Do We All Need To Find Our Own Mall Stress?

Some people love the mall. I am not one of those people. I usually make it my goal never to go to the mall, especially from the beginning of November until the end of December: holiday season. Nothing makes the mall crazier than the holidays. But yesterday, I broke my cardinal rule, and I went to the mall.

The trip was supposed to be a short one. A friend of mine needed to return some things to Cogeco, and she wanted help carrying everything. How could I say ‘no’ to a friend? After a full day of shopping in the States — thankfully not at any indoor malls — I met my friend for the mall trip. This was going to be a quick in and out. Except it wasn’t. First, we arrived at Cogeco, and we had to get a number. They were serving number 72, and we were 78. Ahh!! It was at this point, I realized that there were no windows, and the mall was excruciatingly hot. So as we sat down to wait, I took off my coat. A little better. Twenty-five minutes later, our number was called, and we could return everything. Perfect: in and out. I could do this!

But my friend had other plans. “Aviva,” she said, “we just need to go to Purdy’s so that I can get some chocolate bars.” What?! Another stop. I only signed up for one stop. Okay. How could I say no?! “Where’s Purdy’s?,” I asked. “Upstairs,” she replied. “We’ll take the escalator. Stop right there! I do not do escalators. There’s something about the vibration under my feet, the movement at an angle, and the height that completely terrifies me. I will climb multiple flights of stairs versus taking an escalator. My friend was determined to take the escalator though, and seeing as though I haven’t set foot in this mall for over five years and have no idea where the stairs are even located, I had to follow. Breathe, Aviva, breathe. Trust me, I was clutching the railing hard on that escalator as I took many deep breaths. We made it to Purdy’s though, and through some kind of miracle, there was no lineup. Yay!! Maybe things were going to turn out okay afterall.

We then come out of Purdy’s, and my friend says, “Okay. So now I just want to go to Ashley’s.” What?! One mall visit. One stop. That was all I signed up for. We were now about to begin stop number three. If you’ve ever seen an adult have a temper tantrum, I was pretty darn close to one.

  • The noise.
  • The heat.
  • The crowds.
  • The smell … that always gives me a migraine.
  • And the second floor with that glass railing that always causes me to feel as though I’m about to plunge to the bottom level. 

While I’m sure she thought I was joking, I definitely expressed my displeasure at another stop. I reminded her this was a “one stop mall visit,” and I was currently “living a waking nightmare.” She smiled — “Oh Aviva” — and I sat down on the bench outside of the store to tweet. 

This stop had to be it. I really thought that it was. She came out of the store, and we started to discuss where we were going for dinner. (Thankfully not at the mall.) This is when she said, “So we just need to stop by Baby Gap so that I can look for something red. I’m not buying. Just looking.” Why?! This last question of mine might not have stayed in my head. I’m still not sure why she needed to look at this moment. And just so you know, at Christmastime, there are A LOT of red things at Baby Gap. I think it was a 15 minute search, and with crowds of people inside and no bench outside for me. Double breaths for me this time. 

Finally, she was done. We could go back to the car. I saw the escalator, and despite it terrifying me, the thought of leaving the mall made this travelling staircase a sign of much joy. Except, “we’re not going to take that escalator. Let’s go through The Bay instead. We’ll go down the one there.” What … why?! Now I know why. So that she could stop one more time to check out the housecoats before heading downstairs. Never have I been so grateful to see the outside world and actually breathe in some fresh air.

The interesting thing about this mall experience is that it had me reflect on the Emotion Coaching that we’re learning about at school.

At our recent staff meeting, we went through the first module of Emotion Coaching, and received a card with some prompts we can use for validation and support. As I read through the card, I thought a lot about Stuart Shanker‘s work, and the Pro-Social Domain. There was definitely a focus here on empathy, and a lot of the ideas align with Shanker’s thinking.

During my mall experience, I began to relate to those children that are having temper tantrums in the middle of stores. As an adult, when was the last time you had a temper tantrum? I might not have had a full blown, fall on the ground, crying, screaming, kicking feet tantrum at the mall, but I had my mini-adult version of one. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, or make my friend’s life miserable, but I needed to get out of this over-crowded, hot, smelly space. If I was a child, I would have looked for a bookstore to escape to, as my mom and sister continued shopping. Now I understand why I used to spend hours on the floor of the bookstore in the mall, as my grandmother went shopping with my sister. This was my attempt to self-regulate. There are no more mall bookstores though, and if there are some, I have no idea where to find them. Instead, I vocalized my concerns, and soon enough we left crazy-ville … also known as the mall.

Last night, I needed someone to empathize with me. Maybe that’s why I tweeted. Reading some of these replies made me feel better, calmed my amygdala, and got me through the final few store visits.

Kids also need this empathy … and I think it needs to be genuine. We need to remember what it was like when we felt as they do, so that they can feel this authentic connection and really open up to us. And if we haven’t had these experiences, maybe we can also pull on what others have felt. This makes me think of the number of times that my teaching partner, Paula, discusses her kids. She can find these connections through the experiences of her own children.

I still wish that I didn’t need to experience the mall last night, but the next time that I see a child having a temper tantrum — or the equivalent of one — at a crowded store, in a noisy gym, or even in the midst of an active classroom at school, I hope that I have a little more empathy. Maybe we all need these stressful experiences to also connect with our kids that might be experiencing this same stress. How might these “mall experiences” benefit you as an educator? Next time, I might choose to let the window down and stay in the car with my book, but not without remembering first about the last time I went inside.


