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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 January 24, 2020

      5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

      5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

      There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Parenting is hard. It takes a great deal of effort to be even a decent parent. My husband and I are raising our three children ages 6, 6, and 7.

      Yes, I have my hands full. Twin six-year-old boys and a seven-year-old girl keep me on my parenting toes, so to speak. It is not easy, but I do my best to be a good parent. Having a PhD in psychology is helpful, but I still devour plenty of parenting books and research articles to continually try to do better. I am still a work in progress just like all parents.

        It would be great if we knew exactly what to do and how to do it with our kids. But not all kids are the same and they are not born with a manual that provides us with instructions on how to raise them right. However, we do have research on parenting and psychology that can help us out and point us in the right direction.

        Below I have five tips on how to improve your parenting skills starting today! These tips are backed by research. The first step toward being a great parent is knowing how. It is difficult to be a good parent without knowing first and foremost the how and why.

        1. Practice Loving without Conditions

        Loving unconditionally seems like a given that we all assume we are doing as a parent. However, we may have behaviors or words spoken that undermine our ability for our children to feel unconditionally loved.

        For example, asking our child if he wants another mom when he is acting out is not practicing unconditional love. The message that is being sent to the child is that if they act out or misbehave, they are at risk of losing you as a mother, since you ask “do you want another mom” or “do you want to live somewhere else?”

        If you have ever made these statements, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent. However, if we want our child to feel loved unconditionally, then we need to stop saying things that make the child feel like the relationship could ever be severed because of their behavior.

        Another way to look at these threats is comparing them to threatening divorce. If you have ever been married, or lived in a home with married parents, then you know that when one person threatens divorce, it cuts to the core.

        Threatening divorce damages the relationship, because trust is lost. The other person begins to feel that that their relationship may not be forever, and that the relationship can be ended because their spouse is threatening divorce. Even if the person threatening doesn’t really mean what they are saying and they truly love their spouse, the words are damaging none the less.

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        The same principles go for parent and child relationships. If a child has been threatened with loss of their current home life, the parent leaving them, or being placed in foster care, then that child does not feel loved unconditionally. They will believe that love from their parent is contingent on their behavior. It is conditional love which means that they are only loved under certain conditions.

        My son Charlie has recently gotten into the habit of saying “I love you Mom” every time that he gets in trouble. He kicked the dog the other day. Not hard, but nevertheless he kicked our family dog. I was fuming. I yelled at him and he was sent to his room for a long time out (I know the yelling was not a good thing to do). I couldn’t even think of a consequence in the heat of the moment so I said “go to your room, I don’t want to see you right now, I will think about your consequence later.”

        He cried, and as he was running up the stairs and he was saying “I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy.” Why was he saying that? Because in his six-year-old mind, he is worried that I will stop loving him if he has bad behavior.

        Kids don’t know that we love them unconditionally. They are learning though and we must teach them that we do. My response in this situation and always is to say “I love you too.” I then usually follow it up with “I don’t like your behavior right now, but I will always love you.”

        Kids need to be told that they are loved regardless of their behavior. It needs to be ingrained that they are loved even if they act out, break the rules, or misbehave.

        An article by Elite Daily examined several research studies on unconditional love.[1] The findings from these studies showed that children become more well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, and physically healthy adults when they experience unconditional love in childhood. When children are exposed to conditional love in their parent-child relationship, the research showed that, children have higher levels of anxiety which in turn negatively affects their long-range health, such as heart health.

        Loving unconditionally means loving without conditions. Unconditional love is loving someone just the way that they are, flaws and all. Tell your children that you love them, even when they break the rules, misbehave, or they tell you that they hate you (most kids say this to their parents at some point in time).

        You must always respond with “I love you regardless of your behavior.” It doesn’t mean that you are accepting or allowing the bad behavior. There should always be reasonable consequences to match the behavior. However, they shouldn’t ever be made to feel that the love of their parent can be revoked because of bad behaviors.

        2. Develop a Bond That Will Last a Lifetime by Creating Memories

        You need to spend time with your kids in order to create a bond. Quality time matters, but so does quantity time.

        Kids want to be with their parents. Spend time together as a family. For example, make it a point to have dinner at the kitchen or dining room table at least a few nights a week. Make a rule that no technology is allowed at the table during that time, so that you can talk and spend time together.

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        Before you know it, that child will be grown and out of your home. Take the time to spend meal times together, talking and truly getting to know your child before they leave your home as an adult.

        Barking Up the Wrong Tree looked at research on how to create happy memories that last a lifetime. Some of the things discovered in the research included:[2]

        • Memories are made when our senses and emotions are elevated.
        • If we are pulling out the camera phone, it is likely an elevated experience that you want to remember.
        • Celebrating milestones and praiseworthy moments (graduations, winning seasons, etc.) helps to create positive lasting memories.
        • Struggling together creates a bond. If you have worked through conflict in your relationship and made it better in the process then you have created a bond. Fraternities haze, soldier fight together, and families overcome struggles together. These all make for lasting bonds. When you struggle together as a family, celebrate the success at the end of your victory, once you have overcome the challenge together.

        Take the time to make memories with your children. They are only little once. Go on those vacations, hike to the top of a mountain together, sail across an ocean, go camping, or teach them to ice-skate.

        Do anything and everything that will help create memories, bonds, and experiences that will last a lifetime in their memory. Those memories are what will carry them into old age with happiness in their heart.

        3. Stop the Yelling

        Yelling at our kids is not good parenting. Yet it is still happening on regular basis in most homes. I admit, I am still continually working on this one. I think this quote summarizes the situation.

          However, I know I need to continually work to not yell or raise my voice, as I would prefer a household with zero voices ever raised.

