Taking the Stress out of Back-to-School Shopping

With the first day of school just weeks away, it’s time to stock up on all of the school supplies, clothes, and accessories that you kids are going to need this year. Back-to-school shopping can seem when your child has ADHD. The idea of having to keep track of an active, impulsive, and distractable child while also managing a long shopping list is daunting for parents. For kids, the stress, over-stimulation, and temptations that accompany back-to-school shopping lay the perfect foundation for the predictable arguments and meltdowns. No one can avoid back-to-school shopping, but there are many things you can do to make it a more positive experience for you and your child.

  1. Design a shopping plan with your child’s limits in mind. While you may be tempted to embark on a back-to-school shopping marathon so that you can finish everything in one day, chances are good that your child is not up to this monumental task. Instead, break the shopping trip up into chunks either by store or by category (clothes, school supplies, shoes, etc.). Plan to spend only as much time in each store as you think your child can reasonably handle. Remember that unlike typical shopping outings where you pick up some groceries or a few household items, back-to-school shopping requires your child to help make decisions about things you’ll be buying. Decision fatigue, and the irritability and frustration that accompany it, will inevitably creep in if you shop for too long.
  2. Make a list and let your child check it off. Creating a list for each shopping trip will help you and your child stay focused on the things that you really need to buy. Empower your child by assigning them the task of checking off items as you go. Better yet, have your child write down the price of each item as it is purchased, so that they can track the amount of money being spent. When they pay more attention to cost, they may be more understanding when they ask for something extra and are told “No.”
  3. Set clear expectations. Your child will feel more calm and patient while they are shopping if they know what to expect before they leave the house. Let them know which stores you’ll be visiting, how long you’ll be shopping, and what you’ll be buying (only items on the shopping list!).
  4. Be prepared to help your child deal with temptations. When a store is filled with temptations, your child is going to see many things that they would like to buy that aren’t on the list. It hard for kids to be surrounded by so many things that they cannot have, and this is especially true for more impulsive kids who have ADHD. You can’t remove the temptations, but you can help your child cope with their impulsive feelings and their “need” to have so many things that they see:
    • Create opportunities for choices. Empower your child by allowing them to make choices about the things that they are able to have. Let them pick out their favorite notebooks, pencils, erasers, backpack, etc. If having too many options is overwhelming for your child, then point out two or three items that are a good fit for your child’s needs and your family’s budget, and allow your child to choose from this smaller selection.
    • Add extra items to a birthday, holiday, or future rewards list. Spending time shopping with your child actually provides an excellent opportunity for you to learn about things that they may want to earn as rewards for meeting behavior goals, or receive as gifts on their next birthday or holiday. So, if your child sees something that they want, let them know that they can’t have it now, but they can add it to their reward or gift list. Some kids like to create the list as they shop, and others like to write out the full list from memory when they get home.
  5. Praise your child. When you’re busy and stressed it can be easy to focus on all of the things that your child is “doing wrong” and forget to focus on everything that they are doing right. So, make a conscious effort to notice the times when your child calmly puts something back after they were told that they couldn’t have or when they stay by your side instead of wandering off. Praise your child and let your child know that you appreciate the way that they are behaving. Also acknowledge that it’s not always easy to follow the rules and accept tough decisions on school shopping days. The more positive attention they receive from you, the more likely they will be to meet your expectations and enjoy their experience.

Back-to-school shopping isn’t easy for kids with ADHD or their parents. But when you’re prepared with a few key strategies and solid shopping plan you’ll be able to get your child everything that they need and may even enjoy each other’s company along the way.

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