I’ve had my share of embarrassing moments when my child decided it would be a good time to have a public ADHD meltdown by sprawling out prostrate in the middle of the grocery store aisle and scream as if his hair was on fire. I know you just smiled and nodded, didn’t you?”
So an ADHD meltdown has happened to you too?!
Like when you’re determined to get a few errands checked off your to-do list. The last thing on your mind is having to deal with an ADHD meltdown in public. So, you mindlessly load your child into the car and head out to take advantage of the latest sales.
Then you realize that things aren’t going so well. For some unknown reason, your child can’t seem to keep it together. The littlest things are upsetting to them. First, the fidgeting followed by whining.
Then—WHAM! Out of nowhere, your child collapses to the ground screaming and crumbles into pieces like a two-week-old cupcake…Yes Ma’am, you just experienced an, all too familiar, full-blown public ADHD meltdown!
If you didn’t already know, shopping with an ADHD child comes with some unique challenges.
You may not always be aware of what triggers an ADHD meltdown but, one thing you and I do know is—they occur. Especially on out in public situations. Most especially grocery markets, shops, and big box department stores.
So why is that?
I’m not always on point when it comes to situational awareness but it didn’t take me long to put two and two together—
ADHD and stores don’t mix.
In my experience, I’d watched my son go from being somewhat calm before entering a store to acting as if he had just consumed 3 shots of espresso and lost his hearing at the same time.
Once in a store, the “meltdown triggers” for an ADHD child are around every corner. All the colors, the lights, the sounds, the activity and the unpredictability of the environment can become too much to take in and process at one time.
Leading to a major case of sensory overload.
Once they’ve become overwhelmed and overcome by all the stimuli around them, you can pretty much guarantee the customers in the store are about to see a “show”.
So, since you can’t change the store environment, and you still need to run your errands, you can do some things to put the odds in your favor.
But, it takes a little preparation.
If you’re frazzled, tired, anxious or overwhelmed before you go out the door, the day and your list of errands can quickly get ahead of you. Slow down. Take a moment to see what is on that list.
Then ask yourself this.
Am I relaxed and in a good head-space before I leave the house?
Right now you might be thinking…What?! Joye, where is this going?
I know this seems silly, but most of us moms (including myself) run on caffeine to get through our days. Hey, I love a good quad-shot, soy, cinnamon dolce latte as much as the next mom. Without even knowing it, too much java juice can cause the most hardened espresso addict to feel like an over-stretched rubber band about to snap.
You may not know why you’re tense or short-tempered but the culprit could be caffeine. In addition to being jittery, jumpy and slightly strung out, you can become easily agitated which can significantly reduce the amount of patience you have.
Just a “mom to mom” head’s up.
Am I being realistic about the number of errands and the amount of time I have to complete them?
We have so much to do—usually without enough time to do it all.
As moms, we want nothing more than to look at our to-do list and take pride in all the boxes that we’ve checked off. Yet somehow feel as though we’ve let everyone down if we don’t accomplish each and every task. By default, we pile too much on our plates and push too hard to get everything done.
So, before you go forward with any plans for your day, set the pace. Try not to overload your day.
Realistically evaluate the number of errands you’re trying to complete in one day. Then, decide which ones are the most important. Put them on the top of the list. Then work your way down to the less important ones — if time and your child’s attitude permit.
Remember, if things aren’t coming together and the day starts to fall apart, know when to raise the white flag and admit defeat.
With ADHD kids, there needs to be a check and balance system in place.
That check and balance system begins by answering the following questions about your child.
Did you have “the talk” before you walked out the door?
Surprises and sudden abrupt changes can be difficult for ADHD kids. They thrive on predictability and routine. Talk to them ahead of time and let them know what you are about to do and where you’ll be going. Let them know what your expectations are for their behavior during the outing.
This super simple, small step will add up to a win-win for you both.
Did I put in place the countdown method before the change in routine?
One of the hardest things for an ADHD child to adjust to sudden changes in their routine. Sometimes abrupt change is unavoidable. I get it…life happens. But when you can, try and give your child time to prepare for the next activity.
I found this to be extremely useful when preparing my son for an outing.
Add an extra 15 minutes to your leave time. Remind your child every 3 minutes by letting them know how much time they have left before you leave. Setting a kitchen timer works well for this. Then in the final 3 minutes, have them stop what they’re doing and meet up with you to prepare for leaving. This process will give your ADHD child time to adjust to the shift in activities.
By using this simple countdown method you’ll reduce their frustration and ease them into the next transition of the day.
Has my child had enough to eat before the outing?
Your best bet is to have your child eat before you go. Hungry and Happy are two words that don’t go together.
Snacks on outings are your best friend. “Repeat after me…Snacks are my best friend.”
Snacks have saved me countless times when I needed a quick distraction or a tummy-filler for my child. They help to ease the tummy-grumbles while waiting for the next big meal of the day.
From experience, snacks also seem to feed and calm the ADHD brain. I recommend something with limited sugar and more protein. Beef jerky and fruit were our go-to snack.
Has my child had enough rest before the outing?
This doesn’t even seem like something that should be on the list of questions but trust me, if your child hasn’t had enough sleep, you will be ripe for a meltdown.
Sleep is one of the necessary components to bring about calm in the ADHD child.
If I was a betting woman, I’d put all my money on an ADHD meltdown occurring when your child is deprived of sleep. Try and plan your outings after a good night’s rest or after a nap. You’ll thank me later.
Am I being reasonable with the amount of time I will be out shopping?
This is a tough one! I personally love to shop. But, shopping for too long can frustrate your child. So, try and pay close attention to your child’s mood. And, before you begin your outing, decide on a reasonable amount of time you will shop.
If you have to, set your timer on your phone to alert you when your shopping time is up.
I don’t know about you but I’ve been in some stores for two hours and thought I was only in there for 30 minutes. Just between you and me, I think they sprinkle you with some kind of “time-altering” pixie dust as you walk through the doors.
I know, setting a time limit for shopping can be a downer. But, having your child go into a full-blown, ADHD meltdown in the middle of a store can be an even bigger downer.
Do you have a plan before you leave the car and enter the store?
I can’t stress this enough. Talk with your ADHD child. Have rules in place for shopping. Keep the rules simple and few. Let them know what is expected of them while you are in the store. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Once you have gone over the rules with your child and they know what is expected of them, stick to your guns. No idle threats or pleading.
Last resort…have a backup plan.
Don’t be afraid to leave the store if things get too hairy. I’ve gone up to the customer service desk with a full cart of groceries and a screaming child under my arm and asked them to please return the groceries to the shelf for me because I couldn’t stay…but they knew my situation before I uttered a word.
Preparation Plus Planning = More Positive Outings
Of course, not every ADHD meltdown can be completely avoided.
But with some preparation, planning and thoughtful consideration, your outings are less likely to end with someone crying (and I’m not talking about your child.)
By keeping frustrations to a minimum for you and your ADHD child, you’ll be able to accomplish more. Ultimately dialing back the likelihood your child will fall to the ground and meltdown like a popsicle on hot pavement.