Toys and Tasks That Toddlers Think Up
During the past two weeks, I’ve been patiently looking for ways to stop Toby’s whining. At seventeen months, he’ll stand in the same room as I and whine at me incessantly; he’ll follow me from room to room and tug at my knees if I stop, whining all the while. I realize this description makes Toby sound like a dog, and he’d probably be thrilled if he understood what I was doing.
This isn’t a new problem for parents; that particular pitch, even when accompanied by words, grates on purpose in parent ears internationally and ever since Eve’s children, I’m sure. After scolding him for whining, I was gently scolded by Just’In, who is my blessed extra perspective and who saw that scolding doesn’t work yet.
The Internet gives no definite answer as to why children whine, much to my dismay, But after reading this excellent article, I thought I’d try a few things.
Sometimes, Toby whines because he’s bored. He’s got plenty of toys, but needs direction or inspiration toward them. Or he wants a playmate. So I’ve come up with a handful of simple, short activities to distract him, engage him, and then give him the chance to wander off on his own. Sometimes, they work; sometimes, we still have a bad day.
One of those activities has been coloring. We’ve tried sitting at the table, on a phone book, in front a spread of blank paper; that doesn’t engage him yet. He’ll scribble half-heartedly with one crayon and then squirm off the phone book.
I don’t have any coloring books; I have a vague notion that if I hand him coloring books to draw in, he’ll think he can draw in all books. He already sees me writing in notebooks, and I try hard to avoid underlining and making margin notes in his presence. Even if we did have coloring books for this particular moment, I guess I’d tear out pages for him above his head.
So I got out a really large piece of butcher paper. (I love using butcher paper for wrapping, which is why we have it.) Then we sat down in a day-lit spot on the floor, I opened the box of crayons, and we started coloring. I positioned the paper in front of him, placed the crayons strategically around him, and then picked a different spot on the paper.
After lots of encouragement, the paper was littered with lots of my doodles and only one of his. So I sighed and picked up the crayons and put them back in the box. Then he stomped on the brown paper and enjoyed the crinkle noise it made on the carpet. In retrospect, maybe using the hard surface of the kitchen floor would have led to more successful art, but then I would have missed what happened next.
After enjoying the sound of paper underfoot, he sat down next to me and grabbed the closed crayon box. It’s a simple set of twenty four, with three rows of eight crayons in a cardboard box that folds closed. He shook it and whined, and I understood that whine: “Open it, mommy.”
So as to encourage more coloring, I complied. But then he stood and held the crayon box above his head and dumped them.
Sometimes, you just gotta laugh and go with it.
I held the box for him and we put the crayons away together. We repeated this action four or five times; after the first, he could put all the crayons into the box himself. All I did was hold the box, slightly tilted toward a narrow end so they’d all fall the right way. I let him put them in pointed end first and press the points of the last crayons against the flat ends of others already in the box. I let him dump them over his head again and again, then crouch and concentrate.
Ah, the games that small toddlers invent, the tasks that they find fascinating. But what I found fascinating? He held the box over him like it was a box of money or a box of water. And as I watched him insert the bits of color in several different variations, the tops of the crayons in certain combinations were beautiful.
This small activity also helped me evaluate what he really needed—his coordination was more clumsy and slower than usual. We were able to transition smoothly from the sixth closed box to a nap. I was bored, anyway, even if he was not.
And there’s another reason to find small activities throughout the day. If he looks up and asks me for food in the middle of an activity, I know he really is hungry and he’s not just asking for food to be the next activity. Thus eliminating more moments of whining.