Grocery Shopping - Supporting Your Child's Development

Children can often experience heightened sensory sensitivity when grocery shopping. They can also experience difficulties with regards to emotional resiliency and following instructions. As a result, grocery shopping can often become a dreaded activity when needing to take the whole family along. There is however a range of strategies that can be implemented in order to help make the experience more enjoyable and engaging for the entire family. Please see below for strategies and activity ideas.

Addressing sensory sensitivities:

  • Completing the grocery shopping at quieter times of day. The fewer people that are present at the store, will reduce the level of noise input experienced.
  • Visiting stores in a less populated area may reduce amount of people present in the store at one time. Therefore reducing the noise input. This could include stand-alone stores, rather than those located in a shopping centre.
  • Have your child wear ear-muffs or plugs to help reduce the intensity of the noise input experienced whilst in the store.
  • Wearing sunglasses in the store can help children who are sensitive to bright lighting, as the lighting in grocery stores is often quite harsh.
  • Reducing the length of time you are spending at the store. For example, completing two smaller shops during the week, rather than one large shop.
  • Have the child sit in the trolley if possible, to reduce the likelihood of them bumping into others during the shopping experience.

Behavioural strategies:

  • Weekly schedules/day planners/calendars that outline which day is shopping day and the time of the visit. This may help to prepare your child for the visit.
  • Use of reward charts to help reinforce good behaviours demonstrated by your child when at the store.
  • This could be points awarded following each visit to the store and the reward occurring at the end of the week/month. It could on the other hand involve awarding points for good behaviour after exiting each isle.
  • The type of reward system used would depend on the extent of the child’s behavioural concerns during the shopping experience. This can be discussed with your occupational therapist during sessions.
  • The types of rewards are usually small in nature. For example, an additional visit to the park, a special treat on the weekend or picking the movie on family movie night. Your occupational therapist can discuss this with you further if you are finding it hard to come up with reward items.
  • Social stories and visuals explaining expected and appropriate behaviours when at the grocery store could be effective to go through before each shopping trip.
  • Allowing the child to select a meal that the family is going to have during the week, in order to give them a sense of control over the shopping experience and to help increase their desire to go to the store.
  • You could provide the child options of meals to pick from in order to ensure the meal still has nutritional value.

Tips for promoting engagement and targeting other skill areas:

  • Having the child write out the shopping list not only involves them in the activity as a whole, but also helps to work on their handwriting skills.
  • Playing games of I-spy can help engage the child in the activity, but at the same time promoting their visual processing skills:
  • Have the child identify objects with similar characteristics (i.e. shape, size and colour of the packaging).
  • Have the child help locate items on the shelf.
  • Throughout the shopping experience, you could also engage many of the other senses, including touch and smell. This can be achieved by touching and smelling the produce that is placed in the trolley. For infection control purposes, please only complete these actions on products you are purchasing.

Please contact your occupational therapist if you have any questions about the above activities and we hope your next shopping experience is more enjoyable and engaging. Thank you for reading!

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