It’s a universal experience that most moms feel stressed, strained and rushed every morning trying to get out the door. And it’s no wonder—there are a lot of things that needs to be accomplished in a short period of time in order to leave on time for school, work or morning activities. This fact alone leaves the morning ripe for toddler (and mommy!) meltdowns, which you definitely don’t have the time for when you are on the clock.
You can alleviate much of the stress by taking a few minutes the night before to get yourself prepared for the next day. Doing so will help you feel more organized and in control and will go a long way in helping you to feel mentally and emotionally ready to tackle the morning routine. Here are a few simple ideas that we guarantee will make your morning go more smoothly.
Is it show & tell day tomorrow? Do you have swim lessons or karate or ballet? Is it your turn to bake cookies for teacher appreciation day? Don’t get caught off guard in the morning when you discover these things last minute. You’ll be left scrambling and frazzled! A simple check of the calendar will remedy that and give you plenty of time to get together everything you will need for the next day’s activities. You’ll also want to take a quick glimpse at the weather forecast for the next day to see if you need an umbrella, the rain shield, sunscreen, etc. There is nothing worse that finally getting out the door and having to turn around due to unexpected weather conditions.
2. Pick Out Clothing: Rather than enter into a clothing battle with your child in the morning when you’re rushing to get kids dressed, have your child pick out her outfit with your assistance as part of the bedtime routine. Your child will feel more in control because she had a say in what she wears and will be less likely to put up a fuss. While you’re at it, you can also get out any necessary uniform or clothing for the next day. Swim lessons? Get the swimsuit & towel ready to go. Soccer?…find the uniform & shoes and pack it up. This also ensures that if something is dirty, you will have time to wash it before the morning.
3. Clean Out the Stroller & Restock the Diaper Bag.
Spend a few minutes in the evening cleaning out your stroller and diaper bag so that you will have everything ready when you head out the next day. Replace what as been used (diapers, wipes, snacks,) exchange soiled blankets and burp cloths, switch up stroller toys for a little variety and throw in anything you may need for the day like the baby carrier, a picnic blanket, or the portable potty. Not only will you feel more organized and prepared doing this, but an added bonus of having a fully stocked stroller and bag is that anyone else who make take your child out (your partner, the sitter or another family member) will have everything he/she needs to care for your child.
4. Prepare Snacks & Lunch- Make snack and lunch preparation for the next day part of your dinner routine. It’s easy and convenient since you are already preparing a meal in the kitchen and you will make healthier choices when you have the time to pull something together rather than grabbing the easiest thing on your way out the door in the morning. Even if you normally eat lunch at home, preparing it (or at least some parts of it, like cutting up fresh veggies or boiling pasta) ahead of time will only make your life easier the next day. Who knows what sort of an afternoon you will have…I guarantee you will appreciate having lunch ready when you get home.
5. Shower! Even if you like to shower in the morning to start the day off fresh, the fact of the matter for many moms is that there may not be time. Bathing at night is like giving yourself the gift of time…time to actually enjoy a relaxing shower, time to blow dry your hair if you want to, time to maybe even shave without someone barging in or the pressure of being on the clock. It’s also just a nice way to decompress and unwind after a long day of parenting.
None of these think-ahead strategies take longer than 5-10 minutes to complete, yet you will buy yourself so much stress-free time in the morning because of your efforts. The key is to keep momentum for just a bit longer between putting the kids to bed and flopping on the couch with the DVR to get yourself organized. I promise you will be glad you’ve done it!
This post was also featured on the Kidville Blog “Voices From the Ville”
Inviting Your Big Kid to a Celebration for the New Baby
One of the most anticipated moments of second- (or third, or fourth!) time parenthood is when you get to introduce your older child to his/her new sibling. Whether at home, a birthing center or the hospital, watching your newly expanded brood come together and meet for the first time is a cherished and unforgettable experience. However, as excited as parents may be for this moment, many are also extremely nervous and worried about how their big kid will react the first time he meets the baby. Our strategy to ensure a smooth introduction between siblings? Make a party out of it!
Children learn from an early age how exciting and fun birthday parties are. They love to give and receive gifts, eat cake, sing “Happy Birthday,” and play with balloons and party favors. Linking something you know your child enjoys with the birth of the baby will set a nice tone when they meet for the first time and will create positive associations and memories of the baby’s arrival.
Planning the baby’s birthday party doesn’t have to be a complicated or time consuming project. In fact just a few simple things will make the day that much more anticipated and special for your child. Begin by making a party invitation to “mail” to your child. Not only will she love receiving the letter, but you can also use the invitation as way to introduce the idea of celebrating the baby’s birth. “We will have a birthday party for your baby sister when she arrives! Won’t that be fun?” This will generate excitement and give your child something more to look forward to when the baby comes.
Once you have introduced the party, you can include your child in the rest of the preparation:
- Have her help you make invitations for the family members and friends who will come to the hospital to meet the baby.
- Ask her for her opinion and help choosing what treat to make for the party: “Should we bring cupcakes or cake? What flavor would you like?” “What should we have to drink?” Have your child make the cupcakes with an adult at home while you are in the hospital—she will love having a special job and will be excited to show you what she baked.
- Make an activity out of going to the party store to pick out plates, napkins and other supplies together.
- Help her make a welcome sign or banner to use as a decoration in the hospital room.
- Let her pick out or make a small gift for the baby. A fun idea is to decorate a picture frame where a picture of the new siblings will go after the birth. (You may also want to pick out a small gift for the baby to give to your Big Kid!)
After your child comes to see you and the baby and the initial introductions have taken place, ask her “Is it time for our birthday party to begin? Should we light the candle and sing to our new baby?” Let your big kid have a special job like passing out the napkins and plates so that she feels included and “brag” to others about all the things that your big kid has done to help plan the party. Your child will not only feel proud that she has pleased her grown ups, but she will learn early on how wonderful it feels to do nice things for her little sibling.