8 thoughts on “Do We All Need To Find Our Own Mall Stress?

  1. Thanks so much, Aviva. You made me think about my experience today. Some of my Grade 7 students and I staffed our own booth at the local farmer’s market. We had made crafts, and were donating our proceeds to Sick Kids. I was in my element. People, but not too many. Most wanted to be there. I knew many of them personally. I got to visit, and make my students feel like special humans, because they were giving up their time on a Sunday morning! (Yes, they are incredibly special humans!). One thing that I realized was that the group of kids who were with me were terrific self-regulators. They regularly asked to go for wanders around the market space with a friend, found treats, found people they knew, and took breaks from being “on” as they needed. I realized that they were modeling terrific strategies that many adults might not have been as good at.

    I feel for your adventure yesterday. Since I got home, I have been happily baking and cooking for my family. A bath is on the agenda. Yes, I loved being out in the hubbub today, but I also need a break. And the mall…..still not going there.

    • Thanks Lisa! It sounds like you had a wonderful day with an amazing group of kids. I love how you recognized the actions of the students as Self-Reg. I wonder how easily it would be to confuse this with misbehaviour and kids “shirking their responsibilities.” Instead you recognized this need for breaks in order for these kids to be on when needed. This makes me wonder how we honour these same need for breaks at school, and if we don’t, if there’s a way and importance in doing so.

      Glad you are now getting a chance to relax and recharge. This is also part of Self-Reg. Maybe why I came home from the mall and dinner last night, and chose reading a good book instead of writing this blog post. I also needed an opportunity to restore my energy. I think this will be my last trip to the mall for a very long time.


      • I did think about what you maybe didn’t do last night. I should absolutely be working on school work, but having spent a chunk of yesterday and today working on this project, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

        One thing that impressed me about the kids today was that they checked in before they went wandering, and always made sure I had a couple of kids with me to help staff the table. They were even okay with me wandering over to talk to other vendors, understanding that I was always in sight. And you’re right – I really do wish there was an easier way, particular in older grades, for kids to take a break as needed, not as scheduled.

        • Thanks for your reply, Lisa! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about school work this weekend, as I usually work on Saturday so that I can have Sunday for me. With a trip to the States yesterday and then the mall trip, I didn’t get any school work done. Thankfully I did some extra on Friday night, so that I could still have some downtime today. I think that a Sunday with limited schoolwork is important for me knowing that I have a packed week of school ahead. Wonder if others find the same. Glad you found some “me time” after a busy weekend with the project.

          I love how your kids checked in with you too while also arranging breaks as needed. So responsible. I know breaks are hard in school, especially in junior and intermediate grades, but I wonder what value they might have … especially if kids could take short ones as needed. Would this increase their productivity at other times? Reduce stress? And ultimately reduce behaviour? I’m not sure how to facilitate this, but I wonder if others do, and what the impact might be. Thanks for having me think more!


  2. I have gone back and forth with malls during my life. I loved them in my 20’s, I avoided them in my 30’s, then when my kids were small I REALLY avoided them. Now I’m back to liking them again. But I only like them when I am shopping alone or with my daughter and can set the agenda. I only like them in the cold weather when I can count my time in there as exercise. And I only like them if I can park in a covered parking lot – that way I can leave my coat behind and not have to carry it around inside.

    I’m currently finding that I have a lot of social stress when I go into smaller non-mall shops. I feel badly walking out without buying anything! I need to get over it. In the mean time, craft fairs and online shopping are getting me through the holiday shopping season…for now.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! It’s interesting how your thoughts on malls have changed over the years. Your point about a covered spot so that you don’t have to carry a coat, is one I could connect with. That heat in the mall was crazy! Mind you, the skills needed to navigate garages would probably lead to more stress for me. I didn’t even tackle mall parking stress in this post. 🙂

      You make a great point too about those small stores. I often try to sneak out quietly if I’m not buying anything. Is this due to some social stress of my own? Perhaps. It’s hard leaving without purchasing in these small, stand alone shops. This is less true in the mall when you kind of blend in with the million other shoppers. This makes me think about small versus big schools. I’ve taught at both. At big ones, there are so many more staff there that it seems easier to blend in, especially at staff meetings that have people spread out everywhere. At a smaller school, this is harder. There are fewer people, and everyone sees and hears everything. Does this result in that same social stress? I wonder …


  3. I’m noticing more and more how social stress effects me! If a sales person offers me help I can now decline politely and not feel bad. This was formerly a reason I avoided malls. But if a salesperson helps me I’m doomed to purchase. My husband is the opposite. He does not feel like he is wasting their time or getting their hopes up for a sale like I do. We had to buy a fridge recently and it was agonizing for me because he consulted with so many salespeople! But I wanted a say in the final purchase so I had to put up with it.

    I’ve solved mall parking stress by parking on the highest level of the parking structure instead of taking the first spot I see. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing, Lisa! When salespeople help me, I also tend to purchase. This can be hard for a big ticket item. I need to go in knowing that I’m going to purchase.

      A good tip too on parking on the highest level. It’s getting in and out of the garage that would cause me the most stress. You really need to stay in your lane. #NotMyForte I guess that mall parking and driving could be a blog post of their own. 🙂


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