The toddler years are a time of conflicting objectives: on one hand, these young children want to see, do, and climb everything; on the other hand, parents want these children to survive.
Because the mobility and curiosity of toddlers develop well before their listening skills or common sense, we as parents must develop some coping strategies. As someone who’s been going through this phase with my two-year-old, I’ve collected some tips from real mums and dads. Here’s how you can keep your daredevil children safe and entertained, while also even accomplishing the occasional adult task.
First, secure the little daredevils
There are times during her 12 waking hours when my toddler has my full attention, and — let’s be frank — there are times when she gets just a sliver of the pie. These tricks give me 15 to 30 minutes to focus on a phone call, a shower, or an online personality test.
Take a fresh look at your space. Where can your newly mobile child have a safe space to explore with boundaries? When I discovered extra-wide safety gates that would close off the five-foot archway between our living room and kitchen, it was a revelation, allowing me to observe just one room at a time. Or how about a giant play pen? The one I used enclosed most of the free space in our living room while keeping my girls from climbing on furniture or pulling curtains down. (It also comes in beige if you are not a fan of the circus colour scheme.) Is your yard enclosed? Many work-at-home parents let their kids explore nature while they sit in the shade with a laptop. (The backyard is also a great place to spend the early days of potty-training!)
Depending on your child’s temperament, these other containment options may help:
Baby wearing. If your child is used to being worn, why not continue as long as he fits in your carrier? It might be the only way you get him nap some days.
High chairs are good for more than just snacks and meals. Set your kiddo up with some art supplies, play doh, or blocks.
For as long as I could, I took a big comfy jogging stroller everywhere. A nice walk is good for everyone, but the stroller also allowed us to enjoy lunches out more, or pause on a sunny patio at a coffee shop. With a snack and a few toys on hand, a stroller can buy you a few quiet minutes.
A toddler harness. You know, the little backpack with what could be called a “leash” attached? Listen, I have a runner. I would like to spend time with her out in the world without waiting until she really “gets” how dangerous it is to run from Mummy.
Second, re-channel their energy
Developmentally, toddlers crave both novelty and routine. For example, in the afternoon, my daughter expects some kind of sensory play. This is great for me because she will be occupied for a nice chunk of time. I keep things novel by switching out the components.
Our sensory bin is stocked with paper grass, beans, pasta, cotton balls, and kinetic sand. Some days she plays with scoops and spoons, sometimes trucks and dinosaurs. Many household items can entertain a little one while you get things done nearby.
When my son was 2, I quit my full-time job to stay home with him. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed easy, creative ways to keep him occupied — but on one income.
When I work at home, I like to be clear with my daughters that I need time to concentrate on something other than them. They learn that Mummy’s professional fulfilment is also important, and they develop skills like patience and independence. It helps to provide them with a cosy spot near me where they can read, do puzzles, or watch videos. There are so many ways to create a special nest — a tent, nook, window cushion, or a soft kid chair will work.
Maybe your child needs to burn off some energy before they settle down for a quiet activity. Try these ideas for more active entertainment:
Scatter “lily pads” around the room for little frogs to jump on.
Give her a full-body fidget toy like the Bilibo.
Set up a pillow obstacle course to build balance and gross motor skills.
If he’s bouncing off the walls and furniture, why not redirect that bouncing to a toddler trampoline?
Have a dance party!
Parking lots can be one of the most nerve-wracking places for a parent with fearless small children. Several mums told me they have rules for wrangling multiple children once they are out of the car. For example, teach kids to always hold hands with their caretaker, have one hand on the driver’s side of the car, or keep one hand on the shopping cart or stroller. Try attaching a fun strap, ring, or toy to your belt loop or shopping cart for the kiddo to grab on to.
I live in suburbia, so I don’t what it’s like to constantly have to navigate big crowds with little kids. But it seems stressful. You only have two hands! You tell me you’re supposed to dedicate at least one of them to preventing your tiny tots from getting swept into a sea of giants all day long? A Japanese dad named Kentaro Morita is over that life, and has created a clever accessory to make getting from point A to B a little bit easier.
You can also use visual cues to teach your child what’s off limits. “My friend put painter’s tape around the sections of the house that her toddler couldn’t step into, like the stove area,” said Offspring editor Michelle Woo. “Eventually, he learned not to cross the lines.”
Even with the most careful childproofing, kids are crafty and adults can be forgetful. Use Mr. Yuk stickers and other Poison Control resources to mark unsafe substances and areas of your home. Explain poison safety to children early and often, and teach them to ask you before eating or drinking anything. Poison control has even developed educational materials just for toddlers and preschoolers.
Almost every toddler will test boundaries, throw tantrums, and climb the walls with no fear of falling. This dangerous age is just a phase, and despite our own fear for their safety, we love them for their fearlessness.