The arrival of a new sibling is a happy and joyous occasion and one that should be celebrated. Having a fun, simple birthday party to mark the day sends a wonderful and important message to your child—namely that having a new baby brother or sister is a GOOD thing. And hey…if a new baby comes with cake, then your big kid may be asking for more siblings before you know it!
This post was originally written for Kidville’s Voices from the Ville Blog
Has it become a daily struggle to get your toddler dressed? Do you dread the morning routine because you know tears and tantrums will ensue when it’s time to shed pajamas and get clothes on for the day? I hear from parents all the time that getting their child dressed in the morning is a battle, but it doesn’t have to be. This job-like many daily tasks and transitions-is really about finding a way to give your child a sense of control. She wants to feel heard and wants her ideas considered. When she feels forced to get dressed and is not given any sense of choice or power in the situation, you will end up in a struggle that will surely set the tone for your day. Here are some easy ideas to help you avoid the daily getting-dressed-drama.
1. Pick Out Clothes The Night Before: Start the night before when you aren’t on the clock to get out the door. You and your child will feel more patient about the whole situation if you aren’t under pressure. After your child is snug in her jammies for the night, work with her to pick out two outfits to choose for the next morning (having a choice in the AM is important to help toddlers still feel in control over getting dressed.) Explain to her, “These are your choices for tomorrow. When you wake up, you can either choose THIS outfit, or THIS one.”
- If your toddler is paralyzed by her closet and can’t choose two choices, OR if you can’t handle giving her complete freedom to wear whatever she wants, then you pick two outfits and let her choose from those two.
- Alternatively, you can take turns picking a piece of clothing, so have her first choose her shirt and then say “My turn!” and choose the coordinating bottom. This will also help her learn play skills by taking turns with you.
- Make “Pick Out Outfit for Tomorrow” a part of your child’s Bedtime Routine Star Chart. It’s easier when it’s a known and consistent part of the nightly routine.
- If you don’t want your child wearing weather-inappropriate clothing, then don’t have them available. If children can find shorts or a summer dress in their drawers, they will want to wear it and you’ll end up in a battle about why it’s not okay for the season. The same for summer shoes. My advice: pack up seasonal clothing and store it away so that it’s not even an option.
2. The Morning-Your child will be much more willing to get dressed and won’t put up as much of a fight about getting dressed if you get him dressed RIGHT AWAY after he wakes up. Typically, you will be changing a diaper or using the potty and your child will be half undressed anyway. Use the opportunity to go ahead and ask your child to make his outfit choice and then get him dressed. He will still be groggy and love the extra attention in the morning that you will spend getting him dressed. In doing this, you also avoid having to pull him back to his room or interrupting him during another task to get him dressed which will be more likely to turn into a battle.
- In the event that your child doesn’t like his choices in the morning, stay firm, yet empathetic. Do not toss the choices aside and let him go for something else…this will negate the technique and you’ll continue to have your battles in the morning and your prep the night before will be meaningless. Simply state “You are frustrated because you have to choose one of these outfits and you don’t want to. But it’s time to get ready for school, so you either choose, or mommy will choose for you.” And then count 1-2-3 before making the choice. OR “You want to stay in your pajamas! They are cozy and warm, but it’s time to get dressed. Would you like 1 or 2 more minutes before you are ready?” Set a timer and ask your child to repeat what will happen after the timer rings.
- Remember, giving a choice, while staying firm about the ultimate goal (it’s time to get dressed) will help your child feel in control. Validating that it’s hard/frustrating or that he simply wants to keep his pajamas on goes a long way in letting your child know he is understood and heard. He will be more likely to comply if he believes you understand him. After a few days of being empathetic, yet firm and showing him you are serious about the outfits and getting dressed, he will learn that he would rather have control and choose himself than letting you do it.
3. An Opportunity to Teach Dressing Skills: Toddlers want to be independent so focusing on dressing skills can be another way to avoid battles because you will be playing up her need to do it “by myself!” By 2 years, you can begin teaching early skills by encouraging your child to pull her pants up and down (also nice prep for potty training!) zip or undress a zipper, snap or unsnap snaps, undo velcro, etc.
4. Reinforce Favorable Outcomes: All toddlers naturally want to please their parents and want to do the “right” thing. She loves knowing you are happy and knowing she has done a good job, so lay on the praise thick when she chooses her outfit and proceeds to get dressed without a fight.
- Remind her as your start your evening routine that picking an outfit is part of her job for the night. Make it fun by keeping your tone light and staying excited and encouraging about her choices.
- Be specific in your praise. Rather than just saying “good job!” tell her “I love the sweater you chose to go with those pants. You will be nice and warm in that tomorrow.”
- Similarly, as she is getting dressed the next day, be specific again in your praise “You are doing such a great job pulling your shirt over your head.”
- Let your child purposefully overhear you “brag” to your partner about what a great job she did. Tell her teacher how she got dressed without a fight, or call Grammie to spread the news. This may feel silly or trivial to you, but to your child her good behavior is a big deal and knowing she has pleased you and others will motivate her to do it again.
5. Be Willing to Be Flexible: Choosing his own clothing is a form of creativity and expression. So long as your child is appropriately dressed for the weather, then combining patterns, color and texture can actually be a fun and independent way for your child to express himself even if it’s hard on YOUR eyes. Be okay with that. It takes a strong and confident parent NOT to have to control what your child wears all the time.
