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10 Tips For Keeping A Toddler Busy

10 Tips For Keeping A Toddler Busy

toddler

    It can feel like the day is never ending when you have a small child in your care. Aside from observing their feeding and napping as well as their physical hygiene and toileting; they seem to have boundless energy and infinite curiosity. They certainly keep you on your toes, but it doesn’t have to feel as though every minute is a constant demand of your attention and time.

    With just a shift in approach, you can observe their needs and behavior in a way that makes the day ordered while still very flexible and also encourage their independence and separation from you. By segmenting the day into smaller increments of time and facilitating their desire to need you less, you can free up your time and release some of the pressure on yourself as a carer. At the same time your bond and relationship with the child is strengthened and enhanced.

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    The key is to attempt to extend the time of a particular activity by paying close attention to detail, having the patience to explain things by pointing out features, and asking questions to encourage participation and autonomy. Children lose interest when you stop paying attention, but the attention doesn’t have to be so intense that it becomes over bearing. It is crucial to find the middle ground and combine guidance with self reliance.

    Here are 10 tips for keeping a toddler busy.

    1. Meal times as sign posts

    Meal times are an important part of a toddler’s day. Not only do they provide the necessary sustenance that they require, but they can also take up a bit of time and become an opportunity for learning and bonding. It is a good idea to sit down for meals together. It allows you to enjoy your food and demonstrates this to the child as well. Making the effort to sit down and eat is time consuming, as it should be, but it is a significant experience. When the child starts to understand that it is breakfast time, lunch time, time for a short snack break, or dinner time, they learn to have some sort of structure to the day. It centers them and slows them down. It also provides rest and a chance for you to teach them about nutrition. Enjoying food together or a short water drinking break gives everyone a recharge and enhances bonding. It is also a good time to share ideas, thoughts, and feelings by talking to one another. Bonding over a meal is an ancient human ritual. We can make the most of it by occupying a child while also connecting with and educating them.

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    2. Quiet time or naps

    By the time a toddler reaches the age of two, they may have already dropped their usual day nap. They don’t have to go to sleep during the day to rest; however, it is a good idea to allocate a part of the day as down-time. The best time to do this is in the afternoon after the lunchtime meal. Whether indoors or out, why not make a comfortable space to lie down, such as a picnic blanket under a tree or a pillow and blanket fort on the lounge room floor. If you’re inside, just darken the room a little. You can read a favorite book together or watch a movie. Again, it is a good opportunity to talk or have quiet play. Try to do an activity that requires little physical exertion and concentration. Simple activities include watching the clouds drift by, staring up at the leaves in the trees; watching shadows on the walls, and just relaxing. On some days, they may fall asleep. Other days, it is just a much needed rest and another way to segment the day and recharge from the morning activities to prepare for the afternoon routine. No matter what you have planned for the day,  making time to have a rest is important so that both you and the child can recover some energy and prevent either of you from becoming over tired.

    3. Getting outdoors

    Going outside is a great way to keep a toddler busy. Whether it is playing in the backyard or going to a park or the beach; fresh air, nature, weather and wildlife are all valuable stimuli for a child. Play doesn’t have to be structured all the time. Just exploring and discovering the ground, the sky, the water, and the weather is magical for a child and excellent for their health. More structured play can include riding a bike, kicking a ball, or flying a kite. Free play such as looking for objects like shells, rocks, and flowers and collecting them in a bucket is fun too. Observing insects, birds, and other creatures can also be very exciting. Sometimes you can spend an entire day exploring and having adventures outdoors. Other days, it may be a short stroll to the letter box or a cup of tea on the balcony or porch while they meander beside you for half an hour. Having a little bit of outside time each day is beneficial. It doesn’t have to be a sunny day either. Nothing is more joyful to a child than putting on their rain coats and gum boots, taking their umbrellas, and playing in the rain – splashing in puddles and discovering mud. Getting outside can also improve sleep in the afternoon and at bedtime.

    4. Little helpers

    Including a child in your day to day activities can become play and occupy some time. Keeping a toddler busy this way will distract their busy minds and teach them some life skills in the process. Get them to fetch things and put things away. Handing you pegs while you hang out washing, putting things in the bin, helping you to water plants and tend the garden, or prepare meals, as well as accompanying you on errands or shopping trips, all build excellent aptitudes. Whatever you need to do during the day while they are in your care can also become an activity for them. Children are very willing helpers and even just explaining what you are doing and making them feel included is enough to keep them intrigued. Even very small children understand handing objects backwards and forwards or placing objects into a vessel. The older they get, the more responsibility and complex jobs you can entrust them with. Acknowledging your daily routines as though they are a game is a beneficial way of keeping a toddler busy. Soon enough, they will be following basic instructions and taking some of the burden away from you. Nothing is more rewarding than when a child becomes involved in their own care and starts doing basic things for themselves.

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    5. Open play toys

    Every child loves toys. A bit of forward planning and clever purchasing can fire up their imagination. Open play toys such as blocks, figurines, puzzles, and musical instruments allows them to make up their own games and lose themselves in play. You can sit with them to start with and show them (often non-verbally) how to play with toys that require their imagination and creativity. When they are immersed in play, it is valuable to walk away and just observe them. Leaving toys in an accessible area, perhaps in containers marked with a sign and a picture, allows them to choose what they want to do. Playing with household objects that aren’t toys are attractive to toddlers also. Give them plastic containers, kitchen utensils, shredded paper, ribbons, and empty packets or boxes. As long as it is age appropriate and they are closely supervised for their own safety, these objects are great as sensory play and can keep them busy. You can also make lots of sensory play toys like these.

