We’ve all been there. You’re at a restaurant, in church, on an airplane or at a play-date and something triggers a toddler tantrum. If you can’t make things right immediately, the situation can get frustrating quickly. Never fear! Here are 20 tried-and-true ways to distract your toddler.
Sing a quiet song
Try to hold your child near to you and sing one of his or her favorite songs quietly.
Sing a silly song
Have a few in your repertoire. I have one handed down to me from my father, who learned it from his father. It’s a guaranteed laugh-getter in our family. The sillier, the better.
“Steal” your child’s nose
If you don’t know this trick, it’s easy. Pretend to pluck off your child’s nose and hold it in your hand, tucking your thumb under your index finger to represent the nose. You can take it off and put it on again multiple times.
Find a treasure in an ear
It can be your ear or theirs. The treasure can be real or imaginary.
Look out a window
In a calm voice, point out what you see. Ask the child what they see, or if they see a specific object, person, or animal.
Bounce or dance
Toddlers love to dance with adults, or to be bounced in their arms. Sing a light-hearted song like “You Are My Sunshine” while dancing to lighten the mood.
Pretend to fall asleep
Sometimes no reaction is the best reaction. My kids were always baffled by this one, and soon wanted nothing more than for me to wake up.
Get out the electronics
This wasn’t an option when my oldest daughter was a baby, so it’s not my "go-to" method, but it can be helpful. Make sure your device is pre-loaded with some toddler friendly apps and music. Kids also enjoy taking photos of themselves.
You can use your hands to hide behind, or a blanket or cloth. Small children love pulling the blanket down in time for you to say “Boo!"
Sing an action song
Well-known examples include, “The Wheels On the Bus,” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Make a funny face
Repeat as necessary, then encourage your toddler to make one, too.
Make animal sounds
Start with basic farm animals, but less familiar animal sounds might intrigue your toddler more.
Take him or her on a walk
This can be done inside or outside.
Offer a snack or drink
There are very few places where small children are not allowed to eat, but make sure you’re not in one of them when you use this method.
I keep a few very small toys in my purse for this reason. Toys with texture or fun designs work well.
Hide a small object
in one of your hands, and try to get them to guess which hand it is in.
Read a book
Again, small books can be tucked into purses or bags easily. Try some with tactile functions, like lift-the-flaps or things to touch.
Try to reason with them
Good luck with this one.
Speak in another language
to them. If you don’t know a foreign language, try a nonsense one.
Tell a story
I like to tell a story that mimics the situation we are in. I describe my child calming down and doing fun things. Add their favorite animal, friend, or character to make him more interested.
Being able to distract your toddler is a necessary parenting skill. I did some field research while writing this article with my 2-year-old. She was more than happy to play the part of the wiggly child who wants her way. Knowing several of these methods helped me to calm her down and distract her. Not one trick worked every time. Prepare yourself for the next difficult situation with a few of these 20 ways to distract your toddler. You’ll both be happier you did.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.