- Lay a ground rule that on “special occasions” you get to choose the outfit, but other days your child has the choice. We started this early with my boys…I told them the night before as we were preparing clothing that the next day was a special occasion day (a holiday, family event, special day at school, etc.) This allows you to also feel like you have some control over your child’s appearance when it really matters. It will also teach your child to be flexible which is important to his social-emotional development. If you are giving him control on other days and filling up his “control tank” regularly, then he will be less likely to fight on those special occasion days.
- If your child wants to wear pajamas or a costume or something like that every day, let him so long as it doesn’t interfere with anything specific. It’s likely a phase that will pass after a few days and the less you battle over it the shorter the phase is likely to be.
- Along those line, if your child wants to wear a costume or pajamas every day, but it is not okay with school, explain that it is against the school rules and have your teacher reiterate that with the child. Children want to follow the rules, so this often works. OR compromise with your child that he can wear it until he gets to school but then he must take it off in exchange for regular clothing. Make it clear that this is the plan and have your child repeat the plan so that you know he understands it.
- In general try not to emphasize appearance too much. We don’t want to send the wrong message to our children or make them feel like the clothing they wear is more important than how they feel. You should try to minimize the labels about being “pretty” or clothing being “ugly” together or not matching so as not to impact your child’s self esteem negatively. We want them to feel like they have made good choices and that they are beautiful no matter what. Building this foundation starts early, so remember to stay focused on the “right” things as your are getting your child dressed and teaching dressing skills.
Most importantly remember that your opinionated child possesses traits that you will later value: Independence, a need to express himself and to be heard, willfulness, conviction and a desire to be in charge of her body and her appearance. You want to bolster these traits, not squash them, so be patient and work WITH your child through this phase.
Most parents dream of a bedtime routine that is easy and calm and full of cozy pajamas, snuggles in bed and a child who falls asleep peacefully on cue. But reality quickly takes over when you are plodding through yet another challenging evening of your toddler fussing through bath, clenching his jaw during tooth brushing, jumping out of bed a million times and multiple excuses that keep you in his room long after the lights have gone off. Ah bedtime…it is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of the day with little ones and that much more challenging when you add an infant who has drastically different needs often at the same time.
While we can’t give you more energy or patience, we do have one effective tool which may just make your routine run a bit more smoothly.
The Bedtime Routine Chart
Toddlers are visual learners first and foremost which means they really need to see, watch & observe before they can DO. When a child sees pictures of an activity or routine, she can better process the routine and imagine her role in it. Often when I am working with parents who may have a tough time during the bedtime routine when many “things” need to happen in order to get from point A to point B, I recommend making what we call a Social Story or Star Chart. Really it’s a picture sequence that shows the child what needs to happen in order for her to be ready for bed. After she completes each task, she earns a mark (stickers tend to do the trick!) and once she completes all her jobs for a few days in a row, she will be rewarded with an extra treat or privilege.
This type of strategy works and appeals to toddlers for the following reasons:
- Toddlers love having a “job” that earns them praise and acknowledgment.
- They are goal driven when they can see what needs to happen next…checking off lists, following directions, and accomplishing goals is especially motivating for little ones.
- They have a visual of their accomplishments once they earn their stickers.
- A visual representation of the routine makes it feel that much more predictable and “safe” so even when something is different (ie. mom isn’t home and grandma is putting child to bed) the chart keeps her focused and secure.
- Your child feels more in control during the routine because she is “choosing” to accomplish her task rather than being told to do so by mommy.
Making your own bedtime routine chart doesn’t have to be difficult.
- Search Google Images for pictures that match your routine (e.g “toddler brushing teeth”) then save the images and copy in to any sort of document program. (or use the link below to download ours!)
- Create a graph with the days of the week & the image. Label each activity clearly & simply.
- Consider laminating your chart so you can use it multiple times.
- Hang chart in the child’s room (the back of the bedroom door is a great spot) at her eye level.
- Walk her through the routine…ask her “What is happening here?” until she is clear about what each job means.
- Explain how she will earn her stickers and what she will earn when she completes a few days in a row
When you are ready to start your routine, take your child to the chart and say “Honey…it’s time to start getting ready for bed! What is your first job on the chart?” and then remind her that once she does it, she will earn a sticker. Stay encouraging and refer back to the chart… “Okay, you have on your pajamas and you have brushed your teeth. What’s next? Can you show mommy?”
You will also feel more confident and in control using this tool…it gives you something to refer to and direct your child to. Also, it feels good to praise our child for a job well done and that alone will help you stay more calm and collected.
So if you are struggling through bedtime and looking for a way to streamline your routine and make it a bit more easy on you and your toddler, put together a chart and turn this challenging time into something a bit more fun and focused. You can think about making a chart for your morning routine as well!
Follow this link to download your very own copy of the Bedtime Routine Chart: Routine Social Story
Playdates are essential–for your toddler and for YOU! Not only is it important for your child to have plenty of opportunities to socialize and build her play skills, but a playdate can also mean time for you to catch up with a friend, get support, and exchange stories from the trenches in a relaxed and controlled environment.
Up until 12-15 months, a playdate is more about the parent needing adult interaction, rather than the child. Babies at this point are barely or newly mobile and you will spend most of your playdate chasing and keeping your child out of things! Play skills begin to develop around 16-18 months which is typically also a time when language skills blossom, so social interaction starts to become more important. Children will engage in parallel (side-by-side) play for many months during playdates until they are 2.5-3 years when they become more engaged and interactive with one another in their play.
If your child is new to the playdate “scene” it important to keep a few things in mind:
- Time of Day: Try to avoid planning playdates too close to nap or bed time, or too close to a meal (if a meal is not planned during the playdate) to avoid meltdowns. You may also want to consider not planning a playdate on the heels of another stimulating activity (like a class) because your child may be tired and ready to decompress alone at home.
- Length of Playdate: 1.5-2 hours seems to be a good amount of time for a playdate. That gives you plenty of time to visit, snack/eat and allow your child to feel like she has been able to play with everything she is interested in.
