I was asked a question last week that I wish I had a great answer to myself. So maybe it's not an easy question, but I did want to pose it and glean from your collective wisdom.
When you have a newborn, you pretty much expect her to occupy ALL your time. But by the time she reaches two or three, you are kind of behind on everything else in life (or you have another newborn who is setting a different schedule). And you're wanting that 2- or 3-year-old to self-entertain a little bit, right? But it seems that she is always wanting to "help" you, wanting you to play with her, or wanting to watch a DVD (or TV), or if all else fails, acting up for attention.
So the question: Short of planting your toddler in front of the TV, what tips to you have on helping a toddler find things to do on his own so you can get other things accomplished?
My personal goal is to limit Esmé to two DVDs per day. I try to save those for critical times, like when I shower. Some days we succeed; some days aren't so successful.
Here are a few of the things that have helped me:
- Mixing things up. Put out a handful of books on the living room table, and then rotate the books around. If she sees the same books every day or just sees a huge shelf-ful of books, she's not as interested as seeing a few "new" ones on the table each day.
- Mixing toys up, too - like having a bucket for blocks, but changing out the type of blocks once a week or month, etc.
- And mixing up art supplies - This might be as simple as having several types of markers in different jars, and just swapping out the type of marker every couple of days. The other thing I try to remember is putting out fresh paper to draw on, or a small container of stickers, etc. She likes using her easel, but if I leave an old drawing up there, she doesn't go back to it, so I have to remember to rip off the drawings once she's done them.
- Do the swapping out of things during naptime or before wake-up time. For one thing - if I do it while Esme is awake, she'll get upset when I put something away that she absolutely needs right THEN. And the other thing - if there is something new out when she wakes up that catches her attention, she's more likely to let me finish whatever I was trying to get done while she was sleeping.
- Play audio books, children's music, or musicals.
- Don't stress over mess. This gives her a lot more options for self play - like playing in the kitchen sink, which keeps her busy for hours sometimes. Or mixing up different colors of play dough. Or trying on different clothes and dumping them on the floor...
- Let her "work" with me; help me cook, sweep, mop, dust, etc. This only goes so far, though - honestly, the only way I have patience with this is if I view it as a learning moment and not as a time to get things done.
- Put the two-or-more-player games on a higher shelf, so they are not so accessible. The shelves at her level have puzzles or activities she can work on by herself.
- Put the DVDs in a closet that she can't open! It was amazing what a difference that made when I first did it. They start piling up by the DVD player again quickly, though, so I have to keep doing that. If they are not visible, she doesn't ask for them as much.