    6. Reading and art

    Children can never have too many books and art supplies. Establishing a library for them with shelves that they can reach and a comfortable place to sit or lie gives them constant and easy access to books. From the time they can grasp things in their hands, children should have access to books. There are a multitude of board and fabric books available for small children. There are also quiet books you can purchase or make that are not only effective toys for keeping a toddler busy, they also teach them skills like tying laces, doing up buttons and zippers, and sorting objects. A blackboard or white board, scrapbooks, and age appropriate crayons, pencils, markers, and paints can inspire them to express themselves artistically. You can do an infinite amount of activities and art with children, like trace and color their hands and feet, draw their favorite toys or cartoon characters, draw their family and friends, as well as experiment with shapes, colors, numbers and the alphabet. They don’t have to be able to read in order to benefit from the exposure to signs and symbols that they will use when they get older. Observing you drawing and writing is fascinating and becomes familiar. Let them scribble and doodle freely. Take a box of chalk outside and let them draw on the ground then stamp the pictures away with your feet or brush them away with a hand broom. Sticker books are also a lot of fun. Whether it is making up stories with stickers on scrap paper or doing more structured activities in a sticker book, these too can be educational and enjoyable. Reading and art is an opportunity for storytelling. Another wonderful idea is story stones. You can forage for your own flat pebbles at the beach or in a park, then draw a picture on each stone with some permanent markers. Put the stones in a fabric bag or cardboard box and let the child draw one stone at a time. Describe the picture and start a story. An older child can join in the fun too. Pick the next stone and continue the story. The possibilities are endless.

    7. Water play and bathing

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    water play

      Children love the water. You can get really creative with water play. Water play tables are a great investment and are easy to store and clean. On warm days, you don’t have to go to the pool or beach for a swim, you can set up your child in the yard or balcony with containers of water to help them cool off and play. Making bath time fun is a must also. Toys that allow them to fill up and pour, squirt, splash, and dunk will provide endless interest and fun. You can set up a container with water and some child-friendly bubbles and get them to hand-wash toys. Blowing bubbles is timeless and these days there are lots of different options for making them. You can also set up a blow-up pool or sprinkler and let them play in the water when the weather is warm. Keeping a toddler busy with water play has many benefits for their development. It is also relaxing for both you and the child.

      8. Visiting

      It is easy to become reluctant to take children out to someone’s home. We tend to prefer to take young children out where they can run wild, make a mess, and make lots of noise. However, keeping a toddler busy by giving them the opportunity to understand what is expected of them in public doesn’t have to be traumatic. Short visits are easier to manage if you take them to a place where there is a more formal relationship and less familiarity. A whole day spent with grandparents and other relatives provides a little more freedom. Children benefit from interaction with other adults and children. From an early age, they can understand how to manage their emotions and behavior if they are guided. They can always take along something special to occupy them, like a favorite toy or book. Perhaps they can even give a gift that they’ve chosen or made themselves to present to your host. This encourages them to participate and socialize in a positive way.

      9. TV and electronic devices

      There is a lot of guilt associated with letting children watch television or use a computer or electronic device, but these can be tools to help you keep a toddler busy and can prove to be educational as well as skill building. In moderation, these devices can allow children to observe someone else’s creativity and also introduce them to a number of concepts and ideas to accelerate their learning. Touch-screen devices in particular are equipped with many applications that allow children to interact and learn problem solving skills. Quiet time is a good opportunity to introduce these to older children who prefer not to nap. They are also effective when waiting for a meal to be served while dining out or to keep them occupied when you have work to do or need to focus your attention on something or someone else. It is also an opportunity to teach children boundaries and limitations. The hardest part of giving children access to these devices is turning them off or taking them back. There is bound to be a tantrum or two. Explain to your children that they can enjoy them for a short time and then must hand them back when that time is over. Getting them to practice that habit is also an excellent development tool.

      10. Doing nothing

      Carers of young children put a lot of pressure on themselves. We put pressure on each other too. Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything at all. Allowing children to lead you and being guided by their needs brings us to the realization that all they really need and want is our company and our affection. Everything can be a game and everything can be an opportunity to learn. We don’t have to load the moment with constant activity and forced interaction. Just be. Sometimes just connecting with them, letting them crawl on you and cuddle you, or letting them sit beside you to have a conversation on their level, is enough. Sometimes, the less we do the more we benefit.

      Before you know it the time has flown and they’ve grown up. Enjoy their babyhood. It is fleeting.

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      Diane Koopman

      Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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      Last Updated on January 12, 2021

      Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

      Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

      Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

      In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

      Signs of depression in children

      The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

      Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

      • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
      • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
      • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
      • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
      • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
      • Fatigue and loss of energy.
      • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
      • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
      • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

      Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

      However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

      How to help your child with depression

      Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

      Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

      Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

      Testing

      There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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      • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
      • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
      • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

      Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

      Therapy

      There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

      Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

      What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

      Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

      1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

      It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

      Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

      It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

      2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

      For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

      Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

      3. Limit screen time.

      Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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      Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

      Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

      You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

      4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

      Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

      5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

      Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

      Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

      6. Help your child reduce life stress.

      When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

      7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

      Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

      Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

      8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

      Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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      Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

      9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

      Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

      10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

      Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

      Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

      11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

      This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

      12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

      Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

      13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

      Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

      Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

      14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

      Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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        Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

        15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

        Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

        16. Talk about bullying.

        It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

        17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

        Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

        18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

        Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

        Depression in children is curable

        Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

        Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

        Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

        The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
        [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
        [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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