- Size of Group: Keep your group small in the beginning. Playing with one or two other friends is perfect–too many children can feel overwhelming and can easily get chaotic. A small playdate will also allow you to stay more in tune to your child and her needs since you will easily be able to see & hear her while she is playing.
BEFORE THE PLAYDATE:
- Let your child know that a friend is coming over or that you will visit a friend’s house so that she will know what to expect. Children get very used to a routine and having a playdate can certainly throw that routine off. A little forewarning and priming for the change in routine will go a long way in getting your child comfortable with the idea that another child will be in her space.
- Attach the playdate to a time of day– “Sarah will come over after lunch/before nap/for dinner, etc.” and let her know what will happen during the playdate. For example, “Sarah will come over when we get back from Music. You can play and eat lunch together! She will go home before nap.” Again, letting your child know what to expect will help her feel more prepared. It will also give her a chance to ask any questions and address any feelings that she may be feeling about the playdate ahead of time.
- If you are hosting, ask your child if she wants to put any favorite toys so that she won’t have to worry about another child wanting to play with it. If your child has a new or special toy that you anticipate may be hard for her to share, completely taking it out of the equation is a good idea.
- Put away uber-messy supplies like paint, markers or glue that could cause a major problem if they are discovered by unsupervised little hands. Heaven forbid you turn your back and your child or your child’s friend decides to color the walls…!
- Along those lines, it’s also a good idea to put away other things that could be unsafe or get too out of control–like balls, bats/golf clubs, scooters or ride-on toys (assuming you are indoors). Your child may know that she isn’t allowed to kick a ball or ride a scooter inside, but it could be tempting to another child to play with and before you know it, you’ve got a broken lamp from a ball flying through the air!
- If you are going to a friend’s house, have your child select and bring a toy from home to share and trade with the host child when you arrive. It’s a nice ice breaker and the child hosting will be distracted by the offered toy and will be more likely to share her own toys.
DURING THE PLAYDATE:
- If you are providing snack or a meal during the playdate, make sure to ask the parent ahead of time before putting it out for the taking. For example, you may be used to serving juice for lunch, but the other mom may not allow it. Once the juice box makes an appearance, it’s very hard to take away, so avoid the temptation and potential meltdown and ask first! This is also important to account for any food allergies.
- Consider having a planned activity or craft available, especially if your child is a little older (2.5+) to help focus the children during the playdate. This is especially nice if the children seem to be getting wired or are having a hard time playing nicely & sharing. Redirecting energies to Play Doh, beading, baking, Shrinky Dinks, or similar activities can really help to focus a playdate and keep it under control.
- While a playdate is a nice opportunity to zone out and catch up with your friend, I encourage you to try and stay plugged in to what is happening with the children-especially young toddlers for whom a playdate is a new experience. Playdates are excellent opportunities to teach social skills (like taking turns), to bolster coping skills (like helping your child wait for her turn!) , offer praise and positive feedback (I like how nicely you are sharing your blocks!,) and reinforce rules (we don’t run in our house and we don’t run here either!) Staying clued in to what is happening sends a nice message to your child–you are still there connected during a playdate.
- Playdates are an awesome time for your child to observe the desirable behaviors of her friend, so if the friend is doing something you want your child to be doing, be sure to point it out and make a big deal about it. “Look Noah! Sarah goes pee pee on the potty!” “Sarah sleeps in a big girl bed.” “Sarah likes carrots!” Children learn by seeing and observing and then they like to model behaviors. Watching other children is a nice way for them to learn and process something while the pressure is not on them too perform.
FEELINGS DURING A PLAYDATE:
- Its normal that children will experience a host of feelings during a playdate that could lead to undesirable behaviors: Excitement (getting wild or loud), frustration/anger (yelling, hitting, taking toys), shyness/clingy-ness (crying, unwilling to join,) and more. The key is to address behavior as they are happening, just as you would at home without visitors. Children need to feel supported through their feelings, yet they need to know that the same limits exist even when they are having a playdate.
- If your child is experiencing strong feelings during a playdate address them right away and help coach him through the situation “You are mad because your friend took your toy, but you may not hit. You may ask for help.” “You are very excited to be at your friends house, but you may not run/jump on the couch, etc. You can tell us how happy you are!” “You are feeling a little nervous to leave mommy and go play–that is okay. We can wait a few minutes and then find a toy to play with together.” Labeling the feeling and mirroring his reactions while letting him know what is and isn’t acceptable will mitigate the negative behaviors and help you to stay connected with your child.
- Monitor your own reactions to your child’s behavior. Recognize that you may feel embarrassed by the behavior, angry with your child, flustered, or annoyed that he is “ruining” your good time. It’s normal to feel this way and yet, you have to set your feelings aside and remember to support your child through the tough time in a patient and supportive way. The calmer and more consistent you are, the more quickly your child will be able to move through the feeling.
- It’s also important to recognize that you may be tempted to ignore the behavior entirely to just avoid the battle. This actually ends up backfiring as your child learns that it is okay to act that way during a playdate and your friend learns that you are unwilling to step up and address your child’s behavior. Be proactive in your approach to limit setting during playdates, it will serve both you and your child well.
- If it’s the other child who is exhibiting negative behaviors remember to be supportive and empathetic towards your friend. It’s hard having the “offending” child! If your friend is not stepping up to address her child’s behavior you can simply say “I’m worried that someone is going to get hurt-what do you think?” or “Maybe we should start a new activity/separate them/put that toy away for a few minutes until they calm down!”
