Ignore the Critics: 10 Tips to make a Successful Trip to the Grocery Store

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Oh, how I used to hate heading to the grocery store (some days I still do).  Going with kids in tow is tough; toss sensory issues into the mix, and it’s even harder.  The side glances.  Comments.  Apparently the grocery store is where parenting experts spend their time, who knew?

I’ve learned to be unapologetic, but it took some time to develop thick skin.  You are NOT a failure as a parent – so get that thought out of your head, and you’re not alone.  There are some things that have helped me get through a grocery store trip:

  1. Transitions.  Nats needs more time to transition from one activity to another.  We can’t just pack up and go.  If I know a trip is on the horizon, I start talking about it in advance. I ask her to choose 1 or 2 items she wants to add to the list which usually gets her excited.
  2. Comfort.  Comfortable shoes, clothes, ones that won’t make her too hot, or leave her too cold.  Sometimes it’s allowing her to wear her favorite things – even when they are mismatched.  We always make a pit stop at the bathroom first.
  3. Opportunity to Teach.  We read to Natalie every night, and when she was little we’d try to choose stories that she could connect to – perhaps her favorite character goes shopping.  If you’re working with a therapist, ask for help developing a social story.
  4. Plan for (your child’s) span.  Only you know your child’s capacity to be in this setting before heading into meltdown city.  Having a list that mirrors you child’s ability to be in a store can help.  Start with milk and bread, and work your way up to shopping for the week.
  5. Have a distraction: A snack, juice box or favorite small toy can help.  Nats likes to go with her AG doll in tow, and often I’ll say, “Hey, why don’t you put Holiday in the cart and help me push!” or, “I bet Holiday would love to find the potato chips, let’s go!”
  6. Have a bribe.  Yes, I said bribe.  I’m not a behavioral expert, I’m a parent trying to get through the grocery store.  At the beginning of the trip we agree on what will happen when it’s successful.  Sometimes it’s a treat, or more iPad time.
  7. Expect the unexpected.  You may not make it through your grocery list.  You may without incident.  Your child might go hug a stranger.  Or go into meltdown mode because they are out of her favorite cookies.  Not that I’d know from experience or anything…..
  8. Perfect the ‘smile and nod’.  People will stare.  Say things under their breath.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t irritate me.  (I’ve noticed it more that Nats is older; when she was a toddler, certain behaviors are more socially accepted).  Learn to smile.  I’ve made eye contact, smiled and said the most polite, albeit sarcastic “Thank you, you’re just too kind!” to people who feel the need to comment.
  9. Why wouldn’t you use that moment to teach others?  I hope with my response, it makes someone think twice before doing it to someone else.  Let them experience what they tried to impose upon me – shame.  I’m not impolite, but I’m not there to film an after school special, either.  By turning the tables, I AM teaching them something.
  10. Trust your instincts.  You’ll know when you walk into the store if it’s a good idea or not.  If it’s an unusually crowded day or time, or overly noisy, it might make sense to try again at another time.
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