Sensory Strategies for the Grocery Store

Is grocery shopping with your child a challenge?

With so many products competing for the shopper’s attention, the grocery store is a full-on assault of color, noise, and confusion. It can be a challenge for kids with sensory issues to navigate this environment. In recent years, grocery pickup and delivery have become available, and for parents who are able to plan ahead and take advantage of these options, they can be a lifesaver. Eventually, though, we end up back at the store, and sometimes with a kid in tow whose brain can’t quite take it all in. Today we’ll share some tips to make your grocery shopping trips a little easier.

The best approach is to be prepared before you ever enter the store. Consider some of the following options for how to prepare:

  • Do heavy work prior to going to the store.
  • Before going to the store, put the washer on spin cycle and let him sit on top of the washer to get some good sensory input before going to the store (headphones can be used if sensitive to washer noise).
  • Bring fidget toys to distract and organize.
  • Add headphones if your child appears sensitive to the noise in the store.
  • Give the child a task to help him focus on an activity, such as counting something, looking at letters, finding the right cereal.
  • Bring a weighted vest, weighted stuffed animal, or ankle weights to help give some input during the time you are at the store.
  • Be aware that each child has different needs. Some hate the cart, while others need that confinement. Either way, letting your child run wild in the store is a bad idea. Best advice? Get out of there fast. Do your shopping and do not linger (don’t go without a list!)

Anticipate what sensory triggers will be present at the store, and prepare for them. Being a detective and planning ahead is always better than trying to fix what is broken. If you know your kiddo will want to go to the toy aisle and the answer is going to be “no” then you also know your kiddo may react poorly. Communicate with your child before and during the interaction to make sure he feels heard. Even if the answer is no, going through the request and denial of the request is better than trying to tell the child “it’s ok.” It is not ok – he is sad, mad, not getting what he wants, and does not feel heard. Keep the standard (no, you cannot have every toy you touch, for example) but hear the request.

Try some of these tips the next time you head to the grocery store with your child. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your child with sensory strategies, talk to your child’s therapist or contact our office for a free consultation.

Carolyn Miller, MSOT, OTR/L
Victoria Wood, OTR/L

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