Like a tea kettle screeching or fingernails scratching along a chalkboard, your child’s screaming during a meltdown at the grocery store probably tops your list of the most horrendous sounds. Check out these tips for a calmer sounding experience.

Discuss and practice with your child the behavior you would like them to exhibit. For example, tell your child you expect him/her to sit properly in the shopping cart, or that you expect him/her to stay next to you, or that you expect him/her to help you push the shopping cart. To practice, create a make-believe shopping cart by asking your child to sit up straight in a chair. Tell your child that they are doing a great job sitting and that you expect them to sit in this manner while he/she is in the grocery cart.

Ask your child to push the chair as if they were pushing the cart through the store. You can have your child push the chair next to your pantry and you can place, or your child can place, cans on the chair. Tell your child that they are doing a great job pushing and placing items in the cart and that you expect him/her to push the cart and place items in the cart in this manner while at the grocery store.

Make the shopping experience a game. After gathering every five items on your list give your child a high five or a pat on the back. Count your list of remaining items and ask your child to guess how many minutes it will take to gather the remaining items. Pretend that the shopping cart is a time machine and you and your child are traveling back in time with each aisle i.e., the bread aisle is the Wild West, the meat section is a Tyrannosaurus Rex hot spot, and the canned vegetable aisle is the future.

At the check-out station you can make conversation with the cashier and the bagger. Engage your child in the conversation as well. Ask your child to tell the cashier and the bagger the time periods you encountered. Several grocery stores have prizes for children such as balloons and stickers that you may want to permit your child to have.

On the way home celebrate your child’s success by praising them for specific positive behaviors he/she demonstrated.

If all else fails, let your child have their meltdown. Keep him/her safe. You stay calm, too. Ignore the stares from strangers. When your child finishes their meltdown, soothe them, and try to find out what triggered their tantrum.

Lastly, I asked my mother for advice on this grocery store topic, and she opined, “My advice, if at all possible, leave the child at home.”

Joshua Levy is the President of Joshua Levy Educational Consulting. Joshua works with parents, educators, and children’s museums who are seeking to strengthen their relationships with individuals with special needs. Joshua is also the Founder/Executive Director of Joshua’s Stage – an enrichment program for individuals with a wide range of special needs, featuring: after-school programs; camps; workshops, and individual enrichment programs in theatre arts, improv, arts and crafts, music, dance, photography, and create-a-story. Joshua’s innovative The Creative Outlet Method includes strategies for providing children with the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity, increase their self-confidence, and build their social skills. Joshua’s book, The Creative Outlet Method Book of Creativity: At-Home Activities for Children with Special Needs is a fabulous resource for parents, educators, and therapists. Contact Joshua at

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