Keeping a toddler entertained is hard, even under the best circumstances. Trying to keep a spirited toddler entertained when you’re in the middle of a chronic illness flare is like trying to keep a candle lit in the middle of a hurricane.
Your kid wants to run, throw crayons, drag books off the shelves, and climb up on the dining room table, all while screaming at the top of their lungs. You can barely move, and really just want to curl up in a ball of dark and silence and sleep until tomorrow.
So what can you do?!?!
Prepare Safe Zones Ahead of Time
I don’t have the energy or mental space to prepare Pinterest-worthy activities on a good day. And on the other end of the parenting spectrum, the TV only distracts this kid for a few minutes unless she’s already tired out.
So I’ve had to adapt techniques that work for both my kid’s high-spirited nature, and my low-energy abilities. And I’ve found that the #1 most helpful thing I can do is prepare safe zones for my toddler to play. Doing this ahead of time makes it a lot easier to let Little Bit play on her own.
I don’t have to run around after her, making sure she’s not getting into something she shouldn’t. Or jump up and down every time she finds a new shiny-fun-dangerous thing to play with. At least not as much.
Plus, it makes it possible for Little Bit to explore her environment, without constantly being told no-no-no-no-no. So it’s good for me AND her.
This makes everyday life just a little less exhausting, and saves me big time on the really bad days. Remember, though, it’s important to recognize that sometimes even these safe zones won’t be enough help during a flare. Sometimes it is necessary to get someone else to watch your kids, so that you can take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
So, without further ado…
This is how I prep for high-energy toddler entertainment during a flare.
Disclosure: This post contains inactive affiliate links. I do not make any money from purchases made through these links. All products are things I’ve used and recommend, and at some point I’ll go through and replace the links. But not now. Not today.
STEP 1: Grab a Helper
If you’re anything like me, you struggle with energy levels even on the best of days. And the LAST thing I want is for you to bring on a flare trying to prep for one.
So find someone (or more than one!) who can help with these preparations. And let them help in whatever ways they can. They can go pick up materials for you, help with installations, or wrangle the kiddo(s) while you work.
STEP 2: Create an Indoor “Safe Zone”
One of the biggest things you can do to make sure that an adventurous toddler stays safe without your hovering attention, is to create an area that you know is absolutely safe for them. Block off anything that poses an obvious threat, like access to the kitchen, stairs, electrical outlets, and move anything breakable.
We started this process when Little Bit was just learning to crawl. We knew we wanted to use a floor bed, so her room had to be absolutely 100% safe for her to be alone. From there, we expanded out into the living/dining room.
Use Baby Gates to Secure the Perimeter
We use a baby gate to block access from the living/dining room to the kitchen. This makes it so that Little Bit can only access the living/dining room, hallway, and her bedroom.
I strongly suggest getting more than your basic wooden pressure-mount gate. Our experience has been that if it’s easy for an adult to figure out how to open it, Little Bit will figure it out, too.
We use the Munchkin Safe Step Gate. We like it because it requires you to press in on both sides of the gate and then push down to swing it open, but you just have to give it a good shove to lock it shut. Easy to close, and we know Little Bit doesn’t have the hand strength or finger dexterity to get it open. Unfortunately, this one is no longer available, but their new Munchkin Easy Close Gate looks similar.
We have ours screwed into the doorway. It’s possible to install them without using the screws, but this does make it less secure. You should read the safety warnings and consider your particular situation before deciding if you can skip this step.
If you have a larger area to gate off, I’d recommend something like the North States Superyard Play Yard. It looks like they even have a newer version with a swinging door. We’ve used our Superyard to block off the dining room so that Little Bit stays in the living room area, and as a play yard outside (more on that later). We also used it to keep her from taking all the ornaments off the Christmas tree last holiday season. It’s come in VERY handy. And while we’ve only ever used it as a free-standing unit, you can get a wall mount kit.