- You can also address the behaviors by talking to your child “It looks like Sarah may need some space, maybe you can come over here near mommy for a few minutes” or if you feel comfortable, you may also facilitate a smooth interaction since your child is a part of it. “Sarah, I know this is your toy, but Noah has been waiting for a long time. Please let him have a turn now.” And if Sarah refuses and her mom isn’t helping you can simply state “I guess Sarah is having a hard time sharing right now–lets find something else to do until she is ready to share.” These sort of situations can be awkward-especially when you have a friend who is passively parenting, but it is well within your rights to address the behavior even if your child isn’t the one having a tough time since he/she is directly affected by it.
FOLLOWING RULES AT A PLAYDATE:
Playdates are wonderful opportunities to start teaching your child general social skills, such as saying hello, introducing themselves, saying please & thank you and learning to follow rules. It’s a nice practice to begin teaching your child that even though something may be okay at her house (such as eating in the living room) it’s respectful and polite to ask if it’s okay to eat in your host’s livingroom. As a parent, simply saying “Noah, we need to ask Sarah’s mom if it’s okay to eat in here first” plants the early seeds for respect and consideration of someone else’s rules.
Likewise if you are hosting and the visiting child is doing something you feel strongly about, don’t be afraid to gently say something and maintain boundaries–it will be confusing to your child if he is not allowed to do something at home, yet his friend is. You should feel comfortable saying “Sarah, it’s a rule in our house that we don’t jump on the bed–we don’t want you to bonk your head!…” and then redirect their energies elsewhere. If, for example you DO allow bed jumping and your friend doesn’t, the explanation to your child is that it’s not okay there “Noah, that may be okay at our house, but it’s not allowed at Sarah’s house.” Children need to learn that rules change depending on the situation and circumstances–this is life. Our efforts to teach them these lessons early will help them cope and become more flexible at they grow. As a parent you can also tell your friend “Please feel free to let us know what the rules are at your house.” This sets a nice tone and lets your friend know that you are okay with her rules.
Try not to feel pressured to stock up on the latest toys and gadgets before or after playdates. Often parents see everything that other children have on a playdate and panic thinking they need to get the same toys at home. This happened to us…my older son loved playing with all his little friends’ play kitchens on playdates but when we actually bit the bullet and bought one, he hardly paid attention to it. The truth is, your child enjoys the novelty of new and different toys when he is at a friends house. So let him enjoy what he has at home and relish in how excited and happy he is playing with new toys at someone else’s house.
Another thing: If you have a girl, don’t feel like you need to have “boy toys” for the little boys who may come over to play. Likewise if you have a son. While it’s a nice gesture, both genders learn to enjoy and appreciate what other children play with when there aren’t other familiar toys around. Your son may LOVE playing tea party and your daughter may have a blast with Tonka Trucks–who knows? At this young age, children can learn to be very adaptable. It’s when they become a few years older and more opinionated that having “boy” and “girl’ toys will be a bigger deal.
Five Energy Burning Recommendations!
Being stuck inside through the cold winter months is hard on parents and kids, but being stuck indoors when you live in an urban environment means even smaller spaces and less room to spread out and let off steam. As the parents of two young, energetic and active boys we’ve found some creative ways to keep them busy through these difficult months. They get to have fun indoors and we somehow manage not to loose our minds!
We’ve found that when kids start to get a little wound up, they are often really seeking & needing sensory input–that is, intense physical experiences that not only allow them to tire themselves out, but also center or ground them and help them to feel more “organized.” We kept that in mind when choosing indoor activities for our boys–we wanted to provide them with opportunities to spin, jump, climb/hang, crash, and push & pull in a safe and controlled manor. The energy that they exert from these activities allow them to “get it all out” and settle down so that we can actually enjoy staying at home rather than feeling like we have to flee.
Some ideas are easier than others, some require a little installation and elbow grease, and some don’t require that you purchase anything at all! But we promise you will be happy to give any of these a try when your little ones start to rev their engines.
1. PULL UP BAR
A fun and easy idea for kids is to install a retractable doorway pull up bar that is low enough for them to grab and hang from. Kids love swinging their bodies, kicking their legs up, and if they are big/strong enough, they may eventually get themselves upside down. Swinging and hanging upside down is very intense for children (nothing like a good rush of blood to the head to calm the sillies!) and this also allows kids to build core and arm strength. My kids also loop a rope over the bar (a karate belt is a favorite!) with each one holding an end and then they pull the rope back and forth in a modified tug of war. Of course this needs to be installed properly using the supplied brackets to make sure it’s safe and kids should always be supervised.
You can get a more complex doorway system like this Rainy Day Playground Indoor Trapeze found on Amazon. It’s more pricey (the bar is sold separately from the trapeze) and I don’t think the bar is as easy to remove as a pull up bar, but this could still be a really fun option.
2. PERSONAL TRAMPOLINE
What kid doesn’t enjoy jumping? A small trampoline is a great option for a good energy burn. The exertion of jumping, bouncing on bums and standing back up, kicking legs, etc. is a quick and effective way of helping active kids get the input they need. Many small trampolines can be stored easily under the bed or on its side in a closet, so it doesn’t have to be a space suck when it’s not in use. We love the Diggin’ JumpStart Trampoline because the handles let the boys hold on tight and not get too crazy, but it also allows them to tuck & pull their legs to the chest, etc. It also plays music and has follow the leader & freeze games which hold their attention a bit longer. The only drawback is that the handlebars don’t come off easily, so it’s harder to store but we don’t mind having it out every day right now!
3. HOPPY BALL & SIT AND SPIN
Two fun and affordable toys that provide a good outlet for busy kids are the Hoppy Ball and the Sit & Spin . Both require the child to use their bodies to make it work and the input received from bouncing and spinning is yet again another good energy drain!
