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How to Escape a Grocery Store Tantrum

Going shopping is a chore! I dread navigating through the maze of shopping carts parked smack dab in the middle of the isle as their owners concentrate on finding the spaghetti sauce that was listed on sale in this week’s ad. Add a kid or two, and it can quickly become an adventure. Now add eight ADHD teenagers, and you are carefully tip toeing around a nuclear time bomb!

Each week our academy staff ventures out into this crazy world. How do they manage to come out with any sanity at all, much less groceries? It’s a process, and the process works! Let me share it with you.

Step 1: Front Load! If you have ever participated in a SOAR course or have done any work with us, you know that we front load everything. Front loading is when you set expectations, limits, purpose, etc. for the event that is soon to happen. Our students thrive on such structure, and it is our job to set them up for success. Some of the expectations of a shopping venture might be to stay on task, have a personal shopping list, have a pencil in hand, and understand that no personal items are to be purchased until group food shopping is completed.  The students must stay within line of sight of the staff and are expected to display appropriate public behavior (i.e., no loud voices, no running, etc.).

Step 2: Snack up! Bring snacks or make sure they have eaten before you walk into that store. A hungry or tired child is miserable to shop with. Be prepared if they are hungry to deal with the consequences.

Step 3: Be prepared to leave!  When entering the store, know that you are prepared to take your child out of the store at any moment if they decide to act up and cause a scene. Do not feel like you have to give in to them so you can finish your shopping, You are the parent. Just having this mind set will allow you to be a little more at ease.

Step 4: Divide and conquer!  Often we break our groups into one staff with 4 students. Limiting group size will often bring the energy of the entire group down to a manageable level.  It is also much easier to keep track of everyone.

Step 5: Make it fun!  I will often compete with the other group to see who can complete their shopping within a certain time frame. The rules include not forgetting anything on their list and being courteous to other shoppers.

Step 6: Let them choose! “Do you want Cream of Wheat or oatmeal for breakfast?” “Pick a flavor of oatmeal you would like this week.” We all love to feel like we have some say.  Children that create their meals and participate in the shopping and the cooking process will be more like to eat the meal. This is especially helpful if you have an extremely picky eater, which many of our campers are. Through choice, they are invested in the process.

Step 7: No means no! If you frontload the rules, then hold to them. Offer them one explanation of why and do not engage after that. If your child decides to throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the store, then so be it. Don’t let yourself get flustered. If you cannot handle the looks from others, then leave your shopping cart and take your child out of the store. Often removing them from the stimuli will help them calm down and hopefully you can reenter the store in a few minutes to continue shopping. Make sure to discuss with them how that behavior was not acceptable. I once had a teenage student throw a temper tantrum because I would not let him buy a pair of ear buds. Now this student had no money to purchase them, had not obtained permission beforehand to purchase anything from the store, and it was not his turn to ask. He became agitated and created a scene. The group continued shopping with my co-staff while I took the student to the van. After being removed from the situation, he calmed down and we discussed his behavior. He was then able to rejoin the group and display appropriate behavior.

Step 8: Reward good behavior! Try and make the reward something that does not directly connect to shopping. You definitely don’t want them thinking that every time they are good in the store they deserve a candy bar or another snack item. If you do choose to go this route, make sure that they are using “their money” in order to teach them the value of a dollar and the process of budgeting.

Hey, you made it through your shopping trip! Was it really that bad? Even taking a few of these steps and implementing them when needed can make your day so much easier in the world of grocery stores.