By Jennifer Krebsbach M.S., BCBA (and Mom)
We’ve all been in the grocery store when our kids start the change. The transition into a sobbing, screaming mess. We try to calm them, reassure them, or reason with them… all in hopes of quieting them and avoiding the stares and judgement from all the adults around us. Let’s explore some ways to make these situations more tolerable—maybe even enjoyable—by changing just a couple things we say/do/think.
1. Stop assuming that everyone is judging you. When you catch yourself thinking this way, you must resist the urge to continue it. You need to handle the situation the same way you would if no one was watching. What can happen is that our embarrassment leads us to make weird discipline decisions that we’ll likely never use again. You’re no longer focused on the behavior, or your kid, and more focused on the other adults nearby that don’t actually matter.
2. 5 minutes in advance saves you 15+ in the store. Before you even enter the store, review the expectations in advance. Where they should be standing/sitting, how much helping they’re allowed to do, how long it’ll take, if they will be allowed to pick something for themselves, what’s next after this shopping trip, etc.
3. Give them a task. Especially for our 4+ crowd, helping can be a great way to build confidence, teach shopping skills, and keep them distracted enough to be useful while avoiding melt downs. Just have them pick things. The type of pasta noodles you get doesn’t always matter—so if you don’t actually care, let them choose. Explain how to choose the correct fruit. Show them the different kinds of canned veggies. Whatever it is, include them and their opinions (where it makes sense, that is).
4. Set up a reward system. Trader Joe’s is my go-to grocery store when I’m with the kid. There’s always a sample to try and they can walk away with stickers and a coloring sheet. What more could a kid want?!? (besides cookies). Of course, you can always bring your own little reward to use throughout the store, especially for young ones or those that need a more immediate reward. Maybe a sticker for the collection after every 5 minutes of good behavior. Maybe after every 2 minutes if they can’t get to 5. Adjust this as needed.
Not all kids are going to respond to these ideas, in fact no parenting strategy can be perfectly relayed from one parent to another. However, I can say that these steps worked to keep my sanity (as a mom) while keeping to my science-based professional ethics (as a behavior analyst). If you try these steps and don’t see success, or want more individualized recommendations, send me an email and we can set up a consultation for your specific concerns/needs.