The other bedroom and bathroom doors are just kept closed. This probably isn’t going to work for much longer since she’s working on figuring out door knobs, so the next step will probably be adding some kind of outer lock to those doors.
Make Sure You Block Off Other Dangerous Structural Details
When Little Bit started to crawl, one of her favorite things was to crawl into the fireplace. For a while, a makeshift barrier worked, but we finally gave in and purchased fireplace doors. So far this has been enough, but if she ever gets interested in opening them up, we can always add a sliding lock through the handles. We also keep the gas to the fireplace shut off, so there’s no risk of accidental fire-setting.
Don’t Forget the Exits
Just within the last couple of weeks, Little Bit figured out that she can get the sliding glass door in the dining room open. She made it all the way down the 2-flight deck stairs and halfway across the yard before we realized it was too quiet and OMG where did the baby go?!?!
So we found and installed the Cardinal Gates Patio Door Guardian. LOVE this thing. It’s easy for an adult to get it open, but impossible for a kid to reach. Until she gets strong enough to carry a ladder, anyway, and hopefully by then we can trust her outside by herself.
For swinging doors they also have the regular Door Guardian. We haven’t tried this one yet, but will definitely consider it once she figures out those door knobs.
Anchor Furniture to the Walls
This should be done even outside of your safe zone. Even if you think there’s no way your kid could pull the china cabinet over on themselves, don’t risk it. Anchors are cheap and easy to install. And in most cases, the holes are easily filled if you’re in a rental.
Cover All Outlets and Cords
You’ve probably already done this to a certain extent. Everyone knows babies love sticking anything they can find in electrical outlets. But if you haven’t already, lock down anything electrical. Do this everywhere within the safe zone you created with the baby gates and doors.
We love the Mommy’s Helper Safe Plate outlet covers because there aren’t any little pieces that Little Bit can pull off. And again, if adults have a hard time figuring out how to plug stuff in, they’ll probably keep the kid out, too.
For outlets that are in continual use, like the one for Little Bit’s monitor and radio, we use these outlet boxes, and a cord management kit, so that she doesn’t have access to the cables. In our case, this also required switching out the regular outlet for a rotating duplex outlet, so that the plugs would fit inside the box correctly.
This is one part where you might want to hire an electrician, unless you or your helper are comfortable with simple electrical work.
Move Anything You Don’t Want Them to Break
This might include valuables, keepsakes, nick nacks, or (in my case) books.
The bottom two shelves of both our bookcases are empty. It’s a complete waste of space, and drives me nuts. But it’s not as bad as having a book-loving toddler rip all the pages out of my beloved books.
Lock Cabinet Doors & Drawers (optional)
This is up to you and your comfort level. We chose to only lock cupboards and drawers that could really pose a potential danger. For us, that includes the cabinet under the kitchen sink, the lazy susan with glass bottles in it, the liquor cabinet, and a couple of other drawers.
None of these are actually in our safe zone, but I offer them as examples. All of the drawers and cupboards in our safe zone are accessible to Little Bit. This means that things get pulled out of them constantly. But we’ve chosen to let her explore, and only worry about the things in the kitchen. You do what’s right for you!
For the drawers and liquor cabinet, I used magnetic locks. I really like them so far, but we’ll have to see how long it takes Little Bit to figure out magnets. We use a sliding lock like this for under the sink, and a barrel bolt slide lock for the lazy susan (the special lazy susan baby-proofing lock didn’t work on ours).
And That’s It!
With all of that in place, I can (usually) lay on the couch and rest while Little Bit runs wild. She throws toys at me and jumps on the couch so I never feel left out of her play. But I don’t have to be constantly on the move, so I’m better able to take care of her on my own for a while.
STEP 3: Create an Outdoor Safe Zone
Next we’re going to move outside. For super active toddlers, just getting them outside can mean sweet relief. But again, we want to make sure they’re contained and safe, without having to exert a lot of effort on our part.
