Do you ever have those times when you’re waiting for your table at a restaurant or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, and your toddler is getting wigglier and antsier and your anxiety starts to rise and you know that at any moment one of you is going to have a meltdown?

That can’t be just me.

Jackson is, generally speaking, a very agreeable and compliant toddler. He doesn’t throw many public meltdowns, he’s a big-time rule follower, and he has great manners. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s two and that means that there will inevitably be times when we have some issues when we’re in those types of situations.

Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks for keeping him happy when I need him to be on the quiet side and I need to avoid letting him run around like a wild banshee – none of them are infallible, but with all 7 tips in your toolbox surely one of them is bound to work!

1) Snapchat! This is our absolute favorite way to keep Jackson busy when we’re in public and need a calm child. He loves playing around with the filters, sending snaps to my best friend (who usually sends some back), and hearing his voice with the voice changers. This is usually guaranteed to keep him (mostly) quiet and happy for a good 15-20 minutes every time!

2) Pen + paper. I love to keep a small notebook and a pen in my purse and grab it when I need a few minutes of quiet. Jack loves to draw, and when he gets bored I can usually squeeze a few more minutes out of the activity by drawing pictures that he asks me to draw!

3) Stickers. On a similar note, stickers are always a winner. Jack is still learning how to peel them off the page (great fine motor practice!) so sometimes this can cause some whining when he struggles, but he loves to put stickers all over himself, and me, and everything in sight. Just be sure to watch closely with this one so you don’t end up with stickers all over the waiting room.


4) Talk! I know this one sounds obvious, but sometimes I forget this is a possibility since conversation skills are still pretty new in our world. If Jack is getting antsy sometimes I can get him to plop down on my lap and talk about what he did at school that day, fun activities coming up (Halloween is a big topic around here lately), or what’s coming up. It always surprises me how helpful this can be and how engaged I can get him to be! This one never lasts long, but it’s a great way to distract him from the boredom of waiting and almost always buys me a little more time.

5) Bring a book! If I know we’re going to be in a place where we’ll have to do some waiting, I’ll often grab a book on my way out the door – I always shoot for grabbing one that we haven’t read in a while so it’s still novel! Jackson loves to read and I can usually drag the entertainment out for quite a while by chatting about the pictures, asking him questions, and having him point things out to me instead of just reading the book.

6) Make sure they know the plan. This won’t work for every toddler, but for Jackson it is so much easier to survive these types of situations when he knows exactly what to expect. Before we go in, I’ll prep him with the expectations and make sure he understands we’re going to have to wait (and that we’re going to wait quietly) and I’ll give him a few options of what he can do while we wait. Then, I’ll let him know what we’re going to be doing when we’re done waiting (hint: make it something desirable if you can!) and I’ll remind him of this plan frequently throughout the waiting time. Sometimes, just knowing what’s going on is enough to help him hang in there and stay calm(ish).

7) Snacks. I avoid this one as much as possible, but it’s a great last resort when you’re really desperate. I hate encouraging eating during down times or when you’re bored, so I really don’t offer snacks often. However, if I really really need a few quiet moments in a restaurant waiting area or when I’m dealing with an appointment, a snack is a guaranteed way to calm him down for a bit.

Of course, a very last resort option is always to simply hand Jack my phone and let him watch some videos. However, I avoid this one even more than I avoid snacks – I don’t want Jackson to become too reliant on just watching videos to escape situations (Snapchat feels different to me because it’s something we engage in together, so it’s more social) and I hate to use the phone as a crutch. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever pull it out, though – it’s an absolutely guaranteed way to keep him quiet for basically as long as I need.

What are your favorite tricks for keeping your toddler happy when you’re waiting?