This was definitely a fun and special splurge that we decided to get for the boys for their birthday. They absolutely love swinging and spinning (if they had a choice we would have installed a tire swing!) and since this is relatively small it doesn’t take up much room or require a lot of clearance. This model from Ikea is the called the Ekkore Swing and like many things at Ikea, it’s surprisingly affordable. It’s the installation that is much more difficult and time consuming! We had to have our professionally installed by a handyman, but once it was up and secure, the kids have had a total blast with it. The fact that it’s also cocoon-like makes it serve as a snuggly nest for looking at books or relaxing. Children who need help feeling organized also tend to enjoy tight spaces, so this serves that purpose as well.
5. TAPE ROAD & COLORED TAPE CRAFTS
When we were stuck inside during Hurricane Sandy, the boys kept entertained for hours driving their cars and trains along this masking tape rode we put all over the apartment. While slightly less physical than the activities above, this is a fun and creative way to keep the kids busy. It allows them to push their cars along, crawl, scoot and use their bodies to explore the track, create imaginative play scenarios, and stay focused. This is super easy to do and only requires tape–you can also do a chalk version of this outdoors if you have the space. And speaking of tape, we LOVE this colored Kraft Tape for Kids which not only allows kids to rip & cut pieces of tape for art projects, but which can also be used to stretch across the room to make wild mazes and big designs. This isn’t a great picture below, but it gives you a good idea what we mean. This tape is not super tacky, so it easily peels off and won’t damage walls or floors. For some reason, tape is extremely exciting and engaging for children–we highly recommend.
So there you have it–five ways to keep your active littles from going too stir crazy indoors during these long winter months. For these items and other recommended favorites, please visit our Toddler Toolkit Shop.
Preparing your child for her first trip to Disney (or any other theme park!)
Finally, the day is here! Months of meticulously planning out the perfect itinerary to the Happiest Place on Earth has lead you to the pearly front gates of the Magic Kingdom. Your little girl twirls in her princess dress and tiara, your little boy dons his favorite Cars shirt-both clutch their autograph books and buzz with excitement. You’ve scheduled the character breakfasts, made an appointment at the Bippity-Bobbity-Boutique and have plotted your course through the park to hit up as many “must-do” rides as possible. Your husband has teased that he thinks YOU are more excited for this trip than the kids are…and in some ways it’s true. You can’t wait to see the magic and wonder and sheer joy on the faces of your babies when they experience Disney for the very first time. It’s one of life’s great milestones, isn’t it? You’ve done everything you can to make it absolutely perfect…
Two hour’s later and you’ve only been on one ride because your son screamed in terror and refused the Mad Hatter, while your daughter dissolved in to tears at the mere thought of flying high on Dumbo. You’re sweating and exhausted and it’s only 10am. You’ve already broken into your secret stash of treats and promised a trip to the gift shop in an attempt to bribe those kids onto a ride….with no success.
What do you? You are making dreams come true on this trip!!!….yet your children seem to be plotting against you! It’s difficult when what was supposed to be a fabulous family vacation turns into a frustrating and futile attempt to force your kids into having fun.
The truth is, no matter how much your children love their prince and princesses at home, actually going to Disneyworld and related theme parks can end up being extremely overwhelming. The whole experience is a complete sensory overload (hey, it can be for adults too!) which can lead your children to feel anxious, nervous and off kilter before you even reach the first attraction. Even the most adventurous and risk-loving children can get a little scared when faced with their first roller-coaster ride.
Don’t dispair! There are many things you can do to prepare your child for her Disney experience and allay her fear of theme-park rides once you are there. Here are five ideas for you to try:
1. Watch You Tube videos of children on rides beforehand.
YouTube is a wonderful tool for exposing children to new experiences before they are actually faced with it themselves. They can observe and learn in the comforts of home where they feel safe and calm. In the absence of pressure to perform, children are more open to talking about what is happening and to thinking about themselves in the situation. Watching videos together also gives you an opportunity to talk with your child about what is happening, to ask questions like “do you think it looks scary?” or “would you like to ride something like that one day?” Their answers will help you gauge their level of trepidation and provide you with an opportunity to talk with your child about the feelings they express. You can also point out how happy, excited and thrilled the children look on the rides–pay attention to facial expressions, happy voices, etc. and emphasize how everyone is safe and sound when the ride is over.
2. Make A Game Out of It.
Before you head out on your trip, spread a park map out on the table and study it together. (You can ask your hotel to mail some ahead of time, or print one off the internet.) Have your child put a sticker on each ride he wants to try and make a list of all the things that he wants to do once you get there. You can tell your child “Let’s see how many of these we can ride together! Every time we finish a ride, we’ll put a sticker on our list and if we finish them all we can pick out a special treat!” This tactic is especially appealing to children who like to have control (because they get to choose the rides they like rather than being told once you get there) or tend to be more competitive and goal-driven by nature. The “challenge” of riding the rides to earn their star will motivate the child to keep going. If the list is long, you can break it down–five rides a day or something like that–so that the goal is achievable and your child gets to experience accomplishing the task. The thrill of earning the reward will make him want to do it again the next day!
3. Start Small When You Arrive
Rather than heading straight for Thunder Mountain, start with small and familiar rides to help your child warm up. Rides like the carousel or Autopia are very friendly and are the perfect way to ease your child into the groove of riding rides. Going on more mellow attractions in the beginning also helps to set your child up for success. She gets a small taste of the thrill, she learns she can cope with any little jitters she may be experiencing and she knows that she has your support through it. Each successful ride also provides you with an opportunity to point out how the child is feeling, how she was so brave, how happy you feel watching her have fun, etc. Every child loves knowing they did a good job and have pleased their parents, so you should take any chance you have to reiterate how proud you are of her for trying it out.
