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Calm and Collected at the Mall with My Attention Deficit Daughter – Really!

This mom conquers distractions, sensory overload, and ADHD impulsivity with stress-free strategies for shopping with her teenager.

Every three months, my daughter comes home from middle school with the top of her Vans peeling off. “No way, Mom, they’re fine. I’m a tomboy. Live with it.” I look down at Lee’s toes, all five peeking through, and we eye each other. We both know what’s coming…the dreaded trip to the mall.

Before I became a mother, I watched my friends having fun shopping with their daughters, arms filled with packages and smiles on their faces. I thought if I had a girl, we’d be just like them, laughing and bonding over clothes. But when Lee was diagnosed with ADHD and SPD, I gave up my fantasies and accepted the truth. She was too hyperactive and overstimulated to focus in a store, and I was tired of giving chase through the mall. Our trips led to tantrums with no bonding to be found.

Lee is now 13, and I’ve learned to set limits — for her and myself. If we need to go to the mall, we make a plan beforehand: One store, one purchase, a single focus. We don’t kid ourselves that it will be fun. But we have our methods of survival.

On Saturday, I choose the best time to take her to Vans, when she has a full stomach and there’s no rush to do homework. I feel like Pythagoras, drawing the shortest line from Point A to Point B as we navigate the crowded parking lot walking toward the mall entrance. Too many distractions can pop up on our way into the mall, from picking up lost pennies to looking for dropped coupons.

As we enter the Vans store, I go into my hyper-vigilant mode and make a mental note of Lee’s outfit, a bright yellow sweatshirt with Pikachu ears on the hood. It’s easy to spot if she bolts. She browses the racks of shoes in 15 seconds and points, “I’ll take those, let’s go!” The boy shoes have brightly colored red and orange flames. The salesman raises his eyebrows, but I nod in approval. She focused on one pair of shoes and made her decision. Game over. If I argue, she will melt down.

“Do I have to try them on?” she asks, and then says, “Whoa! There’s our neighbor!”

I race after the yellow ears, calling, “Come back!” I catch her at the door, and the salesman gives us the shoes. She wiggles into them — I am happy they fit — and I see the cute little Vans shoe keychain on the counter. I ask, “Lee, can you show me how this thing works?”

“Easy, Mom. Duhhh!” She opens it in a second and can’t resist doing another. And another. Using what’s on the counter to keep her hands busy is the best way of buying me time to pay the bill.

“Finally! I get to go,” Lee says. We high-five each other, then hug. We’re both glad it’s over. And she’s off at the speed of lightning in her “fiery” shoes as I follow in her wake. I smile, because I have three long months before we have to do this again.