Q&A | How do you occupy a young child?


We often feel a great responsibility to keep our kids occupied and happy. That can be a heavy burden to carry. In today’s episode, we are talking about understanding this need and setting boundaries to benefit the whole family.

Show Notes/Links:

Hi, and welcome to episode 197. The question I'm answering today is how do you keep a little kid occupied? Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my Ph..D in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hello, and thank you so much for tuning in. I am happy to have you here. If you're new to Simple Families and these Tuesday episodes, we do a shorter Q and A format. I start each episode with something simple that I'm loving, which is never sponsored, just something I really love. And then I move into the Q and A segment. But before we get started, I did want to mention that the mental unload, which is the program, I run three times a year to help combat mental clutter in Parenthood. Well, it starts next Thursday. If your brain feels busy and Parenthood feels heavy, I'd love to have you join us, over the course of seven days. I introduce you to a four-step process to reduce overwhelm. And for the following three weeks, you'll have access to me and to our mental unload community to help support you through the process.

I want to read a quick testimonial from a recent participant Lena. She wrote if I would've known that taking an hour or two to myself to get on this path to less overwhelm and it was possible, I would have done this a long time ago. I know this is just the beginning and it's not a quick fix, but I'm honestly so surprised and so relieved at how much better I'm feeling already. I've been running this program for over three years and I am always amazed and delighted to hear the progress and the positive stories that come out of the program. If you're interested in learning more, go to simplefamilies.com/unload, you can find out all about the program and register again. That's simplefamilies.com/unload.

All right now, in my something simple for today, this is coming from a Simple Families community member. So Heather from Indianapolis wrote in and she shared this. We've been using a visual timer for about four months to help my three-year-old son with transitions. For example, when we get home from daycare, I set the timer for 20 minutes and I throw dinner together. I set the timer in front of him and say, you have 20 minutes to play while I make dinner. And then the timer goes off and it's time to wash up and sit at the table this way he can see how much time is left. And he understands his job. When it goes off. I still have to gently remind him when the timer goes off to wash up, but it has cut down the struggle for the transition. Heather, I love this.

I have been a fan visual timers for a very long time. You can find them on Amazon. You gave me an Amazon link here. I'm going to put a link in the show notes at simplefamilies.com/episode197. So the links on Amazon often say that these are meant for kids with special needs or disabilities, but the truth is any child that can't adequately tell time can benefit from a visual timer. Time is a super abstract concept in the early years, five minutes, five hours. It's really hard to know the difference. In fact, my son had been asking for a watch for a couple of years, and finally right around his sixth birthday, we gifted him a watch and he put it on. It was about nine o'clock in the morning. He had a played it that afternoon about 1:30. And he said, okay, we'll set it to 1:30.

And I was like, well, no, it's actually nine o'clock. He's like, but I want it to be one 30. And I said, Oh, that's why you've been wanting a watch. You wanted to be able to control the time. That's not how this works, buddy. And he was so let down and needless to say has much less use for a watch at this point, since he's not telling time yet, but it made me all that much more aware of this idea. That time is truly, really abstract for kids as they're growing up. So the Amazon link to the visual timers, those are great. They're great to have if you're at home. And if you're generally using about the same amount of time, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, that sort of thing. And I wouldn't really recommend going much over those periods of times when you have little kids, most of the physical visual timers that you buy on Amazon or whatever are limited to an hour.

And that's more than enough time. It's hard for kids to really understand time as it gets in larger increments at this age. But we actually have an app just called visual timer. It was a free app that I got a couple of years ago, which is really nice to use when you're on the go. So you can Google that and find a link to a visual timer app to however I've been pleasantly surprised to see that Apple has actually integrated a visual element into their built in timer. So if you have an iPhone, I think this works on an iPad too. You set a timer for five minutes. There's an orange circle around the time that slowly dissipates. And as the time starts to disappear, the orange circle starts to disappear too. So if you don't want to buy a visual timer, if you don't want to have a separate app for it, and you do have an iPhone or an iPad, you could use the built in timer app and that orange circle that goes around the time. We use timers a lot in our house for transitions. I was worried at first that my kids would become dependent on it. And honestly they have not. We do use them a lot. They're fine without them, but I will say that things go much smoother when we do give them a minute or two warning for

