Last week, my son Henry was already well into his rather lengthy spring break. He is in first grade and his school’s schedule is a little different than his sister’s. His summer is a bit shorter, but he has longer breaks during the year. MUCH longer breaks. They will both have a shared week of spring break, yes, but by then, Henry will have already been off for a week and a half.
As most parents know, extended breaks are a mixed bag. On the one hand, the kids are excited to have some time off school and enjoy a much-deserved break from hard work and study. On the other hand, you have bored kids around the house constantly seeking snacks, entertainment and snacks.
You’re probably thinking, “You said snacks twice.” Yes I did.
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Midway through the week, Erin and I were both struggling to keep Henry somewhat occupied, not just staring at electronic devices and distracted enough to at least let 15 or 20 minutes go between snack requests. And since he was eating everything in the pantry, we needed to make a grocery run, so I figured I’d solve two problems at once by taking Henry with me on a grocery trip.
Henry often loves to come to the store with me, and gets excited to help putting things in the cart. This is good for him, both in that it can often entertain him for 20 minutes, and also it puts him in contact with lots of different kinds of foods. Henry is autistic, and like a lot of autistic kids (and frankly, lots of kids all across the neurological spectrum) he is very particular about what he eats. This is driven in part by sensory preferences and other things, and we work with him to try to expand his diet. One of the ways to do this is just to expose him in a non-stressful way to different kinds of food. So grocery shopping is great because it can be a fun activity in a pressure-free environment that helps him build that comfort.
That is all well and good, but on this particular day, for whatever reason, Henry wasn’t having it. When I first brought up the idea of going to the store, he was super excited and exclaimed, “I would love to go to the store!” But then when the time came to get ready, he suddenly did a 180 and informed me he just wanted to stay home and “chill out” (code for watching TV or tablet).
Well, with mom out of the house at meetings and appointments and with shopping needing to be done, that wasn’t really an option. I love that I’m now at a point where I have to explain to a 7-year-old boy that I can’t just leave him home by himself. We haggled and argued for a while, and eventually I won out with a complex mix of “you have to come” and “OK, you can pick out a snack.”
Grumpy though he was at the start, once we GOT to the store, he was happy to help out, as he usually is. Henry loves pushing the cart, enjoys picking out flowers for the house and is was a cheery participant in the process.
I was thankful that he came around, but also respected his limits. I had thought about making a couple other less important stops while we were out, but he rather strongly said that he wanted to go home afterward, and that was OK. With Henry a little push can be good, but he is also good at expressing his boundaries and we do our best to respect those when we can. So we wrapped up and headed home, a successful grocery run.
I’ve been taking the kids grocery shopping with me since the beginning. I still remember taking Amelia to the store when she was just a few months old. Over time, it’s become a fun activity for us to do together. We always joke around, keep it light and talk about foods and other items we like, things that are new and things we should try.
When it comes to entertaining and spending time with your kids, it’s of course always wonderful to go to the park or children’s museums or other activities, but I find that you can really take advantage of real quality time by involving your children in your day-to-day activities. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store can be a fun bonding experience. And in Henry’s case, being able to pick out his favorite potato chips and get a lollipop at check out make it particularly worthwhile.