“VIHAAAAAAAAN!” With an ear-splitting scream, I heard a woman call out this name at a departmental store. People around me scurried around the store looking for her three-year-old and finally found him behind a toy rack, fiddling with a video game!
All children are restless in public places, but toddlers and preschoolers are another level of restlessness altogether. It’s almost impossible to keep them occupied at the doctors’, grocers’, market, or anywhere in public where they’re constantly moving, touching dirty, dangerous corners, and disturbing everyone they can set their eyes on.
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They are restless because
- Most public places don’t interest them/they are bored!
- They find fun in grabbing attention.
- We involve them too much at home so they get used to being involved with us all the time. Even a minute of distraction makes them feel insecure.
Why no to a phone?
Using technology to keep your child engaged in public not only damages their eyes and span of attention, but the sound and volume of the gadgets might disturb others around you. Playing simple games or engaging them with simple toys keeps them refreshed and also gives you fewer pangs of guilt.
So then, what’s the way out? How do we keep toddlers and preschoolers engaged so that they don’t get into, or cause trouble in public?
Refreshing Games To Keep Toddlers And Preschoolers Engaged In Public Places
1) Lace, lace, lace the shoe!
“Finger dexterity combines with inquisitiveness and timepass!” Hema, a preschool teacher at an international school in Juhu, Mumbai, suggests this interesting do-it-yourself (DIY) activity that helps children pass their time constructively at home.
What’s best is that the same activity helps parents engage children better in public as well.
What you’ll need
- Thick piece of cardboard (not more than 12 x 12 cm)
- Shoelace – 1
- Colour pencils/paints, stickers, etc.
- A pair of scissors
What you do
- On the piece of cardboard punch holes just like the ones in shoes. The idea is that the child should be able to pass a shoelace through these holes. So the size should not be too big or too small.
- Help your child decorate the cardboard with stickers, colours, or paint.
- Let him/her choose a favourite coloured lace to make the game more exciting.
- Before stepping out of home, pack the cardboard and the shoelace in your bag or the child’s bag.
“I waited at the doctor’s for almost 45 minutes, but he still went on lacing.” Hema says, after having tested the activity with her son. When waiting at the doctor’s clinic or running chores in a mall, she lets her child lace the cardboard.
Not only does lacing take a lot of time and engagement, it also improves the child’s finger dexterity. Once your child has learnt lacing, you can use the same game to teach him/her to make knots and tie bows with the lace. Learning plus engagement, agree?
This one is a take on the ‘I Spy’ game that most of us play with our children. When toddlers and preschoolers accompany parents outside home, they need to be engaged in such a way that parents are free to complete their chores. So that’s when this version of the game helps!
What you do
Most toddlers and preschoolers recognise at least one or two colours. Some can even count from 1 to 10. You should use these skills to engage them.
- Ask your child to look for vehicles on the road that are of the colour that he/she recognises.
- If he/she knows numbers, then make him/her count the number of those vehicles too. Example: 5 red cars, 3 blue buses, and so on.
This game works well in places from where the street is easily visible. Help your child out occasionally, and he/she will remain engaged without throwing too many tantrums in public. Don’t forget to praise when your child does a good job, right?
3) Lom! long stories!
Till my son was about three-and-a-half years old, he would pronounce the word ‘long’ as ‘lom,’ and ‘lom lom stories’ was the game we played whenever he accompanied us outside home.
What’s the game?
- Start a story about anything that you see around you. I would mostly start with “I can see a little boy in a mall/road/party…”
- Ask your child to continue the story using his/her imagination and vocabulary. The story need not make any sense since we’re focusing on imaginative play and engagement.
- You have to take turns playing this game whereby each person adds a single sentence to the story.
- You cannot correct or stop the child from saying what he/she wants to. Remember, it’s his/her game.
“I can see a small boy in a party and he sees ice cream!” was my son’s fabulous response at a party!
- Your child remains close to you and does not run helter-skelter in public places.
- Your child enjoys making stories and interacting with you.
- You can be more relaxed, finish your chores, and enjoy the outing with your child.
Can we ask for more?
4) Pick your commands!
“I don’t know what was more fun—making the chits or using them!” Chaitali, a mother of two, already has her hands full at home but in public places, her two boys almost drive her wild.
This is before she made these chits and the world became a better place for her! This is a simple game that Chaitali plays when she takes her sons out in public places and you can do the same.
What you’ll need
- Chits of paper
- Pen/pencil – 1
- Your imagination!
What you do
- Think of situations that you face with your child/children in public places. Imagine the same situations before making the chits.
- Your child will be different from others which is why there is no one-size-fits-all for this game.
