants, rugs, bathroom towels and mats, and so on. Down here you’ll find many of those little small details that were scattered throughout the displays upstairs in the showroom.  The aisles are wide and it’s pretty easy to move around with your stroller or a shopping cart. 

IKEA - Marketplace

IKEA - Marketplace

IKEA - Marketplace

You’ll find maps and signs directing you through this section of the store, as well as these arrows projected onto the floor. So, you really can’t get lost down here, despite how overwhelming everything is! 

IKEA - Marketplace

You’ll also find these toddler activity boards set up throughout the marketplace, so your child can enjoy something fun as you shop. This lasted a few minutes for us, and then he was all set. He was getting cranky! It was close to his nap time though, so we could have planned our visit better! But as you can see, IKEA definitely wants to keep your kids happy! 

IKEA - Marketplace

If you can take your time going through this section of the store, it is worth it. There are so many interesting hidden gems to be found. Since we had a cranky toddler, we zipped through faster than I would have liked. I finally had to break out the fruit pouch we bought upstairs in the restaurant just to make it through the rest of the store! And I am not a huge fan of those pouches so you know I was desperate at that point! 


We finally reached the end of the marketplace and approached the self-service warehouse. This is where you’ll need that list you were keeping from upstairs in the showroom. Since we had two products to locate, we headed into the warehouse to find them. 



If you wrote down the location of your product, they have computers set up where you can search for the product’s location. It also can locate products at other stores, in case the item you want is out of stock. 

IKEA - self serve

I had kept track of the location of my two items, so once we located the aisle and bin, we were able to grab them and head out! 

IKEA - self serve

The checkout lines are located right near the end of the self serve warehouse. Since it was not a busy day (being a weekday), there were only a few lanes open but they got us through pretty fast! 

IKEA - check out

IKEA does not provide plastic bags when you checkout. So if you do buy a few things, plan to either bring your own bags, or you can buy their reuseable bags right by the register for 99 cents. Just make sure if you do buy the bags, to remember them when you shop the next time. I can’t tell you how many of those enormous blue bags I have taking up space in my basement that I forget every time we got shopping

IKEA - check out

After you check out, you’ll see that they have a small cafe downstairs as well as a food market. So, if you really loved those Swedish meatballs, you can take some home. They also have Swedish candies, pastries, and other goodies for sale.  

IKEA - food market

IKEA - food market

IKEA - food market

Right near the checkout, you can also find the restrooms and the family restroom. There are many bathrooms located throughout the store, including one near the restaurant and one near the entrance to the self-serve furniture warehouse.  The restrooms all have changing tables. However, the nice thing about the family restroom is the small lounge attached to it for nursing moms. There is a comfortable lounge chair, and also a small kids table so if you are shopping with more than one child, you can nurse the baby while the other one colors or plays at the little table. 




IKEA makes the whole shopping experience easy all the way to the end. There is nothing worse than surviving that whole trip and then having to get traipse through the parking lot and find out that the car next to you boxed you in, and you still need to to cram your boxes of furniture into your trunk, all while the kids get upset because they are still sitting in the shopping cart and want to go home. IKEA doesn’t make you suffer like that. This is perhaps the best thing IKEA has to offer: the loading zone. If you have another adult with you, go get your car while they stay with the kids and your purchases, back your car into a spot and conveniently load your car up with all those “assembly required” boxes.  It’s even more delightful when it’s raining out like it was today, and you don’t have to worry about getting soaked! 


Our trip overall was pretty successful! I am not sure if I can say the same for the furniture I still need to build this weekend, but the shopping itself went well! I love how family friendly this store is, and I think I’ll love it even more when my child can be dropped off at Smaland! But despite that, IKEA really has made things super fun and easy for parents with little ones. 

If you are looking to do some holiday shopping, it is absolutely worth the trip down to New Haven! And make sure you order some Swedish meatballs for lunch!! 

This about sums it up…

 450 Sargent Drive – New Haven, CT



Monday – Sunday: 10:00am to 9:00pm

Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas Day

See store website for holiday hours


  • Stroller accessible! Shopping carts also available with seats for small children
  • Free Parking! Family Parking Lot Available
  • Bathrooms & changing tables located throughout store
  • Family Bathroom with nursing mom’s lounge
  • Restaurant on site- high chairs available, affordable kid’s meals, bottle warmers and microwaves
  • Lots of seating in the restaurant
  • Smaland – child care/supervised play area provided for free (30 minutes for shoppers, up to 1 hour for IKEA family members 
  • IKEA family card- offers discounts, free coffee/tip, additional time in Smaland
  • Various play activities provided for children throughout store
  • Shopping (plan to spend some money!)
  • Wear comfortable shoes- there is a lot of walking! 
  • Make sure your kids have socks on if they plan to go into Smaland! 

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