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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. You’re also not alone.
Although it won’t always be picture perfect, there are some things that have helped us have a successful trip to the grocery store:
My kiddo 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’ll start talking about it in advance. I ask her to add 1 or 2 items she wants to the grocery list – it helps get her excited and engaged.
Comfortable shoes are important; so are clothes that won’t make her too hot, or leave her too cold. Comfort might mean allowing her to wear her favorite things (yes, even when they are mismatched). It also might mean bringing her favorite doll or stuffed animal. Most importantly, we always make a pit-stop at the bathroom first.
3. Opportunity to teach
We read to our kids every night, and when Nats was little we’d try to choose stories that she could connect to. [Perhaps a children’s book like At the Supermarket, where the main character goes shopping with his mom.] 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. Have a grocery list that mirrors you child’s ability. Start with a short list – such as only milk, bread and eggs, and work your way up to a full list by adding one or two items at a time. If noise is a concern, plan a trip during less busy times.
5. Have a distraction
A snack, juice box or favorite small toy can help. Nats likes to go with her favorite 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 [others might say positive reinforcement – po-tay-to, po-tah-to]. 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 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. OK, maybe I don’t completely ignore the critics…
I do not apologize for my daughter’s disability, nor do I explain it to every person who feels the need to give me parenting advice. I like to think that my polite-but-sarcastic-response makes someone think twice before doing it to someone else. That it lets 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.
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.