If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook you may have seen over the last 24 hours that I have found myself in a little trouble at home as a consequence of a shopping trip with our three year old daughter.
We may have spent a little more money than I had anticipated in Marks and Spencer. So much so that I had to ring J and do some expectation management before he got home.
The conversation went something like this:
J: "How much did you spend?"
I mumbled a figure.
J: "How much??"
Me: "Sorry, line's breaking up!"
J: "I'm on my LANDLINE!"
So, when he got home, J was using his best, speaking very calmly and slowly voice with me about my expenditure. He normally reserves this tone of voice for explaining to relatives that their loved one is seriously ill.
Was I listening? No, of course not, I was too busy tweeting about it. So he wrote me this note:
That told us then!
Anyway, our shopping adventure made me remember some of the challenges we faced with our son when we first adopted him.
In the early days he found supermarkets incredibly stressful. The noise, the people, the colours and shapes were all stimuli that seemed to send him in to either a frenzy of hyperactivity or the total opposite, a meltdown of fear and tears.
We learnt this very early on. In the first few days of transition we would collect our son from the foster home and take him out for the day in their local area. We chose to stop at an Asda superstore not far from the foster home. The intention was to get a coffee and a snack and to pick up some essentials. A young mother was clearly having a really tough time with her toddler in the same aisle as us. She ended up losing her temper and shouting incoherently at her child.
Our son instantaneously went from being interactive and happy to silent and withdrawn. We continued into the next section, with the young mother's shouts still audible. Our son became increasingly distressed and asked to leave. Trying to calm him didn't work so we ended up abandoning our trolley and returning to the car.
We subsequently discovered that the young mother's behaviour was reminiscent of our son's birth mother's behaviour. Behaviour which would normally be a precursor to more violent acts.
That situation is a good example of something we learnt very early on in our adoption of our son. Sometimes you just need to give up and go with the flow. Whatever plan you have needs to be put to one side for the benefit of your child.
Our, then, three year old son's alternative behaviour in a supermarket could be much more embarrassing. Soon after arriving in the store he would seemingly become bored. Reaching out for the nearest thing on the nearest shelf, regardless of what it was, if he was in the trolley. Running off in a chaotic and disruptive fashion if out of the trolley seat.
J had a couple of particularly embarrassing episodes in the first few weeks of our son living with us. On one occasion he managed to stick his arm out and scoop everything off a shelf as they walked down a supermarket aisle. Luckily it was in the toiletries section, so mess but nothing broken. Embarrassing all the same.
On another occasion our son was out of the trolley, began the chaotic running about behaviour and had what was to be his only public tantrum when told by J to stop. Full on lying on the ground kicking and screaming.
Our nearest town has two supermarkets, an Aldi and a Waitrose. In those early months and, indeed, in the early months after we had adopted our daughter, our decision as to where we would shop would be dependent upon our reading of the mood of our child.
Awful to say as it is, if either of the children was a bit distressed we would plump for Aldi where their bad behaviour would be more benignly looked upon and appear less out of place than Waitrose. If they were behaving then we could brave Waitrose, where the children we came across always appeared to be called 'Portia' and 'Tristam' and be asking "Mummy, may we have Kalamata olives and hummus please?"
Our reading of the situation hasn't always been correct, evidenced by my taking our, then, two year old daughter to Waitrose on my way to the gym. In a fairly busy aisle she decided to pull my track suit bottoms down. I'm waiting for the CCTV footage to appear on a 'You've been framed' type tv show any day.
We soon learnt the best way to manage these trips better, making them a pleasant experience for us all, so our top tips for shopping with your newly adopted toddler would be:
- Make your trips short and frequent, to both limit exposure to stressful stimuli, to make them more manageable and to acclimatise your child to the environment of the supermarket
- Agree what you are going in to buy beforehand. Explain clearly and simply what you need to get. This manages expectation and also allows you to....
- Turn the shopping trip into a game. We would get our children to help remember what we needed to buy and find the items, engaging them and focussing their attention away from any other distractions.
Every child is of course different, so strategies will need to be adapted. That however has worked well for us with both our children. I hope sharing it will help others in a similar situation.