My two two-year-olds cry, whine, and scream a lot. It can feel constant. With limited vocabulary, they don’t know how to express themselves or explain what they want or what’s bothering them, so they start whining. Distractions from this can be the only way to head off a full on tantrum sometimes, so I’ve had to build up an arsenal of tricks. These are the 25 that have worked best for us.
1. Trains - Our boys recently discovered toy trains and can’t get enough. Sadly now, we often ave to distract them with other things when they want “choo choos” at bedtime.
2. Cars - Cars were so popular a few months ago when we were in Portugal. Without our compliment of a dozen toy cars, we would have never made it through dinners or waits on the trip.
3. Dinosaurs - “Roar!” Though not as cool as trains or cars yet, Dinosaurs are increasing in popularity for them, especially when it comes to books. A well timed dinosaur roar can take them away from food they want to grab or divert a fight.
4. “Bikes” - Actually any rideable toy. At school, our main way to get them into their classroom is by distracting them with the toy bikes they love pushing around the room. At home, a rideable car and tractor often get us through weekend mornings.
5. Boats - Especially in the bathtub, a few small floating boats are the key to preventing crying when washing hair. Too bad they often make it out of the tub and flood the floor.
6. Puzzles - I’ll pretend it’s because they are so cerebral and like a challenge, and not just that they like making the animal noises at the pieces. They love to play with puzzles from sliding ones to shapes to animals. I suppose it’s good for their development too.
7. Bubbles - Just like Michael Jackson, the boys love their bubbles. Their teachers used to use them to distract them while we left daycare and at home the are a great distraction when outside. Now, they like to try to blow bubbles themselves. A 2-year-old blowing bubbles might be the cutest and funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
8. Balloons - Chasing each other around the house, whacking each other with balloons might seem like something we should stop, but if they aren’t crying, why? At least they bounce.
9. Cookies - I don’t like to encourage food as a distraction, but every one in a while only food can calm the savage beasts. Plus daddy can grab one in the meantime which is always a bonus.
10. Fish - Real fish are great too, but I’m talking about the baked goldfish. A fist-full of fish is a good distraction in the car - though I’m sick of vacuuming the dust out of seats. Fish have got us upstairs when all we want are choo choos many a night.
11. The dog - I suppose he does other stuff too, but the dog is a pretty great distraction. Giving him hugs and scratching his back are a few of their favorite occupations. Sometimes the race around the house is good to encourage exercise too.
12. Books - After five in a row, we might want another distraction, but at least books are great for development and learning. I might be sick of Goodnight Moon for the 50th time, but if it gets them calmed down for bed, I’ll gladly read it every night.
13. Coloring books - They haven’t quite mastered drawing or coloring yet, but a good coloring book, especially the reusable ones, can buy us a few minutes of peace. These are a great thing to throw into a bag for a day out or at a restaurant.
14. Water bottles - Their own bottles are sometimes interesting enough, but oddly they love playing with our water bottles, especially sports ones with straws. It tends to be a short distraction though as after a few minutes they usually end up dumping the water on themselves, each other, or us - usually in bed.
15. Sunglasses - Our little fashionistas love to model sunglasses and tell everyone they are a “cool dude”. Though they have their own, they really love daddy’s sunglasses and have finally figured out how to put them on. I love looking bad in the rearview mirror in the car to see them with oversized glasses covering everything on their faces except for massive grins.
16. Sticks - Maybe it’s their love of nature, maybe they are just weirdos, but our boys have discovered a love for sticks, especially when taking walks around our neighborhood. They enjoy both holding them up in the sky pretending to be trees, or jousting with each other with them. No one’s gotten hurt yet, but the smart money is on it being me first.
17. Planes - While we’ve moved past toy planes for the most part, real planes are still incredibly interesting. Living under part of the flight path for Newark helps. They enjoy pointing out every plane passing overhead and love planes so much they even think most birds flying overhead are also birds. Or maybe their are using their imaginations.
18. Bugs - Like airplanes, the boys can spot and point out a bug miles away way before I can spot it, making me often think they are making it up until I see it minutes later. Unlike planes, they try to point at the bug, often squishing it in the process. We’re working on improving our love for all animals.
19. Elmo - I don’t know where they learned who Elmo is because we never watched Sesame Street with them, but at some point they learned to walk around the house yelling Elmo at a stuffed version we have. Then Cookie Monster became Elmo. Now I think all stuffed animals have just become Elmo.
20. Veggie Straws - Another somewhat healthy snack, Veggie Straws are a recent discovery that we can feel less guilty about giving them. Plus they think blowing air through the straws and making duck noises is hilarious. So does daddy. I wonder where they learned that from.
21. Outside - When things get really rough, sometimes we need a change of scenery. In these times of great challenge, we head out to the deck for some fresh air and outside toys. The weather this year has made it harder, but it’s always a good option for mixing things up. At least until they drive their car off the deck.
22. Balls - As they’ve grown, so have the size of balls they find interesting. We started with little plastic ones for other toys, moved up to baseball sized rubber ones, and now they love soccer and basket balls. They have no clue how to actually play with them, but chasing them around can be a great outlet for energy and a way to get outside.
23. Tissues - Maybe we have little weirdos, but I like to think they just enjoy emulating adults as part of learning. They recently figured out how to blow their own noses and now like to walk around doing it or even funnier, trying to get each other, us, or even the dog to blow their noses too. At least they are being clean.
24. Babies - Both the real babies at school and toy babies have become interesting too. It’s amazing to me that they think kids a few months younger than them are “babies”, but they love to tell the younger kids at school not to cry. At home they’ve started putting their stuffed animal “babies” to sleep and tucking them in before bed now.
25. Pickles - When all else fails, we deploy the secret weapon. Our kids eat pretty much everything, including odd choices for children like limes and pickles. We’ll use these as treats and also a distraction as the tangy, unusual taste is usually enough to completely make them forget whatever was bothering them.
With so many causes of frustration and so few ways to express that frustration, toddlers are certainly a moody mess. Getting through their frequent tantrums can be an exercise in distraction and diverting attention for parents so it’s good to have many options at their disposal. Building up this repertoire may still mean tantrums, but at least many can be avoided, helping parents of toddlers stay sane.