Things. It also really helps us set boundaries as parents too. Sometimes I'll be saying goodnight to my kids and my daughter will say, Hey, can you lay with me for two minutes? And I'll say, sure, and I'll set timer for two minutes. And then when the timer goes off, she happily kisses me goodnight. She knows that there's a clear definitive end point. Now with that being said, I will recommend that you are the one that controls the time that you don't heed to requests for additional time. So, if you put five minutes on the timer and the timer goes off, if your kid says, can I have five more minutes? Can I have two more minutes? They're always going to keep asking for more minutes and more minutes, and then you start to get into a little bit of a power struggle. So if you do decide to use it, use a timer, make sure that you're the one choosing the amount of time and you're sticking with what you originally declared.

So yes, visual timers are awesome. We have the Google home system. So often if I'm just in the kitchen or I'm in the middle of something, sometimes I'll just say, Hey, Google set a timer and I'll set a timer that way. I know you can do that with Alexa too. And just this week, actually Google has, as you can see, my Google is listening right now. They're always listening. So just this week, Google has debuted Lego alarms. So it doesn't work for the timer feature, but it does work for the alarms, which is kind of cool.

You can just say, Hey, Google set a Lego alarm to go off in five minutes, 11:12 AM. Okay. You can pick Lego city, Lego life or Lego friends. Which one would you like Lego life? Sure. You're alone with Lego. Life is set for today at 11:12 AM. Awesome talk to you soon,

So that makes setting a timer a little bit more fun for my kids because they get to pick an aspect of it and it plays some Lego music instead of regular timer stuff. All right. So moving into today's sponsor today, this episode is sponsored by better help. I was so excited when better help reached out to sponsor the podcast, because I've been really interested in trying online therapy, which is the service that they provide in particular. I've been interested in trying out couples therapy with my husband. I'm a licensed clinical social worker. I've been to therapy before I've done therapy before. And I remember as I was getting licensed and learning about couples therapy, the very first thing that we learned was the reason that couples therapy fails most often is that couples wait too long to start it. So it's actually better to do couples therapy when your relationship is in good condition to keep it strong rather than waiting until you're facing overwhelming problems.

So better help matched us with a licensed professional therapist. And I wasn't sure what to expect, but I have to say I was super impressed. Getting out to go to therapy and take care of yourself, or if you're doing it with your partner to take care of yourselves is not easy. Especially when you have young kids, you have to manage a babysitter, that sort of thing. So being able to sit in bed at eight o'clock in our pajamas and do couples therapy, we basically have no excuse not to the service is far more than traditional office counseling and financial aid is available. We've been so happy with the therapist that they matched us with. And like I said, the convenience is unmatched. So visit better help. That's betterhelp.com/simple and join over 700,000 people who have started taking charge of their mental health.

Again, that's a better help. betterhelp.com/simple to get the help of an experienced professional. And the simple families audience will get 10% off your first month. All right now onto the Q and A section for today. This question comes from Sarah in Riverside, California. Sarah has four kids, a two year old, a nine year old, a 12 year old and a 13 year old. Here's what she wrote. How do you occupy your toddler when they need to tag along like at sports practices all day volleyball, tournaments, church, et cetera, pretty much anywhere. That's not set up to entertain a toddler for long extended periods of time. Thanks for your question, Sarah. So I know how painful it can be to try to corral a young toddler. You have a two year old IC. I remember when my son did a gymnastics class when my daughter was newly walking and I felt like I was doing gymnastics for the whole 45 minutes that he was in gymnastics.

