Engaging with Your Toddler in Meaningful Ways
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If you’re anything like me, you love spending time with your child after working (whether that is in an office or working from home), but sometimes it’s a struggle to stay fully engaged until they go to bed. There’s many distractions in today’s tech world, not to mention household duties, work obligations, and spending quality time with your spouse. I often wonder what is the right level of engagement with your children? They do need a good amount of independent play as well in order to learn, develop and grow!
I have spoken to multiple friends who recall their parents not really “playing” with them or engaging in pretend or imaginative games. They said that their mothers would often be busy doing other household tasks during the day. My question is- when did we change to having to be 24/7 engaged with our children? I understand a balance needs to exist but it’s ok to explore our side hustles and other goals in our free time too and not feel guilty about it!
I think there could be a system implemented to ensure you are engaging with your children in meaningful ways, and not just simply for adding up more seconds, minutes, or hours, spent together. When I feel as if I need to plan some engaging toddler time I use the following activities.
1. Disconnect ????????
Set aside specific hours or times during the day where you are not connected to social media, work or personal email, internet browsing- basically anything tech-related. This could be first thing in the morning, before sending your child to their daily activity, or after you’re done working for the day. I like to have outside play time, especially after being trapped in an office all day. Take a walk to the park, draw on the sidewalk with chalk, or just sit and talk to your child about his/her day.
2. Make cooking a family fun effort! ????
I used to often feel stressed about cooking, especially after a long day at work. I would get home and my daughter would just want me to pick her up and hold her or play with her. At about the age of 2.5 that changed. She is happy to “help” in the kitchen. We bought the Melissa & Doug play kitchen set and she can be found mixing up ingredients, making iced coffee for mama, and helping us with kitchen tasks. It’s so much easier making quick weeknight friendly meals when your toddler is engaged and excited to offer her culinary assistance. I call that a win!
3. Books ????
I am a huge book nerd. I have a list of hundreds of books in my “want to read” list on Good Reads. It’s no surprise that reading with my toddler is a very enjoyable activity for both of us. Find an activity you love and try to spin it in a way that involves spending time with the fam! One great thing about our new home is that our local library is only one block away. They have a great children’s area and also a play area outside. A few times during summer weekends we would go and play then pick out a book to take home and read. Bonus is I can browse the new releases and grab a book for myself too!
4. Movie and Pizza Night ????
Once a week we let go of the rules and allow the family to eat pizza while watching a movie. It’s usually a homemade pizza (bonus is it’s way cheaper than ordering a takeout pizza!) We all relax in the living room and decompress from a long week (usually it’s Sunday or Friday nights). Sometimes you just have to let go of the fear of a mess and go with the flow. It’s nice if you have dogs to clean up the crumbs too! It’s a win-win situation for all involved.
5. Fun Family Outings ????????????
We own a sailboat so most of our weekends involve outings to the marina, but we also love going to other fun activities together as a family – visiting farms to pet animals, going to the zoo, splash parks and fun visits to museums and play parks. As long as the child is engaged in an activity without electronics I think it is a successful outing! Beach trips ???? are always a good bet too! Bonus is your children will be tired at the end of the evening so you and your spouse can enjoy a glass of wine or beer together.
6. Make a Routine Shopping Trip Fun!
Target is basically my happy place. When I take my toddler to Target, I first head straight for the Starbucks, grab an iced latte and a Cake Pop for the little, then we set off on our merry way to the goodies in the aisles of Target. When I have nothing else for the day and happen to have a list of items to pick-up, Target is my go-to. We enjoy having fun browsing the aisles while my daughter points out items and asks what they are. Discovery in the toddler phase is the best! When they take a look around their world, and ask questions about it – you know their little brains are just in overdrive!
I do not have a green thumb. I actually have managed to kill succulents and a bamboo plant by forgetting to water them and then later discovering they were wilting away. However, this summer my husband decided to create a small family garden with tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. It is just the perfect size for us to make a daily activity for our daughter of watering the plants. She loves to help and loves to pick (and often eat) the tomatoes. I’ve actually grown to love the garden time and want to think about expanding it next year.
Make it Fun and Simple!
The bottom line is, there are a ton of ideas to engage with your children that involve minimal effort and money – pick an activity this weekend and plan a fun trip or a fun “stay at home” activity. Use your imagination to make it fun and memorable. Put down the electronics and connect with your family. Come Monday morning you’ll be happier you took the time to do so.
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