It’s healthy to be able to laugh and play during stressful times. It’s not only about escapism; according to the British Psychological Society, relieving tension lets us have calmer conversations about worrying things. And talking to children in an age-appropriate way about things that are worrying them is important for supporting them through periods of disruption.
Running out of toilet paper might not be at the top of anyone’s list of concerns right now, but it might not be the only thing that has either disappeared from the shelves where you are, or been stockpiled in your home. Witnessing shortages of any kind can leave children feeling unsettled, angry, or afraid. Even if you have a plentiful supply at home, that in itself can be a physical reminder of wider shortages, a sign that this situation is serious, and a reason for children to feel anxious.
According to child psychologists, just telling children “not to worry” can make the situation worse. “That kind of attitude, whether it’s by caregivers, adults or school systems, always invokes more anxiety,” says specialist Sarabjit Singh, “It sends the message that adults are keeping secrets.” This can turn children onto less healthy sources for information, such as adult news channels or schoolyard rumors. Processing their questions and emotions with them is far healthier. As Singh says, “Anxiety in its simplest form as a phenomenon is all about uncertainty.”
It is worth exploring your children’s opinions about this situation, identifying emotions, and emphasizing their safety. It is also worth talking about what people, including your family, are doing to make it better. Supermarket Dash! is designed to help you follow this advice from psychologists, and support your children through a troubling time.
The first step is to get into a brighter mood, rather than dwelling on your anxieties before raising a stressful topic with your kids. The British Psychological Society recommends using breathing and relaxation techniques, music, or other “reset” activities to temper your own anxieties first, so that you can focus on sending the right message to your children. Play time with family and distraction with humor is also recommended, and can put you in a better position to be reassuring. It also helps to have your kids in a less anxious mood, too, so they will be more receptive to reassuring messages.
“Supermarket Dash! is designed to help you follow this advice from psychologists, and support your children through a troubling time.”
We have designed Supermarket Dash! to emphasize the silly side, keep things light, and appeal to children’s senses of humor as well as adults. Coming together to share laughter and see the funny side of the situation in this way can make you all feel better, which helps lead into a constructive conversation.
Supermarket Dash! also provides several talking points to help you begin a conversation about panic-buying, shortages, and responsible behavior in a crisis. These include the one-pack-at-a-time rule, a cast of helpful and unhelpful characters, and over-the-top circumstances that it is easy to formulate a response to. These can be a good jumping-off point to help your children process real-world circumstances.
Consider raising the following points, depending on what happens during your play-through of the
In Supermarket Dash! players can only take one pack of toilet paper at a time. Why? What would happen if the first player to reach the toilet paper took it all?
This raises questions of fairness, and the consequences of our actions for others. It is easy to see that one person panic-buying creates problems for everyone else – no one else could complete the game!
Grabbing a massive stash is also unnecessary. You can make this point by re-setting the board. It’s the next day – and look, there’s enough toilet paper for everyone again! It can reassure children to know that supply has mostly not been interrupted, and the problem does not currently run much deeper than poor shopping etiquette.
Another interesting point to explore is how someone who took all the toilet paper might feel. Victorious? Or ashamed? Relieved? Or more anxious? According to psychotherapist Nick Blackburn, shoppers who try to solve their anxiety about quarantine or shortages by panic-buying face additional social stress from being judged. Meanwhile, the situation that worried them worsens because of their actions! Relief is unlikely.
The “one roll rule” also shows children a way they can help. Brisbane psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones emphasizes giving children actions they can take to help control what is happening, which can make them feel empowered and less afraid. You can explain how, as a family, building a gradual stockpile, or only buying what you need, makes the situation better for everyone, and more likely to return to normal. And while children won’t control your grocery spending, they can act out being part of the solution by sticking to the rules when playing Supermarket Dash!
Some cards involve limits imposed by the shop on how much of any one thing shoppers can buy. Are stores near you doing this? How does it help?
We’ve talked about the benefit of behaving this way above, but it can help children to be shown how other people are helping, too. Often, the media focuses on what is most doom-and-gloom, and people focus on what gives them the most anxiety. But the timeless advice of Mister Rogers to “look for the helpers” holds true here as well.
