Toddler’s got Ants in her Pants? Try the Element of Surprise!

The element of surprise can work like a 'reset' button!Last night Amy and I had a meeting with the family nutritionist, and 2-year-old Peanut came with us. Now, sitting quietly in a chair for a 90-minute meeting at 7:00 in the evening in a confined office is naturally not on many toddlers’ agendas.  Our first warning sign that Peanut had other ideas was the flopping around like a caught fish on the floor of the rowboat. Then came her direct words: “I want to go home!”

I could tell Peanut needed something to capture her attention, so I took out some of the plastic fruit that was on display in the waiting room and showed that to Peanut. This held her attention for about 2 minutes, and the flopping and the calls for an exodus began again. My mind went racing for something else to engage Peanut’s senses.  She asked for a snack; we provided her with her container of Cheerios and for the next 5 minutes she was into her refreshments.

We were back to the squirming and flopping after that and an idea came to me: When I was a boy, my Dad and his friends would entertain me with the “pulling a coin out of my ear” game. So, I decided to pull pieces of plastic fruit out of Peanut’s ears, along with a little “pop” sound I made by smacking my lips. She was laughing, delighted, and saying “More.” This held the restlessness at bay for a good deal longer. The key is that I introduced something new and unexpected. It seemed to work like a ‘reset’ button.

Before the next time Peanut has to be with me in a similar situation (motor vehicle agency, etc.), I plan on having a mental checklist of new ways to surprise her. I may even have a simple toy on-hand in the car’s glove compartment that I can introduce to her as a surprise in that moment. Of course it helps when Amy and I are both with her – one of us can focus on business and the other can spring the surprise. It’s possible to pull off a good surprise while multitasking, but that will probably take more planning. Hats off to the parents and caregivers flying solo for part/all of the day who have this skill down!

What surprises have you sprung on your toddler to entertain him out of a fussy moment? How well did it work? What ideas do you have for entertaining your little guy while running a tedious errand next time?

About the Author

Jason Didner is a daddy to a 2-year-old girl and leads the Jungle Gym Jam, a kid-friendly band inspired by the wonders his daughter discovers everyday. Jason and his wife Amy write the band’s lyrics together, since they have the best seats in the house to see their daughter’s reactions to all things new.

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