Well-meaning people can be, well, mean ~By Leslie Felker

By Leslie Felker
Sunday, March 4, 2007

If you’ve ever been a shopper in any kind of store, you’ve surely come across it.
You don’t have to be a parent to recognize the sights and sounds of a stranger in a store approaching a stressed-out parent with a whiny child to offer his or her expert advice. The remarks can range anywhere from downright rude — “In my day, kids who acted like that were spanked” — to downright annoying — “Oh, the poor thing needs a nap. He doesn’t want to be dragged to the grocery store” — to downright frightening — “You should tell her that if she keeps sucking her thumb it’ll shrivel up like a raisin and stay that way.”

Whatever the intention of the observer, the parent almost always becomes more perturbed at now having to deal with unwanted, unsolicited advice or commentary on what was already a frustrating situation.

Add to that the increased instances of disorders such as autism or ADD, and a trip to the grocery store where many people are either uninformed or ill-informed about such diagnoses becomes a recipe for disaster.

For a child with sensory integration or processing needs, the grocery store is one of the worst sensory-overload places in existence. Fluorescent lights that hum, the smells of many kinds of food or flowers, the music playing, the fruit begging to be squeezed, and the bodies and carts to be dodged or bumped into: all this is often overwhelming to kids in general, and even more so to kids with sensory issues.
Most parents want to get through the store as quickly and painlessly as possible. Then, just as the checkout line is in sight and the cashier saying goodbye to her last customer as he wheels his cart away, the following scenario ensues:

Unsolicited lady rears her brazen head and scolds, “You should have him buckled in there. He could fall and get hurt.” You start to explain that your child had been buckled in and must have just gotten the buckle undone, when another shopper veers her cart into your checkout line, and you’re stuck in aisle 12 explaining to a perfect (or probably not so perfect) stranger why there’s really no need to call Children and Youth Services, that you really don’t neglect or endanger your children on a regular basis.

As she nods her head and suspiciously eyes the black-and blue-mark on your son’s cheek, you find yourself unwittingly explaining about his fall into the coffee table as he chased his ball two days ago, realizing simultaneously that you shouldn’t have to tell her this, and that she’s probably wondering why any responsible parent would allow a ball inside the house. Seeing the checkout empty again, you use the naptime excuse and make your getaway, paying for your groceries and rushing out to the parking lot before she can follow and take down your license plate number.

For parents of young children, this kind of experience is all too familiar. A trip to the store with a young child should not have to feel like a trial. The next time you see an energetic child and a frazzled parent in a store, you might want to show some support by giving them an understanding look or offering up a silent prayer. It may actually end up being, well, meaningful.