4. Avoid the wait, if possible.
Waiting in line is inevitable at theme parks and its hard enough for adults not to get annoyed and agitated, much less children. We feel the adrenaline and nerves peak as we reach the loading gate and children feel the same way. A long wait can drive your child’s anxiety sky high, so if possible, avoid popular rides during peak hours with long lines, or send one parent to wait while you entertain your child with something else until their turn approaches. Keeping your child distracted and focused on something else while they wait will give them less time to fixate on their fear so that when their turn comes they have no time to worry before they are buckled in and ready to go.
5. Don’t Push, But Don’t Immediately Fold
Forcing your child to do anything kicking and screaming is never advisable. Children won’t suddenly learn to like something, nor will they be motivated to learn if they have been bullied or shamed into doing what they don’t want to do. If its time to ride a ride and your child is resisting, listen to what she is saying and validate her fears while providing empathy and support. “I can see in your face that you are worried…it’s okay to feel that way! But Mommy is here to help keep you safe!” or “You really don’t want to ride that ride right now. That’s okay. Let’s set a time when you will be ready to try again.” Staying clued in to your child’s reactions will be very important if you ever hope to actually get her on a ride. If she feels you are there to coach her through her feelings and she feels supported, she will eventually calm down and give it a try. Don’t be afraid to ask an attendant if you can stand to the side and wait a bit longer to watch if that’s what your child needs, but set a limit “We can stand to the side for two or three more rounds, and then it will be our turn! What do you choose? 2 or 3?” or “How many minutes would you like to wait before you get on the ride 2 or 3?” (and then set a phone timer.) Then ask your child to repeat back what will happen after three rounds or after the time is up. Giving your child a choice by allowing her to choose 2 or 3 will help her feel more in control of the situation and having her repeat back what will happen shows you that she is “buying-in” to the deal. You’ll be surprised how well this works!
In general, it’s best to keep your expectations for how your child will react at theme parks low so you aren’t disappointed. Take your time acclimating to the park, let your child get a feel for all the different things there are to do and stay patient when he is having a hard time. Remember that much of his behavior can be attributed to increased levels of anxiety, being overwhelmed, or simply fear of trying something new (not to mention exhaustion and being over-sugared!…factors that are also very important to keep in mind.) As parents, it’s our job to help our children recognize and label their emotions and give them the guidance to tolerate their feelings, while also gently encouraging them to try and not give up.
Hopefully these easy tips will ensure a smooth and tear-free trip to Disney! Good luck, and have fun!
We were so excited to catch up with Elaine Rigoli–one of our Inspirational Mom’s of Two. Elaine’s boys are now 3 & 5 and she is simply loving life raising brothers. Read on to see how she addresses disagreements and squabbling between her boys and encourages sibling love between Jack & Chase.
Elaine describes her approach to disciplining Jack & Chase:
Elaine shared the following anecdote about how Jack & Chase exhibited sibling love at the playground recently:
My boys prefer playing together but are good about including other kids. There was a dad there with his 4.5-year-old son — they seemed very nice! So Jack was being friendly with this boy, and Chase was kinda going along with what Jack wanted, and things seemed ok. They were running back and forth from the “big kid” side and “baby” play area. Then, out of nowhere, the little boy yelled at Jack and said, “you can’t play here with me!” in a mean bully voice.
Jack’s lip started trembling and he ran over to his mama for hugs. Poor bub. And out of the corner of my eye, who do I see march over to the boy but Chase! He ran right up to him and got right up in the boy’s face and yelled “GO OME!!!” in the loudest, scariest voice a 3-year-old can muster.
Never have I been so proud of my sons!!! To think that Chase would defend his brother, that he was so sad that his big brother was crying that he would risk his own safety to stand up to the bully. Melted my heart.
The dad came over to apologize and the son tried to play with them again, but it was awkward and frankly, I wasn’t going to push my kids to play with him again! Suffice it to say, the moment was over. On our walk home we talked a lot about defending ourselves, being safe, being polite, being strong, being civil.
Stay tuned for more tips about encouraging a strong sibling relationship.
I’ve entered a new phase of parenting. The stage where I feel this urgency and need to begin imparting life lessons and nuggets of wisdom to my Big Boy. Lessons about how to be a good person, how to understand that he has a place in the world, that his little presence is a gift to all of us around him. At 5.5, we’ve gotten through teaching the initial rights and wrongs. Share. Don’t push, don’t grab. Say please & thank you. Cover your mouth.
But now. Now I’m thinking about things like “your words can hurt someone as much, if not more than your actions” and “you are fortunate to have so many blessings in your life–do not become greedy.” Heavy stuff.
We’ve been more deliberate about showing Eli how he can make a difference in the lives of others this past year. After Hurricane Sandy, we took him shopping to buy batteries and cleaning supplies to donate and he voluntarily sorted clothing for the victims at the JCC. We picked out two cards for needy children at our preschool gift drive in December and had the boys select and help wrap the gifts to give to them. We cleaned out our playroom and took toys and books to the women’s shelter here in our neighborhood. All the while I’m consistent about inserting the reasons why we are doing this–asking how it may make the recipients feel, pointing out how lucky we are to have things and to be able to give to someone else. Asking him how HE feels about doing good deeds like this. He generally responds “good!” But does he get it?
I still feel like there is more to teach. I want him to know that he doesn’t have to do these big sweeping gestures of good to make an impact or to feel good about himself. I want him to know that he doesn’t have to wait until some sort of disaster or holiday to make a difference. He needs to know–and should in fact be aware every day-that his actions and words can make a small difference even just to one person.
Slovie Jungreis-Wolff writes in her beautiful parenting guide “Raising a Child With Soul” that children build their self esteem and confidence not through constant praise from their parents and teachers, but by understanding their own self worth. They need to recognize that they have the power to make a difference. Rather than simply saying “You are the best piano player-ever!” we can tell our child “The music you are making is so beautiful and fills me with joy.” When children learn from a young age that they can do something wonderful and positive for someone else, then their confidence grows and their identity as a competent, capable person who can effect change develops.
