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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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      Published on May 24, 2019

      How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

      How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

      My husband and I facilitate a couple’s marriage and parenting group. Recently, the group discussed qualities, characteristics, and traits we wanted to see our children develop as they grow up. One term that came up that all parents seemed to upon agree as a highly valued trait was that of grit. The question from our group was:

      “Can grit be taught to our children?”

      The answer is, yes. Parents can help their child develop grit.

      What is grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is the top researcher on this subject and wrote the book Grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals”. This new buzz word is popular in the adult realm, but what about our developing children? What if we could help our children develop grit as young children.

      Grit is more crucial to success than IQ. Duckworth, through her research at Harvard, found that having grit was a better predictor for an individual’s success than IQ. This means having the smartest kid in the room doesn’t ensure any level of success in their future. They can be brilliant, but if they aren’t properly intrinsically motivated, they won’t be successful.

      Grit determines long term success. If a child can’t pick themselves up and try again after a failure, then how are they going to be able to do it as adult?

      What a gift it would be to our children to engage them in a manner that helps them recognize their passions, talents, and develop a persevere to purse their goals. Below are some tips on how to raise a confident child with grit.

      1. Encouragement is Key

      When a child wants to learn how to ride a bike, do they keep going after they fall down or do they quit after the first fall?

      If they aren’t encouraged to get up and try again, and instead are coddled and told they can try again some other day, then they are being taught to play it safe.

      Safe and coddled don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with building up grit. The child needs to be encouraged to try again. This can be a parent saying “you can do it, I believe in you” and “I know that even if you fall again you will try again and eventually you will get the hang of it”.

      Encouragement to keep trying so that they can build up perseverance is very helpful in building a child’s confidence. This confidence is what will help them strike out and try again.

      If they feel that they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it, then they won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. If a child believes that they can’t be successful in doing something, then they won’t be successful. Part of building that mentality of believing in themselves comes from encouragement from their parents, care givers, and teachers.

      Cheer Them On

      How many times have you heard a story of success that someone had in life that all began because someone believed in that person?

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      A coach, a mom, a teacher can have a huge impact by believing in the child’s ability to be successful and voicing that encouragement to them. Words are powerful. Use them to build up a child, by telling them that they can do it even if they have try again and again.

      Be their support system by being their cheerleader. Cheerleaders don’t just cheer when the team is winning. They cheer words of encouragement to keep the team going.

      The same goes with children. We need to cheer for their successes, but also cheer for them to keep going and fighting the fight when life gets tough!

      You Can’t Force Them

      Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to keep trying. They have to do it themselves.

      For example, when my daughter was learning to tie her shoes, it was a real struggle. She gave up. I couldn’t make her want to try to do it again. She had to take a break from the struggle for a few months and then try again.

      She was more successful the second time around, because she had matured and her fine motor skills had improved. It would have been ridiculous for me to force her to practice tying her shoes for the three or four months in between, with tears and arguing taking place.

      No, instead we took a break. She tried again later. Forcing her to learn something that she wasn’t ready to learn would have pit us against one another. That would have been a poor parenting move.

      There are boundaries that parents can set though in some cases. For example, if your child begins an activity and wants to quit mid-season because they are terrible at the sport, you have the opportunity to keep them in the sport through the end of the season to show them that quitting is not an option.

      Although they may not win another tennis match the rest of the season or win another swimming race all year long, finishing the commitment is important. It will help with the development of grit by teaching them to persevere through the defeat. It is character building.

      If your child is great at all things all the time, they will not develop grit. They need to try things that challenge them. When they aren’t the best at something, or for that matter, the worst, it creates an opportunity for them feel real struggle. Real struggle builds real character.

      2. Get Them out of Their Comfort Zone

      My daughter wanted to try cheerleading this past fall. She has never done this activity in the past, nor is she particularly coordinated (sorry sweetie). For that matter, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel when cheer season began.

      However, we signed up because she was so excited to become a cheerleader. I signed up to coach because there was a need for more cheer coaches. We were all-in at that point.

      Once the season began, I quickly realized that cheerleading was far outside my daughter’s comfort zone. The idea of cheerleading was great in her mind. The reality of memorizing cheers and learning physical skills that were hard for her made the experience a struggle. She wanted to quit. I said to her “no, you were the one who wanted to do this, so we finish what we started.” I had to say this more than once. I don’t think anyone on the squad knew this was the case, because she kept at it.

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      She kept practicing those cheers every evening. It did not come naturally to her at first, so it was uncomfortable. She always seemed to be half a beat behind the other cheerleaders, which made it very awkward and uncomfortable for her. However, letting her know that quitting mid-season was not an option made her try harder. She wanted to learn the cheers so she wouldn’t stand out on the squad as the girl who didn’t know what she is doing.

      By the end of the season, she became a decent cheerleader. Not the best, but she was no longer half a beat behind the rest. She learned skills that were hard for her to conquer. Now that she felt success in achieving something that was uncomfortable and hard for her. She knows she has it in her to do that in other areas of life.

      That is why it’s ok for us as parents to let our kids feel the struggle and be uncomfortable. If they don’t experience it when they are young, they will as adults, but they won’t be equipped with the perseverance and inner-strength built from years of working hard through smaller struggles as they grew up.

      Allowing our children to struggle helps them build that skill of perseverance, so that they have the grit to achieve hard things in life that they really desire to accomplish.

      3. Allow Them To Fail

      Your child will fail at things in life. Let them. Do not swoop in and rescue your child from their personal failures. If they don’t fail, then they don’t have the opportunity to pick themselves up and try again.

