Category Archives: Toddler Tales

Keeping kids entertained

This article will be published in the Press Democrat on Friday, February 8.

A friend of mine had to teach a group of teenagers about how seeds travel so they can germinate. Her challenge: how to teach about the topic and also keep these technology driven kids interested for more than an hour.

As a crafts teacher for younger children, her natural talents were geared towards more artistic activities. So my friend utilized her skills and had the teens decorate “seeds,” or in this case, wine corks that would represent seeds. You should have seen how fast those teens grabbed at stickers, paint daubers and colorful pens to decorate their corks.

Then my friend took the teens to the local creek. The teens were instructed to throw their corks in the water and watch as they got closer and closer to the finish line/collection point my friend had put at the end of the race, where the corks could be retrieved. The teens got really into it, following their “seeds” as some corks flowed downstream easily while others got stuck behind rocks. In the process, all of the kids not only learned something new but were entertained beyond their smartphones, MP3 players and video games.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity to “trick” youngsters into having fun away from their electronic toys.

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is knowing how to keep them entertained. It’s easy to let them sit in front of the TV for hours on end. But to get them up and moving, or to exercise their mind? Finding ideas to occupy them when they’ve run out of things to do can be a real challenge.

For Robert Correa of Novato, the answer to keeping kids occupied is as easy as giving them a list of things to do every time they say they’re bored.

“Housekeeping, lawn mowing, dog walking, baby-sitting, reading, dishwashing,” Correa listed off the top of his head. He suggested that older kids would find enjoyment in being taught how to cook, and any kid can fly a kite, paint a picture, ride their bike, or skate. He also noted that kids should call their grandparents when they find they have “nothing to do,” just to tell their grandma and grandpa they are loved. And, of course, there is nothing like throwing an impromptu dance party in the privacy of your own living room.
“Put on some of your old records or CDs and dance together or sing together,” Correa said.

Elizabeth Dalton of Santa Rosa has three boys, ages 6 and 4 years old, and 20 months, and knows all too well the importance of having something fun up her sleeve to keep her sons entertained. One activity she discovered is called geocaching, otherwise known as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But in Dalton’s case, she gives the activity a prehistoric theme.

“I bury dinosaur toys outside and have the kids dig them out,” she said.

Jessica Snowden of Santa Rosa has a different kind of treasure hunt she suggests for quick entertainment.

“Make a list of age appropriate items,” she suggested, like telling younger kids to find something tall or red, and older kids to find something horizontal or bigger than a foot. As they find each item, then can check them off their pre-made list. “I have done this treasure hunt in teams for birthday parties or sleepovers,” Snowden said. “I have also done it with cameras,” she added, noting that cellphones and handheld video game systems worked well for this activity, allowing kids to capture their treasure through a photo instead of collecting the actual item.

Lorna Brown, owner of My Gym Santa Rosa, is known for having fun things for younger kids to do. One game she plays with kids is to blow up balloons (not helium), and give one to each child.

“Give them indoor space to bop them around, encouraging them to keep them up in the air,” Brown instructed. “Let them know that if their balloon pops, then game over.” She suggested that when the kids need a break from so much play, they can stop and decorate their balloons with markers.

And every kid can benefit from an “I’m bored jar.” Take an afternoon to brainstorm 100 fun things to do. Add in things like making homemade playdough, taking a hike in the hills, building a fort in the living room, learning how to speak Pig Latin, writing an illustrated children’s book, trying to beat your own record of bouncing a ball on a tennis racket, blowing the biggest bubblegum bubble, or anything else you and the kids can think of. Every time the kids say, “I’m bored,” point them toward the jar and have them pick an activity at random.

Do you have any tricks to entertain your kids when they have nothing to do?

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Make the most out of naptime

naptime

This post published in the Press Democrat on Friday, November 30.

Naptime was a sacred time of day when the kids were younger. This was especially true when the Taz, my now 11-year-old son, was just a toddler. That kid knew how to party! He would be up and running the moment he woke up in the morning, keeping me on my toes when he discovered that he was, in fact, faster than Mommy. He could undo the latch on the front door in the blink of an eye, climb over his child gate with the greatest of ease, and make his whole bed into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before I could say “Would you like milk with your blankets?”

So when the Taz would crash in the middle of the day for a blessed two hours, I performed my own personal happy dance before diving head first into whatever I could do on my mini-vacation from being a mom.

