Shopping Without Dropping: Running Errands Successfully
Running Errands Successfully
When my daughter was seven years-old and we would shop, she would lay on the floor of the store and refuse to get up, yelling “No” quite loudly. She was too big for me to pick up and carry away under my arm any more. I was totally horrified as patrons looked on when it happened for the third or fourth time. I realized I needed to think about the positive behavior support strategies we used at home and transfer them to our store visits. I needed to define what I could proactively do to make our experiences most successful, and what pitfalls I could avoid. I wanted to put a premium on participation and enjoyment during our outings. These are the things that have worked.
I realized Chrissa could only manage a maximum of two or three stops at stores. I happily discovered I could combine a grocery trip and with picking up other needed household items if we went to a superstore. The best time to shop with Chrissa is weekend mornings when she is fresh. We never go shopping before any major holidays or events due to crowds. In the beginning, to “reboot” our shopping trips, I only took Chrissa with me on ‘shorter list days’. I also realized we could get more done on days when her sister could come along and try clothes on, since Chrissa LOVES to go in the dressing room with her. Once I figured out that Chrissa can only tolerate so much shopping, I always let her know how many stops we have to make before we leave the house. To gain her confidence, I didn’t veer off of my plan or add stops.
Chrissa often needs to use the bathroom when we are out. We learned to always stop in the bathroom first since the stores we frequent have bathrooms up front. When Chrissa has to return to the front of the store mid-trip, it prolongs our experience or signals to her that our shopping is coming to an end, contributing to meltdowns. Chrissa is very afraid of mascots and sometimes asks if there will be characters. Therefore, when she asks about them, I calmly reassure her that we are not going to where there are mascots that day – no matter how many times she asks me.
Be Clear About Expectations
I need to help Chrissa understand her role when shopping. Prior to going in the store, we discuss how she can help during our visit. She may assist with pushing the cart, selecting items from the shelves, and crossing things off the paper list as we retrieve them. If there is something that we are buying for Chrissa, such as school supplies, pajamas, a birthday gift for a friend, I tell her she can pick it out and we talk about what she might choose.
If Chrissa needs to rest, all she has to do is to tell me using the appropriate signal we discussed and we find a good place for her to sit. If things get too hard, Chrissa may tell me and we leave and come back another time. As time has gone by, we have increased our expectations, including her speaking in an appropriate indoor voice. We now shop longer and pick up more items.
Reward the Right Behavior
I begin our shopping trips by reminding Chrissa of what she did well on a previous trip and how she was rewarded. Praise is very motivating for Chrissa so when she helps to steer or put things in the cart, or asks for a rest appropriately, we enthusiastically praise her correct behavior. If she meets these expectations throughout the trip, she gets to have a snack or lunch from the food area, usually sharing a pretzel or popcorn and a drink with me when we finish shopping. If she starts to deviate from the expected behavior, we remind her of the planned snack/lunch treat. If things fall apart, we go home and try again another day. When things have gone well, we make sure we each thank the snack person at the store for helping our good day wrap up well! While we eat, we talk about how helpful Chrissa was and how much fun we had shopping with her that day. Ending on a positive note is always important.
Adapt and Overcome
We have gone to stores and unexpectedly found they were having special events and there were characters present. Early on, that meant we just left, but as Chrissa got older and more adept at shopping, we now see if there is another door to enter. Sometimes we can go to another superstore, but if Chrissa says she wants to go home, that is what we do. If another entrance works, we may now be able to go in, but only buy the items far away from the mascot. If her sister is with us, they may go try something on and I can go grab the few things I need over by the character. I have adjusted my expectations to be okay with doing things differently when needed.
Early on, I firmly made (and stuck to) my commitment to make only the number of stops we discussed beforehand – no matter what enticing sales I may have seen at another location. As Chrissa has matured, I ask her for permission to make an additional stop, sometimes in exchange for a visit to a park afterward. I have found I can add a stop for gas that is unplanned because she does not have to get out of the car and Chrissa hates the possibility of running out of gas on the way home.
All of the thoughtful preplanning we have done and the processes we developed and practiced for shopping have paid off. We can now go to five stores and she has not dropped to the floor in many years. We can now visit unfamiliar stores and have become adventurous in our outings. In addition, we have generalized these skills to other important activities. We have traveled to different cities for seven weeks at a time for eleven summers in a row. The first weekend in May, Chrissa took her first airplane ride very successfully thanks to us transferring the positive behavior support processes and skills we used for shopping to the airport and airplanes!
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2019 Magazine