      If I had pulled my daughter from cheerleader once I realized that it was going to be a real struggle, she wouldn’t have experienced failure and struggle. Letting her have this small failure in life taught her lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. She learned about the power she has within herself to try harder, to practice in order to make change happen, and to push through it even when you feel like giving up because it is embarrassing.

      Failure is embarrassing. Learning to handle embarrassment is taking on a fear. When kids learn to do this at a young age, it is practice for adult life. They will experience failure as an adult. They will be better equipped to handle life’s disappointments and failures if they have learned to handle the fear of embarrassment and failure when they are young.

      Practice builds up the skill. Processing and handling fear, embarrassment, and failure are skills.

      If I had pulled my daughter from cheer and allowed her to quit, I would have taken from her the opportunity to learn how to process and handle the embarrassment and failure she was experiencing at each practice and games. She learned to keep trying and that practicing the skills would lessen the embarrassment and feelings of failure.

      Learning the value of practice and how to preserve through the fear and failure are priceless lessons. We may want to rescue our children because we want them to be successful at the things that they do, but how will they be successful in this competitive world as adults if they are provided with only opportunities in which they succeed?

      Failure is needed to learn to thrive. Success in adulthood does not come easy to children who are protected from failure because they haven’t built up the ability to persevere.

      Perseverance comes when they have learned time and time again how to take the fear of embarrassment and failure head on and practice to get better.

      4. Teach Them to Try Again

      Encourage your child to try again. Don’t let them quit on the first try.

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      Life is hard. If we quit the first time we tried at things, we would never amount to anything in life. We need to teach our children that trying again is simply part of life.

      Help them to give it a go by providing encouragement and support. Offer to practice with them, provide them with tutoring or coaching if necessary — whatever it takes to get them back on the proverbial horse and trying again.

      Break it Down

      Sometimes failure occurs because they are trying something all at one time and they haven’t mastered the smaller components.

      For example, a math student isn’t going to jump into calculus as their first high school math course. No, of course not. They build on their skills. They begin with basic math, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to then they get to the calculus level.

      If they are thrown into the deep end by taking on calculus before the foundation of their math skills are built, they will fail.

      Help your child try again by breaking down what it is they are trying to achieve.

      Going back to my cheer example… my daughter was not the best at learning the cheers when we began. It then dawned on me that we needed to break down each cheer phrase by phrase. Once we learned the phrase and movements that went with it, we could then learn the next one. Once these were learned, we could combine the phrases, practice them together, and then try to move to learn the next phrase in the cheer. It was a tedious process, but it worked.

      Not all skills come easy for kids. Helping them learn the skill of breaking things down into manageable tasks is another way we teach them about grit. They are learning to build skills by persisting, practicing, and building upon previous experience, knowledge, and skills.

      Grit is put into practice in childhood when they learn how to break down large tasks into smaller achievable tasks in order to build toward a greater goal.

      5. Let Them Find Their Passion

      Your child may be a wonderful pianist. However, if they aren’t passionate about the skill, then they likely won’t be happy or fulfilled in becoming a concert pianist.

      It’s great to help your child discover their talents, but also let them discover what they are passionate about in life.

      True success will come because they are passionate about the activity, not because they are the best. The best usually become that way because they are passionate first. Therefore, let your child experience a variety of activities and interests so that they can discover what they love to do.

      6. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome

      Praising their efforts keeps them motivated and trying. If you focus on outcome, then when they fail, they will become defeated and discouraged.

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      Focusing on the fact that they tried hard and pointing out specific ways that they did well in terms of effort will support them in trying again. When you make a habit of focusing on outcome, then failures are avoided at all costs, including taking risks.

      Risks are needed in order to become successful. Therefore, make a habit of praising their efforts, even when the outcome is not what they had hoped and tried for, because eventually, if they keep trying their efforts will result in success.

      7. Be a Model of Grit

      If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, then you are a model to that child. Children naturally look up to the adults in their life that are closest to them, especially their parents. They will look at your ability to persevere and achieve. Your grit will show.

      Your children are watching. They may not know the term grit, but they will learn about working hard, not giving up, trying again after failure, and all that grit entails from your actions.

      How you handle life is being watched by your children. You can work on your own grit by reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit .

      Develop a Growth Mindset

      Helping your child develop a growth mindset is also helpful to your child in their development of grit. Dr. Dweck, author of Growth Mindset and researcher at Stanford, developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindset.

      Basically, what it means is that if you have a fixed mindset, you will fear failure and easily give up. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their talents, skills, and abilities can be improved with hard work and learning. Parents and caregivers can help with the development of a growth mindset.

        Some of the ways that a growth mindset can be developed include:

        • Teaching your child how the brain works: neuron connections, right brain versus left brain.
        • Teach them to set goals.
        • Teach them to have a “can do” attitude.
        • Teach them to develop a strategy when they want to achieve something.
        • Teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.
        • Teach them that failure is a normal part of life.
        • Teach them about self talk: Self Talk Determines Your Success

        There are a great deal of activities and materials online for helping your child develop a growth mindset including these resources below (each site contains at least some free content):

        The Bottom Line

        Grit is not just for adults, it is something we can help our children develop. Grit is more critical to success than IQ, so we should be helping our children develop this quality early in life.

        As a parent, being a model of grit, is one of the first ways to help our children become “gritty”.

        Featured photo credit: Gabriela Braga via unsplash.com

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