Most of the time this meant I took a nap.

But, as every mom of a toddler knows, taking a nap during the kids’ naptime feels like an awful waste of time. When the whole day is spent chasing after the toddler and occupying them so they stay out of the condiments, that two-hour break becomes the only time during the day to actually be productive. While it’s tempting to nap every time your toddler goes to sleep, it’s taking away from the uninterrupted time to get your priorities done much faster than if the kids are clamoring for your attention. With the help of some friends, here are a few ideas on what to do when your kid goes down for their nap.

Keep on top of the to-do list. “I catch up on paperwork for the Daycare, Pampered Chef and Girl Scouts, “ Joelynn McIntosh of Glen Ellen said, describing the duties she holds that are hard to attend to while her 1-year-old son, Ethan, is awake. After all her work is done, she catches up on her TV watching. If you have a significant amount of time to spare while your child is down for the count, consider using it for the things that need your full attention like paying bills, catching up on email, or throwing yourself into a project you’ve been meaning to start but never seem to have the time for.

Make the house sparkle. Ok, sparkle might be too strong of a word. But this is a great time to get a handle on that laundry that’s building up in the bedroom, taking care of the ring around the tub, or to start dinner. One cookbook that has become my personal kitchen bible for meal planning is “The Naptime Chef”, by Kelsey Banfield. She shares how to make gourmet meals that are both easy to make and delicious to taste, utilizing the kids’ naptime to start preparing the meal. Even though my kids are now well past naptime (sort of…I do have teenagers, after all, who love their after school snoozes so they can stay up super late), I break out this cookbook every week when planning my meals.

Do nothing. “Sometimes, I would just sit and do absolutely nothing. That was always the best choice,” said Jeney Pribyl of Santa Rosa. When the kids are running around driving you wild with their never-ending source of energy, what is it you wish you could do most? Nothing! Of course, if sitting and staring at a blank wall seems like it might get old after a few minutes, do something for you that is purely selfish and not about getting things done. Draw a bath and read a book in the tub. Garden without fear of your flowerbed getting trampled on. Throw on an exercise DVD and pump yourself up. Put on a movie and snuggle up on the couch. Or even (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) take advantage of a little alone time with your spouse.

The biggest tip to remember is to plan our your child’s naptime. Before their head hits the pillow, think of the things you hope to accomplish by the time they wake up and require your undivided attention. If your child takes only a short nap, plan for short activities – like reading a magazine or eating a complete meal. If they still take longer naps, that’s when you can do something more involved – like calling a friend , updating your blog, or taking a shower AND washing your hair.

But what if you’re really tired?

Then take a nap. When sleep is the only thing you can think of to do during this 30-minute to 2-hour time frame, then sleep is what you need.

Check out some more ways to utilize naptime at SantaRosaMom.com  What do you like to do during your child’s naptime?

7 things to say to your toddler

Vintage Taz (circa 2005, I think… He was about 4 here)

(This article publishes in the Press Democrat on August 24, 2012.)

Raising a toddler is much like going the opposite direction on an escalator – you have to work twice as hard to get to your destination or you’ll never reach the top. Between coaxing them to get a move on and pleading with them to behave, it’s tempting to rush whenever possible. But in the busy world of raising a toddler, there are some things you shouldn’t forget to tell your child along the way.

“Crying is not just for babies.” Kids of all ages should be given room to cry if that’s the emotion that needs to come out. When you try to bottle up her tears, you’re skipping over a teachable moment of helping her to name her feelings. Of course, it can be admittedly frustrating to handle the constant tears of a hypersensitive child, especially when you’re in a hurry. The number one key is to stay calm. If she’s more prone to tears, refrain from being overly sympathetic, but remain understanding. If you keep your cool, it gives her an anchor to pull out of the tears and move on with her day.

“It’s ok if we go slow.” You’ve got things to do. The laundry isn’t going to fold itself. The groceries are still sitting on the shelves at the store. There are bills to pay, places to be, people to see… But your toddler has his own agenda planned for the day. There’s the insistence that he can dress himself. There’s that exact moment in the day that’s perfect for running around in circles just out of your reach. The groceries on the shelves look perfect for knocking down, and the stroller isn’t as much fun to ride in as walking is – even if it’s much slower. I know you’re in a hurry. But isn’t life going fast enough? Take a few moments to go slow with your toddler and see the world at his level. You might be amazed at how much you can learn from a two-year-old.

