Category Archives: Coping Toolkit

Waiting Room Games for Toddlers


A friend asked how to keep a young toddler occupied in a waiting room. I figured I’d share it here as well. :)

Upside Down Baby 
“Upside down baby” is a huge hit. Hold him on your lap straddling your waist. Hold his hands and open your knees and lower him until he’s hanging upside down. Bring him slowwwwly up and say “peekaboo!” Or you can say “uppppsiiiiiddown! Riiiighttttsideup!” Be careful that baby is not somehow licking the floor and that baby does not flip over upside down. 

Art Walk
Wander the office and look at artwork. This works best if baby is sitting on your shoulders and you’re holding baby’s hands to keep baby from falling off of your shoulders. Otherwise baby will attempt to pull all of the artwork off of the walls. If you are not fast they will succeed. 

Trot Trot to Boston
“Trot Trot to Boston” is fun. Start off with baby sitting on your knees facing you, with one leg off on the outside of each of your legs. Bounce your legs and say “trot trot to boston trot trot to lynne be careful when you get there.. you don’t fall in!” and then open your knees and baby “falls” into the space between while you’re holding onto baby’s hands. Be careful to not actually drop baby. *Note: Do not worry, this will not convert him to a Red Sox fan when he grows up, despite mentioning Boston. If you need to be cautious you can substitute any type of rhyming thing that involves the world opening up and swallowing him whole.

Sliding Face Changer
Play the “sliding face changer” game. Hold your hand in front of you so that the knuckles face out, your thumb faces up and your pinky finger faces down so that it can move up and down like a shutter. Move it up in front of your mouth- as it moves change the expression of your mouth. Move it over your eyes and change the expression of your eyes. As your hand comes up and baby can see all of your face you should have “Funny Face A”. Slide your hand down. As your hand obscures your eyes and then mouth change the expression. As your hand comes down below your chin you should have “Funny Face B”. You can add to this game by saying “Sad”.. “Angry”.. “Happy”.. “Sleepy”.. etc. Or you can make a sound before a specific face so that he can guess what face is going to come. Teaches pattern recognition. I’ve managed to make my daughter fascinated with patterns and she looks for them everywhere.

It looks like this:

Knee Bounce Patterns
Play the knee-bounce pattern game. Put him on your knees ala “trot trot to Boston”. Bounce your knees up and down and say “Bum bum bum”. Then bounce your left knee and say “Boom boom boom” then bounce your right knee and say “Bam Bam Bam”. Vary the patterns. Then start saying the pattern before the bounce. He’ll start trying to predict which bounce is coming. This works best if you make it very very suspenseful and make Obvious Eye Contact of “this is about to be funnnnn.” You can even raise one knee like you’re about to bounce to the wrong pattern and see what he does. My daughter dissolves into fits of laughter when I am about to “get it wrong” because she knows I’m going to do something silly just before I do the right pattern. *Note: This may have strange consequences as the child grows older. Do not blame me if he becomes obsessed to listening to old Beatles songs backwards to find secret messages.

Body Part Identification
Ask him where all of his body parts are. Hand, nose, fingers, toes, belly button.. If he doesn’t know them now is a fun time to teach him. 

Animal Sounds
Ask him what different animals say. What does a cow, donkey, elephant, etc. say. If he doesn’t know them, now is a fun time to teach them. 

Paper Ripping
Bring paper. Let him rip paper. Also bring a bag for the ripped paper. Toddlers LOVE to rip paper. Love love love love love. 

Bring Books
Bring books. Unless he likes to throw books. Never bring anything that can be thrown unless you are willing to crawl under many things. 

Fake Wallet
Make a fake wallet. Fill it with those shoppers discount cards everyone wants you to have, the library card that you have from when you were twelve and that you never got rid of, the expired ID that someone punched a hole in and that you can’t actually use anymore, the fake credit cards that everyone sends you that are not real credit cards, the Kohls discount cards, and various things that you have printed out and laminated to make chew-proof and rip-proof (See the previous paragraph where paper ripping is mentioned.) Fill it up with LOTS OF THINGS! Now it’s baby’s wallet. Or baby’s purse. The more child-friendly contraband stuff the better. DO NOT allow them to use your real purse or your real wallet for this purpose. This stuff gets thrown and you have to retrieve it. You do not want your actual license to somehow manage to disappear. Trust me on this.

