Going to the grocery store with your child can be overwhelming and stressful. But, with careful planning and preparation, you can get everything on your list and get out free of drama.
By Jacqueline Forchetti, BCBA
Here are 8 tips I use with families to ensure a successful shopping experience and learning opportunity for children:
1. Prepare! As with all outings with children, especially those with special needs, you can never be too prepared! - Take some pictures of both the outside and inside of the store. It's helpful for children to see exactly where they are going in advance. Making the pictures into a mini book and letting your child review it and hold on it prior to the shopping trip can help to minimize anxiety over where you are going. Viewing a store’s website may be helpful as well to have your child familiarize themselves with the new environment they will be going into.
2. Use a visual schedule to plan the day! It is always helpful for a child to have prior notice that a shopping trip is coming. If you can, use a visual schedule to plan your child’s day ahead of time, it can help ease their anxiety.
3 Start Small - If it is your child’s first time to the grocery store or especially if they are very young it is better to make the trip as short as possible. Make a list of no more than 5 things, get in, follow the list, get out! Think, short sweet and successful
4 Practice expected behavior. Use pretend play to practice at home prior to your trip. This can be done through pretend play and role play at home. Setting up a mock store and practicing shopping can be a fun way to prepare for your outing.
5 Positive Reinforcement. Lay it on thick! Praise your child frequently for following directions and having appropriate behavior in the store. This will make for a much more positive experience for your child and behavior-specific praise will allow them tounderstand what they are doing well so that they are more likely to continue to exhibit those behaviors.
6. Have Rules. We all need them and children especially seek them! Setting rules and boundaries prior to even leaving your home can help to make for a more successful trip. Keep it simple, practice and make them clear and concise so that your child understands. For example, “stay with Mommy,” and “ask before you take something” Let your child know that if they have expected behavior in the store they can earn a reward. As a parent you can ensure that the reward is something you are willing to purchase for them. You can give your child some control in choosing between two or three items that you select. Again, this should all be planned before you even go to the store!
7. Make a list and let your child help! This will help to ensure that your child takes ownership and responsibility for the trip. Your child will take pride in knowing that they helped to contribute and be held accountable for purchasing the items that you need. Using visuals or having your child cut out pictures from grocery store circulars could be a fun way for children to contribute to making the lists and preparing for your trip.
8. Coping Strategies. As much as we do to be proactive, meltdowns can and do happen! We can be prepared as parents to have as many tools in our arsenal to deal with them and de-escalate them as quickly as possible. Take items with you to the store and use them if they can help your child. For example, if loud noises can bother your child then having headphones may be helpful. For some children, holding a comforting item such as a favorite stuffed animal is helpful. You know your child so use whatever you feel could work! If your child does have a meltdown, stay calm! It happens to all of us! Identify your child’s triggers and help to give them a way to communicate their needs such as a sign or use of a visual. They may just need a break or to go outside and that’s ok. Go easy on yourself.
Grocery shopping is a necessity….it may not be perfect the first time out, but with practice and preparation, you can get there!