He now does karate and those classes are either 30 or 45 minutes. And now she's almost four, but it still feels like a lot of work to have her in that closed space for very long and unoccupied toddler can feel very exhausting. So my first solution, which you might not want to hear this, but it's just don't do it. Don't take a toddler to an all-day volleyball tournament. Now I know that this is easier said than done actually in my family growing up, there were four of us. My mom had two kids and then 10 years later had two more. So my siblings and I were spaced out very similar to your kids. When I was 12, I had a two year old sibling and I distinctly remember when I was 12. I was in seventh grade and I really wanted to play basketball. But the basketball practices were at another school, which was about a 20 minute drive away. And they were happening every single day.

And my mom said to me, no, you can't play. Cause I can't drive you there every day. I have two little kids at home and it just can't happen for us. And I remember being super resentful and sad, and I hung on to that resentment for a long time. I mean, you might argue that I'm still hanging onto that resentment since I still remember it very vividly, but the truth is now fast forward 20 plus years, I get it. I understand that you have to put healthy boundaries on the way that you spend your time and when your family grows larger and larger, that just becomes all the more you have to say no to things. And it's uncomfortable. You can't make everybody happy all the time. And you've probably already found this out when you're taking the two year old to an all-day volleyball tournament.

The older child is probably happy because they get to participate. But the two year old is not going to be very happy regardless of how hard you're working and how much you're busting your butt to occupy and entertain that two year old. It's just this hard balance or lack of balance to strike in that you want everybody to be happy all the time, but the truth is it's not your job to make everybody happy all the time. It's your job to find some semblance of balance. And that maybe most importantly means you staying sane and happy yourself so that you can take care of the people around you. So yes, it probably means saying no to more things more often. And it probably means upsetting some of the people in your family by doing that because you can't make everybody happy all the time. I think in general, our culture really leads us to believe that we need to make sure that our kids are happy all the time and it's our job.

And that can be a super heavy, heavy burden to bear because it's impossible. We are not responsible for the happiness of our kids. We can provide for them and we can take care of them, but we cannot guarantee that they're going to be happy. And the more pressure we put on ourselves to do that, the more stressed out and burn out we're going to be. So my first suggestion is to be ruthless with simplifying your schedule and take a deep breath when your kids cry and complain. When you have to say no and know that someday it might take 20 plus years, but someday they'll understand. And they'll appreciate the balance that you found for the whole family and the happiness that that brought to the whole family. But right now they're not going to get it. They're very egocentric, very self-absorbed.

And it's going to be really hard for them to understand the importance of you setting boundaries and setting limits. So there are going to be times when you do have to take toddlers places that you don't want to have to take them for longer periods of time than you want to have to do. And you have to understand that you have your agenda and you have the things that you need to do, but they also have their agenda and the things that they need to do. And the agenda that most young kids have includes lots of movement and fresh air. So the last thing I try to ever require my kids to do is to sit still because sitting still is physically almost impossible for them. So I find lots of space for them to move lots of space for them to breathe, lots of space to burn energy.

So if you're out of volleyball, terminate, that might mean going in and watching for five minutes and then going and letting them run up and down the hallways for 10 more. I'm not for carrying around a bunch of snacks and a bunch of toys. Personally, my kids, if I pack a bag of toys, they usually pay with the toys for about six seconds. And then I'm stuck carrying around and keeping track of a whole giant bag of toys. So I just don't really do it. Sometimes I'll bring like a coloring book and some Crans or some very simple small activities if we go to our restaurant, but I'm not even great about that. I do usually bring a couple of snacks, but I bring snacks to actually fill our stomachs. I don't bring snacks to occupy time. I don't think it's a great idea to get in the habit of giving bored kids, snacks, give hungry kids snacks, but don't give bored kids, snacks, bored, kids need movement, and they need fresh air.

So if you are responsible for entertaining a toddler in a not toddler-friendly space, I would recommend making sure that their basic needs are taken care of and their basic body needs are making sure that they do have enough food in their stomach to be happy and making sure they get plenty of opportunities to move frequently. All right. I hope this has been helpful. Thank you so much for tuning in today. This has been episode one 97. You can find the show note at simplefamilies.com/episode197. And if you're interested in joining us in the mental unload, I would recommend grabbing your spot as soon as possible. Go to simplefamilies.com/unload. Thanks again, and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.