Shopping, educating, and cooking are some of my favorite things. So, when I received the offer to go on a “Mom Shop Along” at one of our favorite grocery stores, I jumped at the chance. This was an opportunity to communicate my grocery shopping preferences as well as our special dietary needs to the Raley’s personnel. (Raley’s writes about our family and my gluten free tips here: June Mom of the Month.)
The day of our Mom Shop Along, I began to get cold feet. Raley’s management was going to follow my boys and I as we shuffled through coupons, reached for products and read labels through every aisle of the store. What was I thinking? I agreed to come at 4:00 in the afternoon; not only a down time for my kids, but a crowded time for the grocery store. As I pondered the (un)expected things that could potentially happen, I considered cancelling.
Living in the community with a special needs child-or even juggling multiple children, calls for a certain state of mind. I can opt out of life and isolate myself and children because day trips are too stressful, or I can choose a “can do” mindset. I told myself the words I often use to motivate my boy, “I can do it”.
Then I began to think through the effective tools I use to help our special needs family be successful in the community.
Communicate with significant others before the event
In the event our shopping trip became too stressful for my son, and honestly, in order to manage my own anticipated stress, I needed a plan. I contacted the Raley’s personnel to inform them I needed to assess how my child was doing before and during the shop along. They were agreeable.
Ahh, step one of operation de-stress was taken care of before we arrived.
Have a back-up plan for your child
As always with special needs, you need a back-up plan. It serves as an escape and survival plan if the event becomes too stressful or overloaded with stimuli.
The back-up plan may include the following:
- an early exit
- spouses bring both cars if family members want to remain in the event uninterrupted
- discuss pacing the child’s activity level with a quiet time and quiet place
- bring necessary items in a specified bag to soothe the child (lotion, paper, book, textured ball)
- bring behavior chart, and don’t forget the frequent verbal praise and rewards
- inform your host about your plan and make any gracious requests as needed
Today my back-up plan included frequent verbal praise for making good choices, as well as the reminder of his favorite smoothie he would receive at the end of the event. If he became too grumpy (which is often the case given a stressful situation in the late afternoon), I would be sending him to hang out in the van with his brother. (Safety note: It was not hot outside, windows are cracked, both boys are legal age to be in the car alone, and we often come equipped with paper, pen, or dvd player to help him pass the time).
Educate those who will be with you
I am always learning, when I let others know our special needs, they become team players with us. Educating others in the mission of helping your child and the event be successful, gets others on board. When they understand why you are bringing a chart, gummy rewards, or addressing behaviors a certain way, they will often become an emotional and physical support person for you.
What special needs family couldn’t use another team player in their corner? I am finding when I am open about our needs and plans, I am less likely to feel the stress of sticking out like a sore thumb.
Stick to your plan
Under the pressure of being watched, stared at, or misunderstood, do not shrink back my friend. Stick to your behavior plan or your operation de-stress plan. Be there for your child. Remain consistent, confident and even-tempered in order to carry out whatever your child and your family needs.
I believe in being respectful and courteous of others around us, but my mission is first and foremost to my own family. If I bend and change to the pressure of how others perceive us, I will not be the strength and consistent parent my special needs child requires.
Thankfully, my son has brothers who are attentive and compassionate buddies to him. I communicate the plan with them and they are team players. The brothers have been talked with and have the information they need to know in order to help the afternoon go smoothly for all of us.
Sometimes my youngest son doesn’t understand it all and he doesn’t really need to. I am always trying to strike the balance between expecting the siblings to be vital family members, but not burden them with responsibilities which do not belong to them.
Mommy-helpers are always a great assistance to any Mom who is juggling multiple kids. I was given the great advice years ago to enlist a young girl, not quite babysitting age, to hang out with us when we run errands. Now that my son is a teenager, we have a peer-helper; another teenage boy who comes to hang out with our son. Together they play Wii, walk the dog, and swim.
Express your gratitude
I don’t know if those in our lives will ever comprehend how vital they are to our day-to-day survival sometimes. Having the opportunity to be active in the community with people who are willing to be flexible and understanding of our special needs family is a true gift. It may even be a rare gift.
I want these people, including my own children, to know how grateful we are for them. Whenever we have the opportunity, we write thank you cards, provide financial support, and try to express actions and words of gratitude for helping us make life more enjoyable and successful.
Thanks to Raley’s, by the way, for taking the time with us on the Mom’s Shop Along! They were generous with their time, questions and note-taking, in order to provide even better customer service to the community.