Extended Family Holiday Stress- Coping as a Gentle Parent

Spending time with family members over the holidays can be stressful for some parents that are choosing to raise their children differently from how they were raised or how their other family members are raising their children.

Some things that might help:

Have compassion for your parents and in-laws. They may feel that your choice to “do it differently” is a negative judgement on their own parenting choices that they made with their children. (It’s not that a different path was chosen because they ‘did it wrong’, a different path was chosen because you are a different parent than they were. And that’s okay. You grew up differently than they did. And your children will grow up differently than you did.) This goes doubly for anyone who is currently raising young children.  Not everyone understands that it’s okay for different people to make different choices for their families and you don’t have to convert everyone else in order to be making the right choice for YOUR family. “I love how you raised me and wouldn’t change anything, but this is how I enjoy parenting.” “I love how you raised your son, he’s an amazing man and I’m so thankful for everything he is. This is how we enjoy parenting, though.”

Understand that they are still your parents/your partners parents. They may still feel that it is their job to teach and to guide. It roughly translates to “I am older than you and feel like I have to give you wisdom and advice. I’ve never experienced what you are experiencing but it is my job as a parent to teach you about things. So here’s this thing I heard on this show or read on the internet that sort of fits what you’re going through. I didn’t spend too much time researching it because it’s not relevant to my life but it makes a lot of sense.” Some people don’t let go of things easily, either. Don’t let it make you feel like you are “doing things wrong”. You know the reasons you have made the decisions that you’ve made. You don’t need to change them because of different advice.

Some people love to give advice. Which is awesome if their advice works for you. If you’re a very different parent from them it’s okay to redirect the conversation to a different type of advice that you will find more useful. How to refinish furniture, where to buy a car, recipe planning ideas, what to look for in an accountant, what type of diaper works best at night. Once they figure out that there are certain areas that you LOVE their advice in they’ll gravitate more towards those areas and less towards trying to change things that you don’t want to change. “That sounds interesting.. Hey, while you’re giving advice I have really been meaning to ask you.. Your house is SO clean. What’s your secret?”

You CANNOT follow everyone’s advice. It’s impossible to be a consistent parent and follow 100% of all the advice that you will get. It’s okay to ignore the advice that doesn’t mesh with your parenting style. In fact it’s REQUIRED to do that. If you start trying to follow everyone’s advice you’ll be exclusively breastfeeding with bottles of soy-dairy formula while using CIO to rock your baby to sleep in a crib that’s in your bed in a car seat balanced on top of your drier with white noise silence playing loudly but quiet in a very dark room with a night light. It doesn’t work. One piece of advice that doesn’t fit is enough to create complete and utter chaos and unhappiness. Choose the advice that you follow wisely and discard the advice that doesn’t work. “I’ll need to think about that and how it would fit in with what we’re doing.”

It’s okay to listen to your child first and everyone else second. Listen to what your child needs both through what they say and what their body language is telling you. It’s a great chance to teach your child to peaceably advocate for themselves and their autonomy and health. “Oh it’s so sweet that Gramma is offering you a cookie, maybe you can say ‘thank you gramma! I need to eat dinner first, I’ll LOVE the cookie later!'”  or “Oh look! It’s Auntie Susan. I think she’d like a hug. Hmm? Not yet? I think he’s saying ‘I’m sorry Auntie Susan, I don’t know you well enough to give you a hug hello. Let’s play together and I will probably give you the biggest hugs later‘.” Your child doesn’t have to be rude to not hug Auntie Susan, but he also doesn’t need to be forced to hug Auntie Susan.  “Ooh look! It’s Auntie Susan. She’s asking if she can hold you. Oh. I think you want to get to know her a little bit first. That’s okay. Let’s go over here and you guys can have a chat and when you’re ready she can hold you.”

Your job is your child’s parent. Your most important job right now is to be your child’s parent and to protect, care for, and teach your child. This doesn’t get suspended just because it’s a holiday. It’s okay to evaluate each situation and make sure that it will allow you to meet your child’s needs. Family gatherings are full of learning experiences and opportunities for your child to interact and learn about family and traditions.

Remember your toolkit. Before you walk into the gathering remind yourself of what your tools will be. What stresses you out when you visit with family and friends over the holidays? How do you help yourself and your children get through things with less stress? Having a plan for dealing with things helps make things go more smoothly.

