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Meltdowns at the Mall

On a recent trip to the mall, I noticed quite a few crying, yelling, upset children. I think we can predict this upswing in tantrums and behavioral problems during the holiday season, given all the high expectations, lack of sleep and sugar our children experience.

But for Complex Learners, these behaviors can be triggered by other factors and quickly go from a run-of-the-mill tantrum to a full-blown meltdown. During a tantrum, a child has trouble managing their emotions, usually because they want something. The outburst may be minor and may stop if the request is fulfilled. A meltdown is when the child feels overwhelmed and has so little control that the behavior doesn’t stop until he/she is completely worn out or sometimes when the triggers are removed.

For children with sensory and social difficulties, the mall is a landmine, especially at this time of year. The number of shoppers practically quadruples, lights, decorations, and music are on steroids and even the packed parking lot creates added time and frustration for the trip.

Here are a few ideas for managing the madness:

  • Have a specific reason for going to the mall. Write a list of who you are shopping for and what stores you want to go into.
  • Get to know your child’s triggers. Keep him/her away from certain stores or areas with too many lights and sounds or the food court or the huge Santa Claus lines.
  • Decide together with your child on a code word that means things are getting overwhelming and too difficult to manage. Decide on a strategy for this, like finding a quiet space or even leaving.
  • If shopping takes longer than expected, take breaks to give your child time to get away from the noise and people.
  • Try shopping at off times, maybe first thing in the morning or evenings, instead of heading to the mall on busy weekends.
  • If it’s really too much, keep your child home if you can. Or if he/she really wants to shop, find small local stores or places that are generally low key.
  • Why not try online shopping to make the process even easier? Amazon Smile will even donate to The Wolf School with every gift you purchase!

Do you have other strategies that help with seasonal shopping?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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