Having to entertain a toddler can be at once mind-numbingly boring and morale-drainingly exhausting (how is that possible?) Which begs the question, how DO we keep our toddlers occupied all day long? Let’s be honest, with short attention spans and little to no imagination, they need almost constant entertainment provided by us. Here are some ideas you can use to engage your toddler. There are enough of these that theoretically they should occupy the whole day, but again, they have short attention spans, so in reality, each idea may only work for a total of about a minute before you have to switch to the next activity (or else he will go back to his destruction of the house. Or is that just my kid?).
20 ways you can entertain a toddler all day long:
(Or at least for 20 minutes)
Play with toys
Break out the cars. Dump out the blocks. Grab some barbies or trains or animals or anything. It may make a mess, but it’s easy to clean up and will keep your little one occupied for a minute at least. Maybe two if you make cool crashing noises with the cars.
Feed them snacks
Toddlers not only get hungry quickly, but they also get bored easily. Snacks are a win/win. Feeding them snacks keeps them from getting hangry, and at the same time it gives them something to do. Plus, trying to pick up little cheerios is great for their fine motor development. Score!
Take them on a walk in the stroller
Sometimes a kid just needs to sit buckled in a stroller so they can’t run rampant causing havoc wherever they go. They may even sit willingly if they are distracted by all the cool stuff outside. They can hear the birds, feel the wind, and see the flowers. Point out different things you see and hear. Bring snacks and toys if you want them to last longer on the walk. Keep moving so they don’t get bored. And seriously, buckle them in. Not for safety reasons per se (although that SHOULD be the main reason, I guess) but for containment of the ever-escaping toddler.
Take them on a walk to the mailbox
Other times they need to get the heck out of the house and get their stubby little legs moving. Take a walk over to the mailbox. Let them “help” you get the mail. Walk back. That should kill at least a minute or two and get them to move around a little bit. You can even do this multiple times in a row. Have them make laps around the mailbox if you have to in order to get them to burn off some energy.
Take them to the park
This can be either amazing or terrible. It all depends on if there are swings. A trip to the park is glorious when you can sit there and do nothing while your toddler runs and climbs and gets all his energy out. It’s horrible when you have to do all the work swinging him and he just sits there, relaxing. Trust me, until they’re old enough to swing themselves, avoid parks with swings if at all possible.
Take them in the backyard
Sometimes this is all the “outside time” you can muster. That’s OK. Take a book out in the backyard and read while your kid plays with toys, digs in the dirt, or pulls old, curdling milk jugs out of the recycling bin. OK, I don’t really recommend allowing that last one, but if your kid is anything like mine it’s inevitable, so be prepared to hose down the cement (and the kid) if this happens.
Give them a bath
You don’t even have to wash them, just let them play in the water. It’s like a trip to the pool, but without all the hassle of sunscreen and bathing suits. And cold water. And life jackets. And the fear of drowning. And having to be in public with other people. And pool monitors who think you’re the worst parent in the whole wide world. Yeah, baths are a great substitute for taking a toddler to the pool.
A little messy, but always interesting. Give them some forks or cookie cutters to cut and smoosh the pay doh, or popsicle sticks and beads to stick into it. A lot of fun can be had with a jar of this stuff. But don’t make it from scratch. It’s only 50 cents to buy it at WalMart and the store-bought kind is much softer.
My toddler LOVE LOVE LOVES to play with water. Standing on a chair in front of the sink while the water runs on a trickle keeps him occupied for a good, long time. Like 3 minutes, at least. He just fills a cup and dumps it out over and over and over and over again. Just keep towels on hand for when he dumps it on the floor over and over and over and over again.
This can even turn a grumpy mood around when tickling turns crying into laughing. Of course it could always make it worse, so prepare to bail on that idea if this is the case.
All my kids have loved the “I’m gonna get you” game. When my oldest was about four he called it the “crawl guys eat you game” I guess because dad would crawl around on the floor, chasing the “guys” (the 2 and 4-year-olds) and pretend to eat them when he caught them. It’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise.
Enlist other people, if possible
Have a playdate or meet friends at the park so you can have a little adult conversation while the little ones entertain each other. Or trade babysitting with a friend so you can take turns getting stuff done (or napping) without any kids.
Let them look at themselves on your phone
My kid always grabs my phone and asks for the “baby.” He loves to see himself. If you can record a video of your toddler looking at himself in the phone, even better, he’ll love to watch it later.
My son loves “The Eensy Weensy Spider,” “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” and ‘This Little Piggy.” Sometimes it calms him down when he’s throwing a fit. Sometimes.
Read a book or two or five
Or read the same book five times in a row. Mine loves Brown Bear, books with pictures of babies, and books where we make sound effects as we read.
Video game controllers
When the older kids are playing video games and the toddler wants to steal their controllers, we give him his own controller. Usually one for a different gaming system so he doesn’t mess up what they’re doing. He somehow still manages to, but it at least keeps him occupied for awhile.
Run an errand
If you’re super desperate to kill some time and get out of the house, running an errand is a great way to serve two purposes at once. You get something productive done and your toddler stops begging you to play with cars for the 395th time. Although wrangling a toddler at the store is no small feat. I don’t recommend doing this is you can help it.
If all else fails, pull out your phone and put on those stupid kid’s shows that are on YouTube. Sometimes (especially in the doctor’s office waiting room) it’s the only thing that will keep them entertained long enough to stop jumping off the furniture.
Lay on the floor and let them play on you
This is a legit parenting tactic. Just bring a few toys over and lay there letting them climb and play all over you. This works especially well when your kid doesn’t nap, hates being left alone, and you just have no more energy left.
Lay them down and pray they take a nap already
Even if your kid doesn’t like to nap, try it anyway. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll fall asleep. Or maybe they’ll just play in their crib or cry for a bit. Either way, you’ve got a couple of minutes without them pawing you to death before you give up and rescue them from
hell naptime. Or lay down with them and let them paw you to death in the hopes they’ll eventually get bored and go to sleep. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but it’s worth a try.
Toddlers may have endless energy and short attention spans, but they are also easily distracted. You can use this to your advantage by switching up these ideas, and doing them all over again throughout the course of a day. I just hope and pray for your sake, that each one keeps your kid entertained for longer than one minute. But no guarantees.