“You can do it.” Most toddlers insist they are more than capable of doing everything on their own, asserting their own independence by attempting things just out of their reach. As tempting as it might be, practice restraint whenever you can and let your child do it on her own. If she gets frustrated, encourage her that she really can do it, only taking over when it’s absolutely necessary. Not only will her newfound freedom head off some of her stubbornness, it will also place healthy habits in both of you when teaching lifelong independence years down the road. When she’s a teenager and capable of cooking and cleaning on her own, you can look back on her toddler years and know you were on the right track.

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Jessica Snowden, a local mom of an autistic child, knows all too well the frustration that young children feel when they don’t get it right the first time. “Because my son is still ‘toddler-esque’, I tend to have to do things step by step and say ‘Everyone makes mistakes…that’s how we learn.’”

“I love you because…” Of course you love your toddler. And like most parents, you tell her this every day. But just as important as sharing your love with your child is to point out the things you love about her. ‘I admire the way you share with your friends.’ ‘I love how kind you are with animals.’ ‘You are so helpful when you pick up your toys!’ By pointing out all the things she does positively, it encourages her to keep up the good behavior.

“What do YOU want to do?” It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own agenda. But have you thought about asking him what HE wants to do? Even if he isn’t at an age when decision-making comes easily, it’s still a good practice to get him to think about his likes and dislikes, and what kinds of activities he prefers. Plus, this is another step towards encouraging his independence.

Most important is what your child SEES you doing rather than what they HEAR you say. “I believe the number one thing any parent can do, regardless of the age of a child, is to listen to them,” local mom Christina shared with me. “Talk to them in a reasonable tone. Use your eyes to express your love. Be patient and help them understand how they are feeling and teach them how to express how they feel.” And when it comes to acting out negatively, Christina urges parent to label the behavior rather than criticize the child. “Tell them that behavior is not acceptable and changes need to be made, but show them what is acceptable and show them by example.”

Make your own baby food

Once your baby starts eating solids, things get pretty expensive. It doesn’t seem like much, but those little jars and cereals can add a hefty price to your food bill.

What if you could utilize what you already have on hand to feed your baby, skipping the prepackaged food altogether?

The Northern California Center for Well-Being will be holding a class on “Infant and Toddler Food Made Easy” November 30th from 6-7:30 pm in the Ginger Grille at the Santa Rosa G&G Market (1211 W College Avenue, Santa Rosa). Instructor and registered dietician Nora Bulloch will teach how to use fresh fruits, grains, and meats for your baby’s delicate diet, how to change up foods you feed your child as he or she grows, and the proper nutrition for your baby or toddler as you learn new menu ideas. Along with learning how to make your own baby food, an exciting raffle will be held that include prizes like $50 gift card to My Baby News.

Cost to attend this class is $35. There are a limited amount of seats available for this class, and past classes have filled up fast. You must pre-register by November 23 to attend.

Register online at gandgmarket.com, or register by calling Center for Well-Being at 575-6043

SantaRosaMom.com has a pair of tickets to give away to this class for a lucky mom and friend. To enter, CLICK HERE. 

(contest has ended)

Lessons learned from raising a toddler

Raising a toddler takes plenty of patience and time.  And of course, all of that is learned from a zillion mistakes.  Luckily, I’ve made many.  Being that my toddlers are now 10 and 13, and survived their childhood, I think I did alright.

Here are some of the things I learned while raising a toddler (read yesterday’s post for a little more on toddlers):

1.  Social events take planning. My future ex-husband and I learned that eating together during the toddler years was out of the question when going out.  If we had to bring the kid, one of us would shovel our food down while the other ran after our Houdini toddler.  And then we’d switch.  Some restaurants have crayons, and that’s great for a toddler if your toddler doesn’t try to eat them.  Ours would have to be carried to the bathroom with blue and green shards of wax and a drooly grin on his face.  It helped immensely to order some fresh fruit or crackers from the waiter before we sat down just to keep him occupied.

2.  Anything that requires standing in line requires a stroller.  If I ever stood in line at the bank, at the grocery store, for the bathroom, etc, and the only thing keeping my toddler with me is his hand held by mine, I might as well give the person in line behind me my spot in line.  As soon as I would get to the front of the line, it was inevitable that my son would take off running and I would have to run after him.  The fact that the stroller came with its very own version of a straitjacket made the stroller my very best friend.

