Stress-free Back to School Shopping
Have you started your back-to-school shopping yet? Children all over the country will be returning to school soon and the advertisements and sales have begun.
Shopping is usually not a child's favorite thing to do, unless the purchases are intended for them. Even then, shopping can lose its glamour and glitz after an hour, especially for a child with sensory issues that can be easily overwhelmed by the lights, noise and people in a big box store.
The reality of back-to-school shopping is inevitable. It's always a time saver to shop without your kids but that's not always possible. When it comes to buying clothes it's best that they are there to try things on. Fortunately, if your children have to accompany you there are many things you can do to make shopping excursions as positive as they can be.
The best way to tackle a shopping trip with any child is to have a plan of action. A worse case scenario would involve an impulsive, unplanned, spur of the moment decision to take the kids and enter the shopping scene with little warning. This can backfire on any one, especially if you go without a list.
It's also important to be wary of the back-to-school commercials that gradually lure children into an "I want. . .", "I need. . .", or "I must have that for school . . ." mindset. These advertisements are doing their very best to lure your child into asking for things they don't really need but you have the power to counteract that. To help you curtail the back-to-school monster that may be threatening to consume your child's mind and your pocketbook here are some strategies for school shopping with your child if you can't go alone.
- Discuss the game plan with your child ahead of time. Children on the autism spectrum tend to be very concrete so let them know where you are going, how long it will take and what to expect. The more your child knows the better she will be able to cope. Consider providing her with her own list or allowing her to check off each item on the list as it is accomplished. If she understands exactly what is going to happen next she will be less likely to whine, lose her patience or create a scene.
- Make a list and stick to it. If buying school supplies is the goal for the day, keep it to that and save the school clothes or other items for another day. Straying from the game plan will only risk heightening your child's anxiety as children with Autism do best when you adhere to a written list or picture schedule that lets them know exactly what to expect. If possible, allow your child to have input and involve him in creating the list of supplies needed. If the list is agreed upon prior to going shopping it is easy to point to the list and say no to additional requests.
- Be realistic. Unless your back-to-school list is very short, plan for more than one shopping trip if your child will be accompanying you each time. Don't try to get everything you need packed into one excursion. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders function better when activities are divided into small chunks of time. Being mindful of everyone's limited capacity for patience and frustration tolerance will help prevent the type of emotional meltdown you want to avoid in public.
- Leave the house with a full tank. This is not a reference to your car's fuel tank but your child's best level of functioning. Make sure your child is well rested and fed prior to leaving the house. If your child is sensitive to noise, spending time in a crowded, noisy and strange environment can be unsettling and overstimulating. Bring her favorite healthy snacks to refuel her when she gets hungry and water to keep her well hydrated as well.
- Create an atmosphere of fun and learning. Make up creative games you can play with your child while shopping. If your son is old enough, ask him to be your helper by telling him what you are looking for and call it a treasure hunt. Challenge your child to identify colors, count items or give him something that is OK to touch and ask him to describe it. Make sure you have included one activity in the shopping spree that is enjoyable for you and your child.
- Limit your child's TV viewing. If your child watches any TV, you can be sure that she is receiving numerous media messages, which promote the notion that consumption is the pathway to happiness, love, acceptance, and success. These messages are also creeping into the internet and the cell phones that now seem to be a normal part of life for many children. The media madness that advances a commercial culture may impact your shopping trip, your child and your wallet more than you realize.
These strategies will not guarantee that your shopping experience with your child unfolds exactly as you hope for but being prepared will definitely help you reduce the risk of any unexpected circumstances from developing. When you can create a positive experience with this first of many school related activities, you will be helping your child take the first step towards a good start to a new school year.
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