Fence Off Part of Your Yard
Again, the purpose here is to restrict their access to an area with which you’re comfortable. We were lucky enough to buy a house with the back yard already fenced in. But if I wanted to restrict Little Bit’s access even more, I would think about fencing in a smaller area just for her because our yard is huge.
There are a lot of ways of adding a fenced or gated area to your yard, ranging from temporary and easily moved to permanent installs. What you choose is going to depend on your individual situation, but here are some ideas.
Please note that I have not actually tried most of these, and therefore cannot comment on their quality. Read the reviews and do your research.
As mentioned above, we’ve used the North States Superyard Play Yard to create a very temporary play area both indoors and out. (Although I’d definitely try the newer version with swinging door if I wear buying now.) One alone doesn’t make for a very big play area, but you can buy extension pieces to make it bigger. You could even connect two complete yards together to make a SUPER Superyard.
If you just need to gate off the end of a driveway, or something about that size, you could try the KidKusion Retractable Driveway Guard, or make your own (much cheaper) End of Driveway Fence.
If your kid responds well to boundaries (i.e. doesn’t just go smashing into them), you could try a Temporary Fencing Kit. It might work better if you used trees or wooden posts of some kind to anchor the fencing, rather than the included metal posts. They don’t look like they’d withstand much pressure.
Or you could try your hand at building a semi-permanent fence. This is probably what we would do, since the Medic is quite handy and loves projects. Plus, it seems like the most solid option. If you needed to make it more temporary, you could try sinking the posts in 5 gallon buckets of cement instead of burying them.
Create a Place for YOU
Since going outside means moving away from your usual resting spots, you’ll want to make sure there’s a comfortable place for you to rest while the kids run wild. All you really need is a nice comfortable chair. You could even get a chaise so that you can lay down. This is the one I would consider, if I had a little extra money.
Other things you could include are a foot stool, and a small table to set things on. Whatever’s going to make you more comfortable outside!
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
Keep sun protection ready to go near the door.
You could also keep some other essentials ready to go, so that you can cocoon yourself against the harsh light of day. Some ideas are dark sunglasses, a large hat, and a lightweight scarf or blanket. Whatever you need to make yourself more comfortable while the kids play.
STEP 4: Fill Your Safe Zones With Awesome Distractions
This last step might take a little more thought. You want to make sure you fill your safe zones with things that will distract your kid for an extended period of time.
These are the things that Little Bit likes doing the most. They’re all things that will keep her entertained for a while, even if no one else is playing with her. Use these for ideas, but make sure you consider the interests of YOUR kids!
Really, if we can just get her outside she’s happy. She’ll happily wander around for up to an hour, just looking at things, picking up random leaves and stones, and playing with whatever she finds. And she loves playing with other neighborhood kids.
We also have a scooter, a Tow Mater ride-on toy (unavailable, but you can still get Lil Lighting McQueen!) and a bubble lawn mower (this one is similar). She really enjoys all of these!
Her love for the outdoors is why it was an absolute must to make a safe play space for her outside. If your kid prefers being inside, focus your energy there!
Digging in the Dirt
I haven’t figured out how to bring this one inside without making a royal mess. But for outside we knew a sandbox was going to be essential. In fact, the Medic just finished ours last week, using these plans. We made it a bit bigger than the original. Ours is a 6-foot square, and I absolutely love how it turned out.
You can also buy a similar one online (this one has the best reviews at this writing). And of course, there are always the plastic ones that come in cool shapes, and raised sand tables. You could even DIY one super cheap by finding a shallow plastic tote or bin, and dumping some sand in it!
Water is another favorite, and can keep her entertained for quite some time. When it’s warm enough outside we’ll set up her pool (this one is similar) and/or her new beach ball sprinkler. I’d also really like to get her a water table for the deck.