- Write instructions like ‘sit on the nearest chair,’ ‘hold mamma‘s hand,’ ‘join your feet and look at them for 10 seconds,’ ‘statue!,’ and so on on the chits of paper.
- While making the chits, involve your little one and let him/her know what you’re writing on them. Chaitali’s younger one even gave a suggestion or two—’don’t speak’ and ‘hold your brother’s hand and stand’—that backfired on him in public of course!
- The main idea is to write instructions on the chits and use them as a game outside. This helps because the chits are conveying instructions on your behalf and you are spared of giving incessant instructions in public places.
- Carry the chits in your purse/bag when you’re going out with your child.
- Children enjoy pulling out chits from the bag and making you read them.
- They don’t see the instructions on the chits as your commands. Instead it’s a game to be played in public.
- They follow the instructions on the chits to a ‘T’ and make our job easier.
Imagine your child choosing a chit that says, ‘stand next to mamma and don’t disturb her’ and actually following the instruction! Divine!
5) Pandora’s box
Ever noticed your child touch everything on display in a store? Pranita says that her two-year-old’s second name should be ‘fiddler’ because he is perpetually fiddling with everything that he can reach. So, this next game is for moms of fiddlers!
What you’ll need
- Small cardboard box
- Pencils (non-sharpened), crayons,
- A few small sheets of paper,
- Some colourful ribbon,
- Safe and small toy you want to add
What you do
- Tell your child that the cardboard box is his/her treasure box.
- He/she is allowed to take things only from that box and every time he/she follows the rule, a new ‘surprise’ will be added to it.
- Since this box cannot be taken every time he/she goes out with you, you save it for those occasions when you know he/she is bound to fiddle. Restaurants, grocery stores, and an occasional shopping trip are a few places the box can come along.
- Since your child has a treasure box of his/her own, which is out of boundaries at home, he/she enjoys fiddling with it in public.
- Since the box will need him/her to sit at one place, he/she is less restless.
- Also, it boosts self esteem when people look and praise his/her things in the box.
You can use the box to go shopping, but make sure you limit your time because fiddling with the box isn’t going to last a lifetime, is it?
6) Tapping shoes!
Do you know about the game ‘shoe?’ It’s a simple game and all we need is to be wearing a pair of shoes!
What you do
- Before you step out of the house, explain the rules to your child.
- The first rule is that you should be able to touch your child’s shoe with yours at any given point of time. This indirectly implies that he/she cannot wander off.
- The second rule is you will tap your child’s shoe as a surprise any time you want. If he/she is able to tap back, then he/she wins a point.
- Basically, we’re trying to keep the child’s focus on playing this game and waiting for the next time his/her shoe is tapped by you.
- Children simply love the idea of tapping their shoe.
- It gives your child the attention that he/she needs from you in public. Plus, between taps, you can focus on your work, knowing that he/she not wandering and is waiting for the next tap.
- It gives you reassurance that your child is happy and will not throw a tantrum anytime soon.
That’s it, tap the shoe and you’re sorted! With a little patience and planning, you too can master the art of toddler-engagement in public. So, try it!
7) Microphone child!
“Mooooommmmm!” I’m waiting at my gynaecologist’s when the three-year-old sitting next to me suddenly shrieks. He wanted his mother’s attention and so decided to bring the world down with a shrill shriek and then simply adding, “Washroom!”
Why make such a hue and cry for a simple thing as washroom? I wish I had the answer to this but, sometimes kids are inexplicable. So, the next activity is for parents of those kids who carry a microphone in their throats, especially in public places!
What you’ll need
- Trip to public places with your toddler or preschooler
- Some patience!
What you do
- Before you leave the house, tell your child that you will be playing a game. It’s a secret game and no one is supposed to hear the both of you talk.
- Toddlers and preschoolers are too young to understand a points system but if your child can understand, explain that for every loud word, a point is removed and softly spoken words get plus points which later get rewarded.
- You start by speaking in hushed tones, especially at the doctor’s, in an aircraft, or restaurant.
- Tell your child you gained a point and are winning.
- He/she will follow suit and speak softly.
- He/she will also be more engaged. Because of all the concentration on speaking softly, other distractions will take a backseat for quite some time.
- Eventually, speaking softly will become a habit and you’ll have an easier day out with your child.
90% of a child’s permanent foundation for brain development occurs in the early years according to Rauch Foundation. An overuse of gadgets can only stunt this growth and cause a negative impact on the child’s overall development.
If your child is spending more time swiping and scrolling, instead of interaction with the real world, you need to act before it’s too late.
Find out if your child is being meaningfully and positively engaged by taking this simple quiz.