3.  And that brings me to the next point: I learned that teaching my son to unbuckle himself was not a precious idea. As soon as he learned to unbuckle his stroller straps and his carseat straps, there was no keeping him locked in.  Of course, with unbuckling comes buckling.  The game of escape was momentarily hindered by the game of unbuckling and buckling repeatedly.

4.  Kitties really do use their whiskers for balance. A cat with only half of her whiskers is quite wobbly.  (On that note, scissors within view, even if out of reach, are still within the reach of a toddler)

5.  Haircuts can be done during potty training, during snack time, while reading them a book, while they watch TV, during any time that you can entertain your kid and keep them stationary.  But haircuts should never last more than 5 minutes, and sometimes even that is too long.

6.  A piece of yarn and a tray full of cheerios will provide at least one hour of entertainment.

7.  So will a highchair tray filled with water on a hot day outside in the shade.

8.  Sometimes we can learn tricks from our dogs. If my toddler ran away from me, I learned to run away from him in an exaggerated and excited way.  This only worked for a very short time until he caught on, but for a little while, just like a puppy, he would change course and follow me.

9.  The best answer to a string of “why’s” is “Why do you think?”

10.  Any questions I had about what he had just ingested would be answered in 2-4 hours.

11.  Just like a cat leaving a bird on the doorstep as a present to their owner, a toddler throws things at our heads because they love us.

12.  If the kitty was allowing my toddler to place little toys on her belly without moving or scratching him, just let him do it.

13.  Writing on the wall is MY fault because I was the one leaving the pens within my son’s reach.  But still, how was I supposed to know he could reach the top of the refrigerator?

14.  If there is gum in the house, it will end up in my toddler’s hair.

15.  Nothing is quite as shrill as a toddler’s high pitched scream.  This is inevitably discovered when they are right next to your ear.

Looking back, I can now laugh at all the things my toddler put me through. I’m also sad because as the years go by, and as he grows into a calmer version of himself, the memories of his terrible two’s are fading.  My best suggestion to the parents of toddlers?  Write it all down.  Some day when they are speaking in complete sentences and doing their homework on their own, you’ll miss that dimpled drool grin and mischievous glint in their eye.

Toddler tales

Reposted from April 8, 2009

Oh, they're cute alright. But those toddlers are evil....

A friend’s 4 year old daughter was helping her dad feed the goldfish.  By helping, I mean that she dumped the whole can of food into the tank.   And while her dad was plugging it back in after cleaning the whole tank, she DID IT AGAIN!

Ah, toddlers.

This story reminded me of my own toddler adventures.  My son was an awful toddler.  Awful might be too nice of a word.  He was a horrid little beast of a child.  And I say that in the most loving way possible.  Back in my married days, we lived in a Victorian house near the JC.  It had all hardwood floors, crown molding, three bedrooms, and one bath.  My daughter slept in the bedroom near the front of the house.  My son slept in the bedroom that was connected to our bedroom via the bathroom.  There were two ways to get into his room: the bathroom or through the second entrance in the kitchen.  It was incredibly convenient to have him in this room as a baby, since I was able to get up at a moment’s notice and get him when he needed a midnight feeding.  When he got older and more mobile, we kept the kitchen entrance gated with a baby gate, and the bathroom door was kept closed to keep him in this room.  This worked for a little while.  It was when he took it up on himself to get out the necessary ingredients to make a PB & J sandwich in his bed that we realized he had more access to the rest of the house than a baby-gate was supposed to allow.  I’ll never forget the evil laugh he gave when peering through the makeshift jail cell we created with stacked chairs on his baby-gate to bar him in his room and keep him out of the refrigerator.  Or his attempts to still make it out by climbing all the way to the top of the doorjam by using the stacked chairs as leverage.

When my son was three, he was brought home by the police.  No, really.  My son was an escape artist.  I never experienced this with my daughter.  She always made sure I was within a glance from her.  But my son would stealthily escape only to be brought home by one of the teenage skateboarders near our house.  Even then he was intrigued by these boards.  Whenever he couldn’t be found in the house, I knew to just go up the street and there he’d be, kneeling by a bunch of would-be scary teens that got a kick out of my rambunctious monster.  So I wasn’t surprised when, on an overnight stay with his grandmother, she called to tell me the news of his first trip home in a cop car.  She hadn’t even been awake yet when they knocked on her door, asking her if she knew the boy in question.  Apparently he had escaped at 6 in the morning to play basketball down the street, and then got hungry and wanted cookies from a neighbor.

