I will be explaining to you how to spend time with your toddler, but first a little preface to what the events typically look like leading up to it. It's hard to know how to keep a toddler engaged. It's even more taxing trying to figure out how to spend time with your toddler when their interest level peaks after just a couple of minutes and all you want to be doing is something else.
The Go-To Entertainer
When we are bored in the winter, it is a constant battle of 'how much television am I going to let my kids watch today?' I go back and forth with myself. I have all this stuff I need to get done. We're trying to save money, so I need to cook more meals so we don't go out to eat. The whole house is a disaster and I have students coming over for piano lessons. The laundry has literally not been done in weeks. The clean clothes are wrinkling in piles in and around the laundry baskets that have been tucked at the foot of our bed. Showering is a must... And it's too cold to go outside! If I am going to get stuff done, I've got to find a way to keep my kid engaged.
The easiest solution is, of course, television. If my daughter has her eyes locked on the TV, she won't chuck a doll at Grayson's head. And let's be honest, we watch TV at our house all the time. Every day. I would be lying if I said that I did not just let Netflix of Amazon prime run through episodes like a perpetually energetic hamster on a wheel. It's fine if you judge me.
Most of the time, at some point during the day, I decide, okay, we've watched too much TV. Jennifer, it's time to spend time with your toddler and baby... or at least de-zombify your children.
Tantrum. The end of the world. Life is over as we know it because Wa-Wa (Sofia the First) and Grr (Daniel Tiger) are no longer welcome in our home. After the initial earwax curdling screaming, the negotiations begin. "Mama, wa-wa?"
"No. Mommy said no."
"Grr?" she asks.
"Choo choo? (nursery rhymes set to music)" Now she's getting more desperate.
"Siena, no more show."
Another crying session. "Show!"
I finish up whatever task I was working on while she tries to figure out what to do with herself. Then, the inevitable happens. If she can't be watching her show, then mama can't be doing whatever she wants to be doing. Mama is now my daughter's new favorite toy.
The Point of Decision – Mommy Leash vs. Ignoring Your Kids
Siena has now learned that in order to get what she want, she needs to communicate it. This is great, most of the time... One of the not so great aspects is what I call 'the Mommy Leash". The Mommy Leash is when your child grabs your hand in an attempt to do whatever it is that they want you to do. This is aggravating for Mommy and Toddler.
I now have to decide if I'm going to engage with 'the Mommy Leash' or if I am going to pull my hand away from her and say something like, "Mama's busy right now."
I hate both options. On the one hand, I don't really like being forced to do something, even if it is by my toddler. I have watched her try and do this to other toddlers too and they don't like it either. So, I should at least resist for their benefit so she learns that that is not an effective way to get what she wants. But if I don't come, she will continue to pull and pull until we go back to the last phase and start all over again at tantrum.
The second option of brushing her off, makes me feel like I am ignoring my child or not being attentive enough. Should I be playing with her as frequently as she wants me to? Does it make me a bad mom if I don't? I don't think so.
So, I'm stuck.
Secret Option #3
So, while you are caught in the dilemma of Mommy Leash or Ignoring Kids, instead I like to try and remember the alternate dilemma. This dilemma is Mommy Leash vs Mommy Led. I remove my hand from my daughter's sticky grip and ask her if she would like to do something with me. This can be anything. It could be helping me unload the dishwasher, pick up toys, color in her coloring book, play with bubbles, build a block, read a book, sweep up the crumbs, help me vacuum, give her brother a kiss or cook a meal. LITERALLY ANYTHING.
If your toddler is trying the Mommy Leash on you, they probably are trying to communicate that they just want to do what you are doing. They want to be with Mama. Sometimes, though, they just want mama to entertain them. The distinction is easy to determine for my daughter. I usually know if she actually wants to spend time with me by asking, "Do you want to cuddle with me?"
If she says yes, I know she really wants her mama.
"No," is usually the response I get, which means, she just wants someone to play with and she wants them to do her idea. Now I can choose whether I want to do what she wants me to do or not.
Spend Time with Your Toddler – Siena Style
If I agree to her idea, I know what I am in for. My daughter's favorite thing to do, is pretend to be the mommy. Frequently, she will announce, "Night-night!" Then she will take my hand and try to force me to bed. (Which is funny, because that is never how we get her into bed.) She pulls and pulls and if I acquiesce, she will 'read' me a book, put me in her bed, give me her baby and blankie, turn on the 'shishis' (the projector fish night light), shut the door and leave me in her room.
If I try to get out of bed, she puts me back in bed and closes the door. Typically not the best way to spend time with your toddler when you are not even in the same room.
Regardless, sometimes I play her games with her, especially if I want to just lazily play on my phone in her bed after she closes the door. But a lot of times, I don't want to be put to bed multiple times throughout the day.
It is okay to say no and still spend time with your toddler. It is also okay to say "no, thank you. I really need to finish this right now". Or "No thank you. I don't want to do that."
I am no expert, because my kids are still young, but I think being honest with them will pay off later.
The Most Common Responses
I am learning more and more that my daughter is very opinionated about what she does and does not want to do. But, she is also very open to new ideas. Sometimes I will suggest a long list of things and she will say, "no... no... no... no..." and I am flabbergasted when she says no to the one thing I thought she would certainly say yes to.
But more often than not, when I suggest something she will get excited about a new idea or a new experience and say "okay!" It could be work, but she has seen me do it and so she wants to give it a try.
My toddler will try anything, except different foods sometimes. But if she has seen mama do it, she wants in! And if she has seen dada do it, even better!
I have learned that just by asking your toddler if wants he to do what you are doing, you get to spend time with your toddler AND get stuff done.
My daughter really likes to help. And even if it takes me twice as long, it's a lot more fun... or memorable... doing it with her.
The best thing when you spend time with your toddler this way, is that even though they may only stay engaged for a couple of minutes, they learn that mama is doing something important. If I let my daughter help me with chores, she may lose interest, or I may have to ask her to let mommy finish. But even when she disengages a couple of minutes later, she doesn't try to take me with her. Now she understands that I need to finish what I am doing before I can hang out with her.
It's almost like she has been let in on the secret. Now she is a part of the task and understands its significance. Spend time with your toddler, even just for a couple of minutes or explain to them why you can't, because they're smart. They know your sincere intentions.
Spend Time with Your Toddler and Love it!
Taking a little bit of time to change the situation from Mommy Leash to Mommy Led will help you relax, have open communication with your toddler and will help you to spend time with your toddler.
We still watch a lot of TV. It's hard to find stuff to do in the winter, but I treasure the times when I am brave enough to push the big red power button on my remote and really BE with my kids.
I love spending time with Siena. She is getting to the age where she does or says things that catch me by surprise and have me laughing more every day. She knows how to help me unload the dishwasher, she will sit on the stools by the counter and snack while I cook, she tries to entice me away to one of her fun games on a daily basis and on the rare occasion, she will let me snuggle with her if I put on her show. My baby girl is my buddy and I love it!