“I have the best idea,” my daughter exclaimed. “We can go shopping!”
Panic struck me. No Way. Get out of this situation. Think of something fast.
“Please, please, please,” my daughter begged. “It’ll be a mommy and daughter day.”
My mind raced over past experiences: The time she frenzied over a gazillion clothes. The time she cried and insulted me because she didn’t get what she wanted. The time she had a meltdown and refused to leave the store.
“I’ll even bring my own money,” she pleaded.
My heart pounded but the desperate desire in her eyes softened my will.
“Okay. Fine. We’ll go.” I dreaded the outing but resolved to be proactive and to use some strategies from a book titled The Connected Child. They worked.
Here are the strategies and how I used them:
The act of making choices engages the brain’s higher-level reasoning. It allows children to feel some control over their situation, promotes cooperation, and provides an opportunity to practice making decisions.
“How about we go to Ardene or Costco at the strip plaza first? You decide,” I said. “Then, if you behave, we’ll go to the mall.”
“Ardene, Ardene, Ardene,” she squealed. I could imagine where her thoughts were taking her: Oooh—makeup, clothes, shoes!
Make Expectations and Consequences Clear
Clear expectations and consequences helps manage behaviour. It’s important to establish them early and review them if necessary.
I outlined many expectations and consequences. For instance, good behaviour at Ardene would lead to a trip to the mall. Misbehaviour (whining, crying, arguing, insulting, refusing to listen) would end our outing. She could purchase one item with her money, pending my approval. I might buy her something—no guarantees. And we’d take turns choosing stores at the mall.
Provide a Script
Scripts set up children for success. My daughter, like many children, hates the word “no.” It denies her wants and triggers defiant reactions. I try to avoid the horrid word, but shopping has the potential to supercharge wants which I’d have to squash with a hard “no.”
To avoid a meltdown, I gave her the script, “Okay, Mom,” in response to hearing “no.” We practiced the script to build it into her muscle memory.
“No, you can’t buy that.”
“No, we can’t go into that store.”
“No, we can’t stay longer.”
Stimulating environments can quickly dysregulate children. Malls churn with people, stores and products. The noise and hustle can fuel a meltdown. In these situations, it’s important to monitor their emotional and physical needs.
I took a few measures to avoid overload. For example, I imposed a two-hour time limit at the mall. I bought my daughter a snack and a drink to make sure she didn’t feel hungry or thirsty. And I tried on a couple items at lightning speed. These strategies helped.
Our shopping experience was a huge success despite one tense moment at our last store. This store roused my daughter’s emotions. She rummaged through tons of beautiful clothes. Her voice grew louder and her eyes widened as she ogled them. Then the questions started. “Can I try on this one? Can I try on that one?”
“No, not now. We’ve spent enough. It’s time to go home.” I saw the angst in her eyes, but she responded cooperatively.