I want this for my sons. I want them to know that it’s not just what they do or accomplish, or how they do it…but how it has impacted the world around them. What a powerful and outstanding realization. What an important and necessary lesson.
So what can we do with young children-little one’s whose world revolves around their every need and whim-to help them understand their influence on others? From early on, we can start to say things like this to our children:
- “I love your big hugs! They make me feel so good!”
- “That lady felt happy when you smiled at her!”
- “You colored a picture for ME! Wow, I feel so special.”
You are slowly making a connection for your child between her actions and the impact she has had on someone else. You can also model and demonstrate to your children what YOU do for others and how it makes YOU feel.
- “I love when I get to read stories to you–it is my favorite time of the day.”
- “Mommy is making cookies for our new neighbors so they will feel welcome.”
- “It makes daddy feel special when we bring him coffee in the morning! Shall we make it together?”
We can highlight things others have done for us and how it made a difference.
- “Grandma called today just to tell me she loved me and misses us!”
- “Daddy brought flowers just for me, I feel so special.”
- “I received a card in the mail from a friend today that really made me happy.”
- “Today a kind man held the door open for me, it was so thoughtful.”
And finally, we can talk about the things that we saw out in the world to show that these kinds of actions happen all around us.
- “A man stood up on the bus so that a pregnant lady could sit down and I’m sure it made her feel good”
- “Someone held the door open for the FedEx guy since his hands were full–how helpful”
- “That little boy just helped his sister climb up the ladder–what a kind thing to do!”
And of course we can-and should-also point out the unkind or negative things that people say or do and talk about how that made us feel too. The point is to help our children recognize that they play an active role in the way they make people feel and they have the choice to use their actions in a positive way, rather than a hurtful one.
As for Eli , I tell him every morning as I kiss him goodbye for school to have a “Safe, Smart Day” (what my mother always told me) but I’ve recently added in “…and make someone else feel good today.” He seemed to welcome this new challenge but for the first few days he came home and reported “no one was sad…so I didn’t need to help anyone feel better.”
With more probing however, he finally began to realize that he did do nice things for others…he helped a friend open his locker when it was stuck, he volunteered to be someone else’s buddy when she was alone. With support and gentle guidance, my big boy became more in tune with the fact that he was and is making small efforts everyday to be a good friend. To have me point it out and really talk about it–that’s when the real learning started to take place. He has power and it feels huge.
Now one of the first things he tells me about his day is what he has done for someone else and how it made him feel. “Today was Sarah’s birthday and when she picked another girl to be her cupcake partner, Emma got very sad. So I told Emma she could be MY partner on my birthday and she smiled and gave me a hug.”
My heart burst. You, my dear son are recognizing the Impact You Have. Keep up the deliberate work, show the children around you, teach your little brother, discover your worth…
I think this next phase of parenting will be a good one.
The last thing many parents feel like we can do during the rush of the morning routine or the slog of dinner-bath-bedtime is sit down to play with our child. And who can blame us? There are many, many things to accomplish in a short period of time during those transition heavy periods of the day…beds to be made, food to be prepared, children to bathe…we’re running late, we’re behind schedule-it’s simply not possible to stop, sit down and engage in play. Instead, we often end up barking orders from the kitchen, giving meaningless “warnings” that it’s time for bath in 2 mins, begging our child to “please, please, please come to the table” and it all typically falls on deaf ears. We get flustered. Our children feel frustrated, things begin to unravel.
Enter the art of joining.
A very effective way to ease transitions for ourselves and our toddler is to join him in his play for a few minutes in spite of how busy you are. Get dinner almost ready and then sit down for five minutes to connect with your child and join in what he is doing. Doing this accomplishes so many important things:
- You will express an interest in your child’s activity which sends the message “I care about what you are doing, I want to hear your ideas.”
- You show your child “I can make time for you even when I don’t feel like I have it.”
- You will have an opportunity to ask your child questions about his work which will improve his expressive language skills.
- You will have fun!
- You will be able to set a limit during your play to ease the transition: “Let’s finish one last puzzle and then we will head to dinner together!”
- You will be there to coach your child through the transition rather than showing up abruptly and demanding an end to his activity.
I used this very strategy in our house a few nights ago. The bathtub was running and I knew that it would be difficult to get my son to stop playing and head to the bath. I pulled out Perfection, a game that is pretty quick & fast to play and said “Sam! Come play with mommy! Let’s play five times.”
He immediately jumped at the offer of one-on-one attention. We played, we screeched when the pieces popped up, we laughed, we counted down our turns. After turn 4, I said “Okay, this is the last time and then we will race to bath!” After the pieces popped again, we jumped up and raced to the bathroom. Total playtime, 3 minutes.
Of course if you have more time to play–than do it! But I want to show that joining and engaging during these challenging times of the day is about quality time and not quantity. You won’t derail your routine by stopping to play with your child for a few minutes. In fact you may spend more time consoling a tantruming child if you try to force a transition a different way.
What you will gain by spending a few minutes engaging in your child’s play is a child who is more willing to comply with the request to finish, clean up and move on. He learns that he has got your attention and he wants to keep it–even if he protests initially to putting the game away, your presence through the last many minutes of play shows him that you are there to support and encourage him through the transition. By joining and then helping your toddler move on, you are also build coping skills so that over time each transition will become easier for all of you.
So the next time you feel like your toddler is having a hard time transitioning, press pause on what you are doing and join in his play for a few minutes…I guarantee your toddler will respond positively and be more willing to listen to your directives.
We have many more tips for helping your toddler through transitions. Got questions?…get in touch!
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