Meltdowns at the Mall

It happens to all of us… Especially this time of year… We all have seen it. What am I talking about? Meltdowns at the mall. 

It’s not limited to people with diagnoses and it can happen to the best of us. People are frustrated by the long lines and wait times, they may be aggravated with all of the noise, they could even just be hungry or tired. Someone’s nerves could be frayed for any number of reasons. Vocal individuals may yell, stomp, off or complain (excessively). For non-vocal individuals they may cry, drop to the floor, or start engaging in self-injurious behaviors. 

I’m not here to talk about the other adults we may encounter. The best I can say to you about them is to try to maintain the spirit of the holiday season. I already know that I may come in contact with all kinds of people while out shopping. I try to stay positive and keep myself happy and bright. I also try to compliment the store personnel that are doing the same. I have often found (non-scientifically speaking, of course) that happy people working behind the counter tend to greet people in a more pleasant way and keep their lines moving. However, my concern with meltdowns is our clients and what we can do to help them be more successful. 

Here are a few proactive strategies that may provide some assistance…

  1. Go shopping at off times. If you are going to the mall, try to be there when they first open in the morning. Most times the crowd is smaller in the early morning and it will likely be quieter. You can also try going right before they close, if you know exactly what you need to get and where it is.
  2. Make sure your child has eaten. I know I get a bit crabby when I haven’t eaten and I’m not the only one out there who does. Sometimes, having a snack or a meal before heading out can go a long way towards someone remaining in a good mood.
  3. Don’t forget their communication method or device. Behaviors are a way of communicating. If I have a easier way to communicate with you (signing, PECS, voice output device etc.) to ensure that I’m understood, then I won’t engages in other less effective methods. 
  4. Rest is important. Have you ever tried going to work to work tired? Shopping may be fun for you, but it could be work for your child. Make sure they are well rested before heading out.  
  5. Try a visual schedule and explaining what you all will be doing. Telling someone the plan can be helpful. Some of us may need a visual reminder of the plan as well. A visual schedule of the activities (in this case the stores you plan on visiting) can be an easy way to support your child. If you child can read, simply write out the list. If you child can’t read, then print pictures of the store’s logos (or signage) and put them on a list for your child. If you don’t know what stores you will be visiting, then let your child know that you all are going shopping for certain people and make a list of names (or pictures) for your child to check off. 
  6. Reinforcement is always key. Don’t underestimate the power of good reinforcement. A reinforcer is something that causes a behavior to increase. So, if you want to see continued positive behaviors when out, provide reinforcement. Remember, the reinforcer is not something you want. If your child doesn’t like cotton candy, then providing that as a reinforcer will not work. If your job switched out paying you in dollars for paying you in curtains, I doubt they would get the same level of work from you (if any). 
  7. Pack your patience. We all know the stores and malls can be hectic this time of year. Remember to be patience with your child and the others around you.

If you have tried these options and feel like you could use a little help, contact a professional to assist you. A board certified behavior analyst may be able to provide you with the extra boost to help you reduce the meltdowns. 

As always, we at Breakthrough Developmental Services are here to help. You can start by viewing our website and clicking “I’d like to take the first step.”

Have a great week,

Barbara Erby-Young