Shopping at Target With Kids: 20 Tips to Keep Your Sanity

June 7, 2017

You could spend hours browsing at Target, but your kids are less than thrilled to be there. Here are 20 ways to get through the store without a meltdown.

Survival. It's such a powerful word, but some days it's the only way to describe shopping with your kids in tow. There's something about Target (The toys! The snacks! The video game demos!) that can turn ordinarily well-behaved children into raving lunatics. These tips will help you transform from a harried parent desperate to escape into a carefree mom (or nanny!) who easily completes her entire Target shopping list without going insane.

shop at target with kids


  1. Schedule It 
    Pick the right time to go. Don't go at naptime, bedtime or meal time.
  2. Prepare 
    Remind your kids how you want them to behave in the store before going inside. "Kids thrive on knowing what to expect and what is expected of them," says Jennifer Burg, a mom of two and the creator of the Suburban Mom blog.
  3. Review Your List 
    Read your list to your kids and tell them that if it's not on the list, you aren't buying it -- period.
  4. Coin a Phrase  
    Come up with a phrase that will remind your kids how they need to behave. Burg keeps her kids corralled in the store by telling them "if you can't see me, I can't see you."
  5. Use the Cart  
    Take advantage of the prison that the shopping cart is. If you have small children, tell them it's a race car and settle them inside so they can't take off. Tie long pieces of ribbon to the cart and "challenge your kids to see who can hold onto their ribbon the longest," suggests Mary Ann Romans, a mom of three, blogger at and the creator of Home in a Woods.
  6. Feed the Kids  
    Give your kids a meal or snack before going to Target. Hungry kids are cranky kids, and full bellies might stave off temper tantrums over candy and toys.
  7. Bring Snacks  
    If you must go to Target during times when your child would normally be eating, bring snacks into the store. "The key is to time the snacks," Burg says. Stash the small bites in your purse until the kids start acting up, and then whip them out. You've "bought yourself 10 to 15 minutes," Burg notes.
  8. Treasure Hunt  
    Give each of your kids a list of items they might see at the store. Challenge them to see how many objects they can find without touching! while you're filling the shopping cart.
  9. Coupon Challenge  
    "Hand a coupon to your child and ask him to find that product on the shelf," recommends Romans. When he's found it, give him another coupon.
  10. Be Speedy 
    Make a bet with your kids that you can be in and out of Target in a certain amount of time. Set the timer on your phone and then race to fill your cart. If you're done before the timer goes off, the kids get to pick an activity to do, such as a playground trip or an extra 30 minutes of TV time.
  11. Make Lists  
    Give each child a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to write or draw items they want for their birthday or Christmas.
  12. Bring Toy Shopping Carts   
    Let your kids bring their toy shopping carts (or use a toy stroller instead). Assign each a few items to get off the shelves and put in their cart.
  13. Avoid the Dollar Aisle  
    Target places dollar items right near the entrance, but resist the urge to see what the deals are. Staying away from tempting areas is key to keeping the begging to a minimum, Romans says.
  14. Avoid the Toys  
    Unless you're planning on actually purchasing toys, skip these aisles at all costs. It will only turn into a beg-fest, then a cry-fest when you say no.
  15. Let Them Help  
    Assign each kid a job, such as cart pusher or price checker, to keep them entertained and engaged.
  16. Notice the Good  
    Praise your kids for good behavior. They're more likely to keep behaving when you're noticing the good things.
  17. Borrow a Book  
    Let your kids choose a book from the shelves to borrow and read while you shop. Demonstrate polite shopping behavior by putting it back in its place before you head to the checkout.
  18. Play a Game   
    Challenge your kids to find 10 things that are red or six things that are smaller than their shoe.
  19. Have a Plan B  
    Have a backup plan in case your kids go into meltdown mode. Get your essentials first so you can quickly pay and leave if necessary.
  20. Distract, Distract, Distract  
    Bring toys or your tablet to let your kids play with. "Put something in their hands to distract, distract, distract," recommends Burg.

Sara Ipatenco is a former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's and master's degree, both in child development and elementary education, and has been published in "Teaching Tolerance" and "Family Fun" magazines.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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