Ask the Experts—Drama at the Grocery Store - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts—Drama at the Grocery Store

by Mari Farthing

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Local Experts Address Real Issues

In this new column, we ask local experts to give answers to the real parenting questions and issues that we all may face. This month’s question:

My child gets overwhelmed when at the grocery store or in big crowds and it usually ends up with him having a meltdown. I cannot leave him at home when shopping. Any tips?

Donnie Van Curen M.A., LMFT:
This can be a product of two things: anxiety or discipline (or sometimes both). With anxiety, I would offer the child something to keep them busy or distracted. This may be a book, music, game system, etc. This will help the child be less aware of the crowd. Find ways to teach the child to comfort themselves with breathing techniques, like blowing up imaginary balloons, or finding the colors of a rainbow in what people are wearing. Lastly, if possible, find times to shop that they are less crowded, with the plan to work up to larger crowds as the child becomes more comfortable.
If this is a discipline problem, you will find that the child has the ability to act appropriately, but chooses not to, because they are not getting what they want. It is important that this choice be met with discipline to possibly include: spankings, grounding, etc., depending on the age of the child and the form of discipline used in the household. At extremes, it might also be appropriate to remove the child for discipline at the time of the incident. Having positive incentives, like a trip for ice cream, could also be considered when the child acts appropriately.
Donnie Van Curen M.A., LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. Contact him at 405-823-4302 or

Kevin Tutty, LPC:
I actually cover a very similar question in my parenting class. This child sounds like he has some anxiety, possibly panic when in crowds. One option is to find a time when there would not be a lot of people if possible, like in the evening. Another is to tell your child that you could go for ice-cream as a reward when you are done with your shopping trip. In any case, you would want the trip to be as stress-free as possible. One way to accomplish this is to monitor your child's behaviors closely, and reassure him everything is going to be OK, that you are proud of him for doing such a good job and that you are almost done with the shopping. You could also have your child help you by looking for items you want to find, rewarding him with a prize at the end of the trip for finding items on your list.
Kevin Tutty is a licensed professional counselor in private practice. Contact him at 405-431-6225.

Gayla Westbrook, MA:
I know the trips to the grocery store are a necessity, and at times a challenge when you have one or more toddlers in tow. Some tips to think about before the trip to the grocery store:

  • If taking little ones along, make sure it’s not at nap time, that your children is rested.
  • Review the rules, such as stay in the shopping cart, stay with mommy, we are not asking for “stuff.”
  • Bring along finger snacks.
  • Have them assist, such as marking off the items as you put them in the cart, or have them assist putting things in the cart as this helps with fine motor skills and keeps them busy.
  • Talk with your child about what letter the grocery item starts with (this helps with language development).
  • Bring along one or two small books to keep the child preoccupied.
  • Talk with them as you are shopping—as this will keep them engaged.

Hopefully this will be helpful, and happy shopping,
Gayla Westbrook, MA, is the Program Director at the Parents Assistance Center Program Director. Contact her at 405-232-8226 or

We posted the same question to our readers, and here are their responses:

  • Download kid-friendly apps on your smartphone for your child to play.
  • Make the outing a game: toddlers can search for how many blue items they can find, while older kids can try to calculate the shopping total to see how close they can come to the actual total.
  • Write out a list of items for your child to look for in the store, using pictures for younger children.
  • Try a sling for younger children, which is often very comforting.
  • Make sure your children are fed and well-rested before your outing!
  • Bring a snack to occupy your child.
  • Keep your child occupied with the shopping list and searching for specific items to cross off.

Thank you to Lucinda W., Jennifer L., Chelsea R., Christy P., Erin A. and Blair F. for your feedback!

Do you have a question for our experts? Email it to and we’ll put the experts to work for you..

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