Farmers markets are a wonderful way to introduce your children to new foods, as well as the concepts of where the food we eat comes from, but it’s hard to transmit those messages if your child has difficulty managing the noises, smells, messes and crowds that often come with a farmers market. Here are few tips to make the market a positive experience for the whole family.

Choose the Time and Day Thoughtfully

If your child has difficulty with the noise and congestion of crowds, go to a farmers market on a weekday or in the early morning of a weekend day. Fewer people attend at these times. Also, the air temperature is often more moderate earlier in the morning. Heat, bright sun and the possibility of accompanying dehydration can make crowd anxiety and sensory sensitivities more pronounced, as well as decrease endurance for walking around.

That being said, everyone’s body runs on a clock: If your child tends to go to the bathroom, especially number two, at a certain time of day, work around that event or make sure there is a clean, non-smelly bathroom near the market your child can use. A lot of children with sensory issues and/or anxiety are very particular about where they use the potty, and holding it in can result in complete meltdowns or other undesirable behaviors.

Bring Supplies, Within Reason

It’s easy to over pack supplies, especially if you have a child with sensory needs, and it’s no fun to lug around 10lbs. of supplies in addition to your purchases and children.

  • If your child is in diapers, bring one diaper with you to the market. Leave extra diapers in your car or bike bag, if needed.
  • If your child doesn’t like dirt or feeling sticky, bring wipes, because markets can be dirty and sticky.
  • Bring a water bottle, preferably one with a straw – sucking through a straw can be a very calming and soothing activity, helping to modulate sensory and emotional regulation.
  • Bring your child’s favorite snack in case he or she gets hungry. The market offers opportunities to try new foods, but you don’t have to try them while you’re there. If your child is already working hard to hold it together despite the onslaught of sensory stimuli, you do not need to add the pressure of trying a new or non-preferred food. Save the experimentation for when you’re in a more comfortable environment.
  • Bring lightweight, small toys to help your child keep his or her hands busy; for example, a stress ball, bean bag, plastic bracelet, or squishy ball. Having something in the hands can increase focus and decrease stress.

Be Prepared

A calm parent makes for a calm child. Avoiding last minute scrambles and foreseeable snafus will bolster your resilience for unpredictable child meltdowns. Pack up your supplies the night before so they are ready to go. Pick a bag that is comfortable for you to carry around. Make sure you have cash, in case the market doesn’t take credit cards. If your child is at the “in between needing a stroller and being able to walk on his own” stage, bring the stroller. At best you can use it for your purchases and at worst you have a vehicle for a quick escape. Decide ahead of time how long you will stay at the market and where you will go afterward. You know your child best: If you know she can tolerate being in that environment for 30 minutes, only stay 30 minutes and then head home so she can decompress. You can try to add a few minutes the next time you go. Always be prepared to leave earlier than expected! I like to have a phrase to repeat in my head if my child is melting down or if I have to change my plans unexpectedly due to the needs of my child – something like, “he’s only four” or “we were all children once.” The repetition keeps me calm, which, in turn, helps to calm the situation (or at the very least, not make it worse).

My 3-year-old son, desperately trying to hold it together while I search for my wallet.

My 3-year-old son, desperately trying to hold it together while I search for my wallet.

If Your Child Has Pronounced Anxieties or Rigidities…

Do a “dry run” of going to the market. Take your child to the place the market will be at the same time you plan to go but when the market is not happening. Walk the area with your child, pointing out recognizable landmarks. You can use these landmarks to help your child feel more comfortable during the actual even. For example, if there is a fountain on the grounds and you point it out during your dry run, during the actual event, point the fountain out again: “Look. Here’s the fountain we saw when we came by here the other day. It’s the same fountain.” The idea of doing this it to help the child to see that the place is same even though certain details have changed (added stalls, people, colors, smells, etc.). You can also let your child choose a landmark to go to in case you are separated, as long as you feel it will not increase the anxiety.

Do you have any tips or stories about managing your child’s sensory sensitivities at the farmers market? Share via comment or as an entry to our giveaway contest below.

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