Ah, toddlers.

There was the time that I found all the contents of the cat’s litter-box spread over the whole bathroom, the time(s) he took his poopied diaper off during his supposed nap, the times he tried to ditch me for random strangers just because they had a dog or a ball, the time my friend’s mom gave him chocolate and he bounced off the walls for THREE STRAIGHT DAYS, and the time he called 911 and sent the police to our door.  There was the time he hit his head on the concrete pathway and got a scary looking goose-egg, prompting us to bring him to the emergency room, only to turn around hours later because he wouldn’t stop running around the whole emergency room floor and the staff kept giving us dirty looks for wasting their time.  And there were the many times that my little terror hit the same spot, making his head look permanently lopsided between the ages of 2 and 4.

And of course, in all this there were lessons to be learned.  Stay tuned….

Eating out with kids

With practice, your children could be just as comfortable in a nice restaurant as they are at home - in a good way.

Of course we want our kids to be well behaved when we take them out to eat. Who doesn’t dream of random strangers approaching our table as we eat with our well mannered children to comment on how sophisticated our little cherubs are? However, good manners don’t just come out of a can – they have to be developed. That means our kids are not going to act appropriately in restaurants unless we work hard to give them the tools and skills to succeed in public. Here are some tips on making your cheerio throwing crumbgrinder into a perfect little lady or gentleman who remembers their please’s and thank you’s.

Start at home – Show them where to place their napkin and how to use it, how to use utensils, correct them if they start shoveling food in their mouth or talk with their mouth full… Guide them in appropriate restaurant behavior and manners by insisting on the same kind of behavior and manners at your own dinner table.

Venture first to kid-friendly restaurants – Instead of jumping into fine dining with your toddler, consider taking them on several test runs at more kid-friendly restaurants like McDonalds, Applebees, or the like. These are great places to start practicing fine dining skills outside of the home, and you’re less likely to receive admonishing stares from other diners should your children not be entirely sophisticated in their dining skills (i.e. they’re still dropping food under the table, or worse, launching it across the restaurant)

Set consequences early – Before you leave the house, and even before leaving the car to enter the restaurant, specify the appropriate behaviors you wish to see as well as the consequences for not following proper dining guidelines. Make your expectations very clear so that there’s no guessing game.

Bring entertainment – Let’s face it, most kids lack the ability to sit still for long periods of time. And where better quality foods are served, the wait time is not known for being short. So bring along crayons, coloring books, or some other item that will allow them to be quietly entertained and take away the “I’m bored” blues without bothering other diners.

Practice having conversations – One of my family’s favorite conversation games is to play “What’s your favorite ____?” and then fill in the blank with the subject of choice (car, vacation, place to live, animal, etc). The ones being asked then list their personal favorites. It’s a fun way to learn more about each other, and also introduces all new topics of conversation as we get deeper in the game. Find games like these to play while waiting for food to practice the fine art of conversation, practice not interrupting and waiting their turn to speak, and to also help pass the time.

Skip the appetizers – Appetizers on the menu are notorious for being as large as a regular entrée. And if you order a starter, your child might fill up before their meal even gets there. It’s better to just skip the before meal snack. However, if your kids are like mine where they are suddenly starving once they smell food and cannot possibly wait that long, have the server bring a bowl of fresh fruit or crackers to tide them over, or even a simple glass of milk.

Correct them privately – Should your child be acting against the guidelines for eating out, remind them of proper behavior quietly. If you’re dining with non-family members, excuse the two of you from the table and talk to your child in private to avoid embarrassment – a feeling that could lead to further misconduct to hide their shame.

Pack up and leave – If negative behavior doesn’t stop, don’t give chances over and over – just leave. While it sucks to have to miss out on a meal out, leaving sends a message to your child that their behavior will not be tolerated, and will cause them to miss out on something really special. Of course, their misbehavior may also be a sign that they just aren’t ready to eat out yet, and that’s ok. Just keep practicing at home until they are.

What are some ways your family has been successful in eating out while the kids are young?