          Yelling causes our children to become anxious. It also affects them emotionally and mentally in a negative manner. If you have ever been yelled at by a boss or superior, you probably remember it and it is not a fond memory. It made you feel bad. It is hard enough to be reprimanded in a calm voice.

          When someone, whether adult or child, is yelled at while being reprimanded it causes anxiety, stress, and negative emotions to abound. When the yelling involves name calling or insults it becomes emotional abuse.

          Heathline Parenthood examined research on the topic of yelling and found that parents who yell at their kids end up with children who are more aggressive verbally and physically.[3] Children learn from their parents’ example. If yelling is a regular occurrence in your household, then your child is learning that when dealing with behavior or situations that they don’t like, it is appropriate to yell. None of us want to teach that to our children, so we must take action to stop the yelling.

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          Healthline provides some tips on how to stop yelling:

          • Know what triggers the yelling. What are the behaviors occurring or situations where you find yourself yelling at your children?
          • When you feel that you are going to yell, give yourself a time out or count to ten.
          • Practice responding in a calm, even tone. Practice makes the action a habit.
          • If you do yell, then admit the mistake and apologize to your child. They will then learn that it is not an acceptable behavior and that they too should apologize if they make a mistake and end up yelling. (Yes, I apologized to Charlie for yelling and he had to apologize to our dog Max.)

          My article about yelling less at your kids less is also helpful: The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out. This article outlines the steps to use the “one-ask” parenting approach. This approach is used to help parents follow up with consequences more quickly so that situations don’t escalate to worse behavior by the children and yelling from the parents. Some tips from this article on talking to your children without yelling include the following.

          • Get on their level, talking face to face in a calm voice.
          • Don’t make repeated threats about a consequence that is coming to them and wait for the situation to become more heated.
          • Follow through with the consequence (i.e. loss of playtime or time-out) immediately after they violate your warning. Don’t wait for them to repeat the bad behavior several more times. One warning is all that is needed. Then, if they break the rule or don’t obey, the consequence should be immediately implemented.

          If you find that your yelling is so entrenched in your daily behaviors that you have a hard time kicking the habit and you need more support, then buy, or find at your local library, the book Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. Their tips were even featured on the Focus on the Family national radio program and were rated as a number one show for 2019. Their gentle parenting methods simply work.

          A quote from the book:

          “Peacemaking moms produce peacemaking kids.”

          Wendy and Amber also have a Facebook group that is free to join. It is Gentle Parenting with Amber and Wendy. In this group, you will find thousands of other parents looking for support to yell less in their homes. Check out the group if you want more connected support to stop yelling at your kids. I am a member of this group too. Nobody is perfect, but we can do better as parents by yelling less starting today.

          4. Provide Experiences Over Toys

          Toys are fun. But our kids don’t need an excess of overcomplicated, electronic, and expensive toys in order to be happy or develop in a healthy manner. Focusing on experiences over toys is a way to improve as a parent now.

          The next holiday or birthday that comes up, think about gifting your child an experience, for example, a year membership to the children’s museum or zoo. Another experience is a trip to someplace interesting such as a National Park. These experiences help to create memories. They also help to make your child a more well rounded individual as they are out in the world experiencing activities rather than sitting in their room playing the newest video game.

          Motherly posted a recent article that delved into the science that experiences are better for our kids than toys. Here is a quote from that article that is worth noting.[4]

          And if we need one more reason to cool it on the toy giving, researchers have discovered that gratitude and generosity increase when experiences are given instead of objects. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, conducted many studies over many decades and found that happiness is derived from experiences, not things. Bottom line: The happiness derived from a childhood experience is far more significant than the fleeting excitement of toys under the Christmas tree. Giving experiences that involve spending time together instead of gifting toys brings greater and longer-lasting joy. Don’t stress about the number of toys, mama. Focus on making memories.

          Creating family experiences and making memories go hand-in-hand. Our money and resources get more bang for their buck when they are used on experiences for the family instead of things. The research from the Motherly article shows that families are happier overall when they have more experiences together and less toys.

          5. Let Them Play and Be a Child

          Play and childhood development go hand-in-hand. However, the amount of playtime our children are getting has been diminishing in recent decades.

          We are so intent on our children learning, that we take away from their playtime. Play is learning. We need to get our children back to basic playtime so they can develop and learn in a natural way.

          Increase their playtime and limit the electronics. Research by Very Well Family found that too much technology is damaging to our children.[5] When children get too much time on electronic devices, their research found that children have sleep issues, obesity, behavior problems, academic problems, and emotional issues. Limit your children’s time on technology.

          According to We Can, we need to aim for less than two of screen time per day for our school aged children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends far less time for children under the age of five. We Can offers a free screen time chart so you can track your child’s time on digital devices.

          The goal is to get children playing and off the technology. Playing will help them developmentally. In my book Let Them Play, I explain the importance of play and provide 100 child developmental play activities. Some great play activities that promote development and learning that are listed in the book including Play Doh, magnet blocks, Legos, puppet shows, and hopscotch.

          Parents can teach their children different play activities while they actively play with their children. Fifteen or twenty minutes of playtime together can help to create bonding time between parent and child. Then the parent can allow their children to continue playing the activity on their own. This play time is crucial to the child’s healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

          They are only little once. Let them be a child when they are little. Two-year-old children aren’t meant to sit at desks for hours completing school work. They were made to play, explore, and be active physically. This is how they learn and develop best.

          Final Thoughts

          These are not the only ways to improve as a parent. However, these are five ways that you can begin improving as a parent starting today.

          Nobody is a perfect parent, which means we all have room for improvement. Look at your own parenting methods objectively and decide where you can improve. Then do something about it.

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          Featured photo credit: Jonathan Daniels via unsplash.com

          Reference

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