However you normally feel about these companies, it can be helpful to point out to your children how supermarkets are trying to help, including through imposing item limits. Many have also introduced special shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable, and expanded their home delivery services, showing how the system is adjusting to protect people from more serious shortages.
You can also talk about how many other people are quietly doing the right thing and complying (as opposed to emptying shelves, or being outraged about that, and getting plastered all over the news). You are far from alone in mitigating the shortages, and a large part of the community is helping your children stay fed and well.
This can reassure children that the community at large is there to support them, and other people are working to make this better, too.
What if we can’t get the supplies we normally do? Not to worry, even if that happens, we will cope anyway.
On the card “A Corny Dilemma” it suggests replacing corn – since there is none in store – with popcorn! While that isn’t a realistic replacement, it can be worth talking to your children about ways that you can cope with adversity.
There are plenty of articles about promoting “grit” and resilience in your children. Part of that picture is building their confidence in their own capacity in advance. This is known as “self-efficacy”, and boosting this perception helps children to be less anxious and more likely to look for solutions in challenging situations.
One way to help build their confidence regarding shortages is to think of other times you’ve created meals out of weird combinations, or only using pantry supplies. You’ve had grocery blips before, and just like before, it will be okay. If your children ever cook with you, now is a great time to talk about their inventiveness, too! They can make anything taste good! You could also show them any backup store cupboard supplies you have that can make meals, even if things get a bit sparse at the shops.
If you grow food in any capacity, now is the perfect time to get your kids involved! Planting some new seeds, sprouting some beans, or buying seedlings to care for – even if just to prove it can be done – is also a great idea at this time. This can be an excellent learning opportunity in plant biology and husbandry, as well as a self-efficacy boost for all of you!
Whatever you talk about, the point is to reassure your children that you can all deal with this situation, and that even if things do get weird or challenging for a little while, it will still be okay. Family therapist Darby Fox sets the tone here: “We’re gonna do some different things and we’ll be fine. Really reassuring.”
Bad responses to stress: Fighting over supplies, stealing, and leaving the shop a mess!
There are only a few instances of really bad behavior in Supermarket Dash! and none of them are by players! But this has all happened in real life, and if your kids have been exposed to it on the news, through social media, or witnessed others in their lives ranting about it, they might feel strong emotions about out-of-control adults causing chaos.
Beyond emphasizing that this is not an okay way to behave, it is important to leave space for your children’s emotions and questions about this. Why are they acting like that? Are we going to see a fight if we go to the shops? Perhaps your older children are angry at the selfishness or afraid for vulnerable people who need supplies.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) emphasizes that it’s important to allow children to ask questions about things that worry them. “Giving them the space to ask these questions and have answers is a good way to alleviate anxiety.” It is okay to say you don’t know, but provide some other reassurance if you do; tell them about how people are working on finding a solution, or that things will be okay anyway. “Maybe your child has an idea too,” suggests the BPS guide, “let them tell you or draw them.” This way you can work through your child’s thoughts together.
When it comes to explaining weird behavior in the shops, we’ve written a whole different article about the psychology of the toilet paper panic. You might find this useful yourself, or your older children might find it interesting as a window into the human psyche.
As a summary, however, you can say that when people get anxious, they like to take steps to feel more in control. While this is a good survival instinct, it can also lead to poor choices. The people behaving badly in shops are afraid. But you know better, and you can do better.
These are just a few things that you could talk about in response to the game, but you might think of plenty more while you play!
In summary, when you and your children are both in a less anxious state of mind, and with a potentially troubling topic fresh at hand, it can be healthy to talk openly about it. You should be calm and honest, giving factual information, and adjusting the amount and detail to suit the child’s age. You can also provide practical guidance to children to help them feel empowered, as well as heard, and encourage them to recognize their own resilience even in the face of disruption. It is also always worth looking for the helpers, which makes children feel more hopeful, supported, and protected.
None of this changes the fact that Supermarket Dash! is an abundantly silly game, designed first and foremost to help people have fun. (Oh no, a chocolate pudding explosion! Out of control trolleys! The threat of being asked about socks!) We hope you have a riotous time playing it. Happy dashing!