Now that we’ve made it past Halloween, Thanksgiving is swiftly approaching, and with it comes fantastic food, good company and endlessly energetic toddlers trying to get into everything from the oven to the liquor cabinet and everything in between. Let us be the first to tell you – you are not alone. There are plenty of moms out there who are trying desperately to figure out the best way to keep their little ones entertained while dinner cooks. Here are a few ideas to help you survive Thanksgiving with a toddler.
Be Crafty – But Skip the Glitter
Kids love making stuff, so what better way to keep them entertained than to set them up with crafts they can build, pages they can color or any other crafty things you can come up with? While you always want to keep an eye on them, you can usually set a toddler up with crayons or washable markers and paper, and leave them to their own devices. If you’re interested in something a little more hands-on, try some more in-depth projects that require some supervision like:
- Sand painting – Give your little one a bottle of Elmer’s Glue and let them go crazy and splatter glue all over a piece of black paper. Sprinkle some colored sand over the wet glue, shake off the excess, and lay flat to dry. It will create a unique abstract design that is all your toddler’s own.
- Torn paper collages – Or to fans of SpongeBob Squarepants, “Rippy Bits!” Half the fun is letting your toddler rip some pieces of construction paper to bits before rearranging them into something new and amazing.
Keep your toddler’s abilities in mind and they’ll have a blast. And always, always, keep kids away from glitter. Once you spill glitter, you’ll never get rid of it, and you’ll end up finding glitter in your turkey.
Don’t Neglect Naptime
Naptime is sacred, and shouldn’t be changed just because you’re at someone else’s house or you have a house full of family members. If you’re home for the holidays, make sure your toddler sticks to their regularly scheduled naptime. Tell everyone to shut up for an hour if you have to, but make sure the toddler is able to get some sleep during the day. If you’re away from home, getting the little ones to nap can be a little trickier, but naptimes shouldn’t be abandonded. Bring a favorite pillow or blanket so there is something familiar for them to sleep with, and if necessary, lay down with them until they fall asleep to make them more comfortable. A well-rested toddler is a happy toddler, and you hopefully won’t have to worry about a meltdown interrupting the carving of the bird. We say hopefully, because we all know that toddlers live in their own little worlds, but this increases your chances of being able to have a relaxing dinner.
Feed the Beasts
Don’t make your little ones wait until everyone is ready to sit down to dinner. Chances are, your little ball of energy will be hungry long before the bird is cooked and the stuffing is ready to eat. The quickest and easiest way to solve this problem is to create a tray of toddler-friendly snacks that are kept in an easily accessible location. Kid-friendly recipes like this carrot and pumpkin turkey snack are a great way to keep them sated while dinner is cooking. Toddlers will get a kick out of their turkey-shaped snack, and you get a bit more time to get dinner on the table without a ravenous toddler underfoot.
Rally the Troops
If you’ve got older kids or surly teens attending your Thanksgiving festivities, they can be a great tool for wrangling the kids or at least keeping them out from under your feet while you’re chopping, mixing and baking. If you’ve got a yard or anywhere the under-18 crowd can play, consider working with the older kids to organize a scavenger hunt or other outdoor games to keep them entertained and help them burn off all that excess energy that toddlers inevitably have, especially on holidays.
Let Them Get Involved
Kids love it when you let them get involved in all the hustle and bustle of the household. While no one wants your toddler trying to pull a turkey from the oven, there are still plenty of things that they can do to help. A few things that toddlers can do to help in the kitchen might include:
- Mashing potatoes. Set them up with a pot of cooked potatoes and your favorite — well, maybe not your favorite — potato masher and let them go to town. You might lose a little bit to the floor, but they’ll have a blast smashing up all those potatoes.
- Shredding stuffing. All it takes is a clean pair of hands to shred up the bread for your stuffing. You may have to go over it a second time to make sure that the bread is the right size, though.
Your toddlers will love telling every single person at your get-together that they made the mashed potatoes, so be prepared for that.
Have Back-Up Plans
A German military strategist once said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” That goes double for toddlers. No plan or craft idea or snack will ever work 100% of the time, so it’s always a good idea to have back-up plans on hand. Picky eater doesn’t want to try the turkey? Bring a couple of their favorite foods with you — something you know they’ll eat so they don’t go hungry and get grumpy. Grumpy toddler doesn’t want to participate? Set them up with a movie, either a new one or a treasured favorite, to keep them occupied for a little bit. Always have a back-up plan, and you’ll never have to worry about toddler temper tantrums upsetting your turkey day.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Turkey gets burned because you’re wrangling an obstinate toddler? Don’t panic and order pizza. Toddler throws a tantrum and refuses to eat the turkey you’ve worked so hard to cook? Don’t panic and feed them some back-up snacks. Toddler tries to do a magic trick with a table cloth and ends up pulling the entire Thanksgiving feast onto the floor? Don’t panic — pour a very large glass of wine, and laugh it off. Even if your toddler manages to make a mess of your dinner, remember that they’re only little once and before you know it, they’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for you!