A little boy sitting in a shopping cart while his mom pushes him through the store.
Yasser Chalid/Getty Images

How To Leave Target With Your Kid & *Without* Buying The Entire Store

There's nothing like the joy of a solo Target trip. But going to Target with your children? Not so much. Whether it's genetic or simply a matter of loving the quaint aesthetics of this mom-friendly store, kids love Target... and they want everything. Figuring out how to leave target with your kid but without buying anything can be difficult, to be sure, but I'm here to help. After all, you have a list and you're sticking to it. (Yeah, like *that's* happening. You poor, sweet summer child.)

Now, I hear some of you in the distance, scowling judgmentally and saying some version of, "Here's an idea: just say no!" OMG, wow! Thanks, Debbie! I never would have thought of that on my own! This changes everything.

Obviously us parents can say "no" to our kids. We're not scared of saying "no" and, ultimately, we can handle the fall-out just fine, thank you very much. But most of us exhausted moms would love to avoid making this "a thing" if we can and, gee golly, it's great your kids don't whine or cry when they're told "no" but for those of us with mortal children who haven't mastered emotional regulation yet because they're children that's just not how it works.

So if you, like Debbie, have a perfectly behaved unicorn-toddler who loves delayed gratification and broccoli or whatever, please feel free to skip the following. But if you're like the rest of us (read: most of us), here are a few helpful tips I've picked up along the way:

Take A Long Hard Look In The Mirror

Because, let's face it: you know who the real problem in Target is, right? Like, no your children do not need another toy, but do you need another throw pillow? Yes, I know this one is really cute and super fluffy, but you've reached your limit of pillows. You're pillowed-out, woman. So if you have to go to Target and you have to bring your kid and you want to get out of there without turning into a three-carts-full-of-stuff meme, you're going to do some real soul searching and promise that this time is going to be different. You're going to be good.

Set Clear Expectations Before You Go In

For those of us with mortal children who haven't mastered emotional regulation yet because they're children, learning how to leave Target without buying the entire store takes some time... and a lot of skill. Shutterstock

"We're going into Target for mouthwash, a birthday card, and toilet paper. We are not getting snacks. We are not going to look at the video games. We will certainly not be getting any toys."

Will this alone curb any issues? Not even a little bit. But it at least gives you something to harken back to if/when your child is struck with a sudden case of the Gimme-Gimmes. They can't say you didn't tell them... unless they do that kid thing where they pretend they forgot what you told them, which of course they will do, the little monsters. Still, the ritual of the pre-Target run speech is important, if only as a personal mantra.

Choose Your Cart Wisely

If you have one child, grab a regular cart and move on. But if you have two or more little shopping buddies with short legs that tire quickly, go ahead and grab the big cart. You know the one: it has extra seating that can accommodate three kids. This cart has its benefits, including but not limited to: the kids get excited about it and want to sit in it, which means you can keep them strapped in and do what you're here to do... and quickly. But it's also cumbersome AF and there's a decent chance they'll want to get down in three seconds anyway, which leaves you with a massive, unwieldy cart and other moms glaring at you because you took the last one and your kids aren't even using it.

Knowing how it's going to go this visit can be tough, but do your best.

Let Them Browse The Dollar Spot

This may not be the best move for everyone, but saying "yes" to an impulse purchase upfront may help the rest of the trip go easier. And because it's in the Dollar Spot it's not going to set you back more than a few bucks. It can also be useful because it gives you something to hold over their heads and threaten to take away if they start to kick up.

Plus, you really love the Dollar Spot and are happy to browse right along with them.

Plan Your Trip Around The Toy Aisle

At all costs, my friends.

Because it's just part of the childhood contract that if they see the toy aisles they will get sucked in.

You don't need this challenge in your life right now. Avoid it however you can. If it means walking completely out of your way to successfully get from the kid's clothes to the groceries without passing row after row of colorful toys, do it. You will ultimately save time (and embarrassment and probably a headache) in the long run.

Bring A List & Stick To It

The last thing you want to do is start browsing. Because browsing leads to bored, whiny children and the chance that, in your home decor haze, you'll accidentally find your way to the toy aisle and, well, see above.

You can do this! I believe in you! Stick to the list. Pay no attention to that adorable display of mugs or the new nail polishes that were just put out and OMG are those even more throw pillows?!

Snap out of it! Focus, girl!

Introduce The Concept Of "Window Shopping" & Get Them Pumped

If your child absolutely cannot avoid seeing something they want to buy and bring home, acting as though just looking at items is, in and of itself, a treat, can sometimes trick kids into thinking they're getting something out of the deal.

This one time I had to buy a birthday gift for another child with my children present, so I told them we would be window shopping and played it up as this really fun thing where we could look at anything we wanted (as opposed to my usual tactic of hurrying them past anything fun-looking). Those sweet little dummies fell for it. If you can sell the concept of window shopping with enough enthusiasm, you too may be able to spare yourself a tantrum or argument.

Let Them Take Pictures

Pro-tip: Let your kid take pictures of what they want (or even themselves) so you can feel like they're working towards that one Target toy they just *have* to have. Shutterstock

Whipping out your phone and allowing them to take a picture of the things they want, so you can put it on a list for Christmas/Hanukkah/birthday/some random day, apparently, can be helpful. It allows them to feel like they're doing something to get their item but, really, it's just temporary appeasement. Trust me when I say these adorable little fools will absolutely forget about this plastic trinket before you leave the parking lot.

Give In To Some Extra Screen Time

Or you can just whip out your phone and let them zone out on a game for the duration of your visit. (This, of course, works best if you only have one game-loving child in tow.) Look, screen time gets a bad rap, but are they really getting all that enriched on a trip to get mouthwash, a birthday card, and toilet paper? (See, we're sticking to the list from before, just like we promised we would!) So they have 30 minutes of playing peek-a-boo with animated farm animals today instead of 20. Oh no! Now they won't get into Yale!


Do not be afraid to use this very useful parenting tool when you have to.

Coordinate This Trip To Target With A Trip To Somewhere They Want To Go

"We're going to Target, where we are getting mouthwash, a birthday card, and toilet paper and absolutely not snacks, video games, or toys. But, if you're very good, we will go to the playground when we're done."

And, like, you were going to the playground anyway, probably, but acting like the two are connected and that they just have to get through one to get to the next is potentially going to make this trip go much more smoothly. Because if a kid is in playground mode (or Dunkin' Donuts mode, or wherever you told them you'd go afterward mode) they're not going to be as distracted by shiny objects on shelves.

Surfboard Carry

When all else fails and goes to hell, this is a solid technique and something every single mother in the store will recognize and salute you for. (A fireman carry may also be required, depending on the size and wiggliness of your child.) It may be embarrassing, but you have nothing to be ashamed of. You're just a mom doing what she needs to do to make it in this crazy world. We all see that. You're a queen.

Prepare To Fail

Honey, we never expected you to stick to that list. It's OK. No one blames you. Because aromatherapy spa days are hard to come by, but you can go sniff all the scented candles for free before buying an at-home pedicure kit. Target is a happy place, and, damnit, you deserve to be happy.