Cincinnati Children's Blog

A Mother’s 5 Rules of Target

A Mother’s 5 Rules of Target

I am no stranger to public meltdowns. My toddler and preschooler are highly energetic, independent and let’s face it – a little wild.

They’re qualities that I love and will certainly serve them well later in life.

But sometimes those qualities can put them at odds with what we’re trying to accomplish as a family, such as running errands, and it’s obvious in a very audible kind of way. Read: full-blown temper tantrums that someone on the opposite end of Target can hear.

I’ve tried many different tactics, such as making sure I only take them out in public after their bellies are full, they’re well-rested, and have lots of toys and distractions. And yet the public meltdowns still happen.

Shouldn’t I be able to make a quick run into Target for paper towels and toothpaste without them losing it? Well, after reading Dr. Smolyansky’s Preventing Public Meltdowns post, I realized there were other tactics I could try.

Dr. Smolyansky’s post made it clear to me that I haven’t been setting expectations with them up front, before we arrive at Target. The things I was asking them to do at Target were not unreasonable, but in their minds, they were the opposite of what they wanted to be doing, and thus mega meltdown.

So I created the 5 Rules of Target, and they have been working beautifully. The rules were created around the areas in which they have the hardest time listening. We now recite them in the car on the way there, so that they are clear on how they should behave. And we do it every single time.

Here are my 5 rules of Target:

  1. Hold my hand in the parking lot. Now this is not a new rule. They have to hold my hand in every other parking lot. But for some reason they forget everything they know when they see that big red bullseye. So it’s first on our list and they no longer scream and pull from me as we’re crossing the lot.
  2. You must stay in the cart. Again, this isn’t a new one and yet it has been a source of throwing-their-bodies-on-the-ground-and-screaming type of tantrum. I’ve never let them walk around a store without being in a cart because they’re the type of children that want see what happens when they pull one piece of fruit off of the bottom of an orange pyramid. Now we arrive through the doors and they immediately go to the cart and get in without complaint.
  3. Use your inside voice. I think my children might be loud talkers in general, but they become more amplified in public. So we practice at home – this is what an outside voice sounds like and this is what an inside voice sounds like. They like this game. Now when I remind them of the rule they try harder to keep their voices at a conversational level, rather than the playground level.
  4. We only buy things that are on our list. Any parent that has taken their child to a store knows that the requests for toys and candy and drinks (and on and on) can spark a meltdown. Having a list, and sticking to it, helps us avoid not only the meltdowns, but buying something that they don’t really need. Having done this for a little while now, I have realized that it gets disappointing when nothing on the list for them. So I’ve started involving them in the list making. They get to put everyday things, like their favorite toothpaste, on the list and they get excited to put it in the cart.
  5. You need to listen to me at all times. I threw this one in for good measure, because I know that I can’t prepare them for everything. And when a situation arises in which I really need them to listen and they want to do something different, I remind them that they promised they would listen to me in Target. When they don’t, I warn them that there are consequences.

As Dr. Smolyansky points out, preventing public meltdowns is in a large way about adapting to your children, and keeping your methods consistent and simple. My sons thrive off of clearly defined rules and expectations, while this might make some children anxious. For now, my five rules of Target are working, and I’m enjoying our meltdown-free shopping trips.

Editor’s note: the cover image was provided by 

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