For indoor water play, I’ll sometimes let her stand at the sink and play with the running water. Or dump her in the bathtub for a while. She LOVES her Spin N Sort Spout Pro. I was really apprehensive about spending so much on a bath toy, but it has been so worth it. She can turn the spout on and off herself, and she’s getting really good at the gear shape sorter. I love how it combines learning shapes, colors, building, sorting… so many things. And it’s just darn cute and fun!
Remember to never leave a child unsupervised around water! If you don’t feel up to supervising this kind of activity, then don’t make it an option that day.
Since she loves to climb, we got Little Bit this pirate ship climbing toy for her outside play area. We actually had it inside until the weather got nicer. It’s a good size for inside if you have a little extra room. We’ll most likely bring it back in next fall so that she can keep using it through the winter.
In a couple of years we’ll definitely need to get her something bigger. I really like the idea of a dome climber, but this Skyward Summit climber is just epic!
Inside Little Bit is allowed to climb on pretty much any of the furniture. I do try to discourage her actually climbing on top of the dining room table, but that’s about it.
This one works really well both inside and out. And all you need are some balls of different shapes and sizes. I can usually toss and catch a light ball, even when I need to lay on the couch. Little Bit does all the chasing around.
We’re still working on throwing only balls, though.
If we can’t go outside (due to weather or my energy level), the active play gets a lot more limited. At that point, I’m all about the electronics. Little Bit spends so much time in active and imaginative play, I just really don’t worry about the amount of screen time she gets anymore.
The apps on her tablet are the most effective at holding her attention.
I’ll stop here and say that yes, my toddler has a tablet. Her Grammy had a chance to buy one for $30, and it’s been awesome to have. It keeps Little Bit from grabbing at our phones (as much), and she loves being able to choose which apps she plays with.
To keep Little Bit from getting into too much trouble, I downloaded a parental control app called Kids Zone (we use the free version, which allows 8 apps). When the tablet is locked in Kids Zone mode, she can only access the apps we’ve pre-selected for her. And advertisements won’t open when she taps on them! This does reset whatever app she’s using, which can get REALLY annoying to me, but doesn’t seem to bother her that much. She’s learned to say “aaaaad” whenever it happens, and sometimes wiggles her fingers in ASL for “wait”. It’s just as adorable as it sounds.
Her favorite apps right now are My Very Hungry Caterpillar, Baby Puzzles, and the Play & Learn Logic Game . We purchased the full versions of these, and they’re definitely worth it. There are a lot of different activities for her to do, and they incorporate all kinds of learning opportunities.
She also likes being able to pick what she watches on Netflix, which automatically opens to her kids profile.
And last Black Friday I got a great deal on Little Pim in German. Little Bit LOVES Little Pim (hah!). It’s a language immersion video program for kids 0-6 years old. Each episode is only 5 minutes long, and involves Little Pim the panda introducing different words and using them in different contexts. It also includes live-action shots of different kids using the objects and completing the actions.
I chose German because that’s the language I’ve studied some (although I’m nowhere near fluent). But they have 12 different languages, and you don’t have to have ANY foreign language experience for your kid to benefit from this program. (You’ll probably pick up some words and phrases, too.) Click here to get 15% off any of the Little Pim products!
As you can see, we use a wide range of apps. Little Bit stays engaged for a while, and I feel better about screen time because she’s learning SO MUCH STUFF!
Whew! That was a lot. But once you’ve created your indoor and outdoor safe zones, and filled them with carefully selected entertainment opportunities, you can sit back and let the kiddos play (at least a little more).
Just make sure you get someone to help you set everything up, and don’t feel like you have to do everything at once (although you certainly can)! It took us about a year to build up this system, and it will continue to evolve as Little Bit gets older.
I know taking these steps has made it a lot more comfortable for me to give Little Bit some autonomy, and really help when I’m having a bad day. I hope they help you, too!
This post was imported in one click using Google Docs into WordPress with Wordable.