Stop and Play: Appease Your Toddler and Stay Sane
“Dad, you wanna play?”
“Uh, not right now. Maybe later, after dinner,” I respond.
“Okay,” he says.
My toddler walks away, but he’ll be back soon. Really soon.
That’s when I go about what I was doing, or trying to do. I think about my boy.
He wants to play, but I have some things I’d like to do, too.
After a moment, I regain my focus.
“Dad,” he pops his head back in the room.
“You wanna go play now?” he asks.
“What are your brothers and sister doing? Why don’t you go join them? I think they’re outside.”
“But Dad, I want to play a game with you!”
“I know, but I’m in the middle of this thing.”
(The frown begins to form and he revs up for a wail.)
“Okay, okay, okay, fine. Let’s go pick a game. We can play one game. Quickly, okay?”
“Okay, dad. Let’s go.”
We get out the game and I give him divided attention. Half playing, half thinking about other things. Hurrying the game along so I can back to whatever unimportant tasks he pulled me away from.
He gets frustrated. He can tell I’m not really in it.
This puts him into the whiner/demander mode, a mode which drives every parent crazy.
The cycle continues. He pulls me toward the games, I pull myself back toward the adult world of inconsequential distractions. He gets more upset, I get more upset. Things unravel from there and the night is blown. He didn’t get what he wanted, and I didn’t get what I wanted.
It ends with him in his bed sniffling and me feeling horrible and thinking,
“Why does it always turn out like this?”
And . . . CUT. I’ve played out this scene numerous times. Sometimes it starts differently, but it usually ends the same. It’s always another tick on the FAIL board.
Now let’s look at another scene.
I decide to stop what I’m doing and give him undivided attention.
For how long? As long as it takes. We play the game and I interact with him. I notice new things about him. I learn from him.
We play another game. He gets more and more excited. He has my attention. We put in a movie to watch and we recline in the big chair together. He has his juice. We’ve got a blanket.
He is happy. Three minutes later, he is asleep.
I wait a few moments and then transfer him to bed. It’s a successful transfer.
My boy is happy, and I still have time left in the night.
I shouldn’t have to relearn this lesson so often, but I do. The next time your little one asks for the millionth time for your attention, remember these three steps:
- Stop and play.
- Be engaged.
- Enjoy your day.
If you don’t, you’ll both end up throwing tantrums.
What’s your secret to staying sane with your wonderful, terribly-two-year-old toddler?
- A Father’s Legacy: Memories From a Thankful Son
- While He’s Away: A Poem About Being Gone
- A Mother’s Valor: Of Strength and Sacrifice
About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.