Illogical Logic and Your Three Year Old Scientist

When my oldest was three I was cutting up some food for him. “That piece is too big!” So I cut a smaller piece. “That piece is too small!” so I cut a piece in the middle. He pondered. He looked at it. It was not right. He looked for words. “That piece is too… tooo… MEDIUM!”

Ahh.. The illogical logic of a three year old. Everything is wrong. Harry and Mary Contrary were clearly three years old and going through that divine time of frustrated declarations that things are just too darned medium.

Three year olds are scientists. They are reverse engineering the world around them. They’ve been provided with this huge thing called language. Their brains are exploding with new connections. They are able to imagine things that they haven’t heard words for yet. They’re able to understand that words can command actions and that sometimes words can change things and that other times they cannot.

They’re toddling through the minefield of communication and logic.

And their effort look a lot like the early efforts at walking. Awkward. Off balance. Lots of falling. Frustration.

They have no “common sense”. They can’t tell the difference between “It’s bedtime. You are going to go to bed now.” and “It’s not raining outside.” So they try to change the rain with words. They try to change the rule with words. They try to change the shape of their breakfast with words. And slowly they learn the things that can be changed with words and the things that cannot be changed with words. They learn the words to change another person’s behavior (“Please”) and the words to express what they are seeing inside their imagination when something is “too medium” (triangles not squares, cut the chicken between those two grill lines please.) Adults get frustrated when they don’t have the words, too! Or when their words don’t seem to be understood. Just think about how annoyed some adults get when their cappuccino is too much like a latte because their mental picture of a cappuccino didn’t match up with the barista’s mental image of a cappuccino.

This is what learning looks like. Three year olds have no “common sense” because common sense is learned through experimenting and seeing the results. Children don’t learn the reasons behind common sense by simply listening. They learn obedience. Obedience will fail them the second they don’t have someone to obey.

When I was eighteen I started teaching myself how to be a computer programmer. The way I learned was by opening up code written by someone else and making changes. Most of the changes that I made broke things in rather random ways. Slowly I learned not only how things worked but also how they failed. Had I learned strictly from a book I’d know how things worked but I wouldn’t understand how they broke. And when you’re trying to fix something you need to know how things break so that you can recognize the broken bits and you can dig them out and fix them.

This is what three year olds are doing. They’re working through logic by breaking the logic. They’re working through logic by exploring. By making changes that do not work. By being scientists. Scientists have no common sense. They put it aside and do ridiculously dumb things to see what works. To confirm their suspicions. To discover.

Your three year old isn’t being contrary to spite you.

He’s doing science. He’s learning common sense. He’s exploring all of the things that we take for granted because we learned them so long ago ourselves. He’s being brilliant. Inquisitive.

So how do we deal with this little doer-of-science?

I repeat the things that will not change calmly. I understand that they can be upsetting. I know that when I’m learning something new and I’m upset I need to step away for a bit to calm down. I recognize this in my child. If they are not able to calmly accept something that will not change, I help them step away for a minute and then we approach the same problem from a different angle.

I am not afraid of their upset. I am not frustrated by their upset. I do not get angry or afraid or sad or frustrated when my fifteen month old falls during the process of walking. I can be there for her emotionally while she deals with her upset. The same thing for my three year old. I can be there for him when he’s crying because he can’t make the rain stop by commanding the clouds. I can be there for him when he’s upset because he can’t change bedtime by declaring that it’s morning. I don’t need to try and change these things, but I can recognize how frustrating it is for this newly minted explorer of logic.  I can help him find the words to express the frustration and to communicate more clearly about what it is he is trying to do.

“I’m upset because I want the rain to change. The rain won’t change. Can you tell me why the rain won’t change, mommy?” Of course I can! And then we can go splash in the puddles. Because even when you can’t change something you can find things to enjoy and other questions to explore.

And the toast thing? Ahh.. Yes. It wasn’t that the piece was too medium at all. It was that he didn’t have the words to tell me how he wanted it to be cut. When I told him I couldn’t see the picture he was seeing in his head and that he could show me with his finger how he saw it.. I learned that he was hoping for long straight lines, and after that he knew to ask for “stripes”. Tantrum solved. Language barrier conquered. Frustration dealt with. Lesson learned: Ask for new words to describe the picture that you see inside your head.