If you’re a mom, you know that sometimes you just NEED something distracting for your toddler. For whatever reason, sometimes little ones just wake up in a mood. And no one is happy when baby is unhappy.
Thankfully, littles are usually pretty resilient. As long as there’s not an underlying reason for their fussiness (teething, sickness, etc.) it’s typically not too hard to hit the reset button. If you have the right tools! Some simple baby and toddler activities can change the outlook of your whole day.
With all these other mamas out there, why should we have to figure out these tricks the hard way? I want to share some of the more effective ways I have found to distract my fussy one. And that’s saying something, because my boy is fussy pretty often and not the easiest to reset.
(This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure for more details)
7 easy, quick, and free ways to distract your fussy toddler
Judge all you want, but when my young toddler needs something extra special to help him come back over to the sweet side, I give him sprinkles. I think it started when he was learning to shake things and enjoy the noises. Then eventually, I decided to let him have a taste. There’s not much going back after that!
Sprinkles are great because they are super cheap, they last forever, and while they are pretty much just sugar, you can give your babe a tiny bit and they are still only getting a fraction of what a piece of candy would have. Bonus: most sprinkles are dairy free, if that’s a concern for you (it is for us.)
I know I know…babies shouldn’t have sugar. I promise a tiny bit will be fine. Do what you feel comfortable with, but let me tell ya, this works! When my guy is in a mood, sprinkles are just enough of a special treat to turn the day around.
2. Straws in a cup
Ok, so you may have seen the activities on Pinterest where your baby puts popsicle sticks into a container with slits cut into the lid. I really wanted to try this one, but I didn’t have either of these items.
What I DID have was a surplus of cheap insulated cups and some plastic straws. I cut up the straws into small enough pieces for Sam to maneuver, and then let him go at it. This was GREAT for his fine motor skills. He loved the challenge and it kept him distracted for longer than most of his toys. Win!
I keep the straw pieces inside the cup, so we don’t lose them. He’s been playing with this toy for at least a year now. He still loves it! He’s a pro now, but it’s still a fun activity for him. Quick, easy, distracting. Boom. I highly recommend.
3. Mom’s bathtub
This is a favorite. I don’t know what it is about mom’s tub over his, but it’s just more fun! This was a life-saver in the winter months when we couldn’t play outside. I let him have a bit more water than we usually do at bath time and I give him some kitchen utensils (ladles, pitchers, etc.) to play with. He has a BLAST.
On the days when he was just really a grump and nothing would soothe him, all I had to say was “Want to go play in Mama’s bath?” He was instantly over it and excited. By the time the bath was done, he forgot all about his bad mood.
He has slight eczema issues, especially in the winter, so I started using our bath play to let him soak in some oatmeal-infused water. He would say “Mmm! Otamlalala.” I also let him run around naked after these baths, which he thinks is hilarious. Reset accomplished!
4. Water hose
Another timeless favorite. When the weather is permitting, we go outside and I turn on the water hose. He picks up the end and sprays it everywhere (including all over himself, so he’s usually naked or in a swim diaper.)
For a long time, just the hose sufficed. As he got older, we started incorporating trucks and watering cans and things like that. He loves to fill them up with water and to “wash” his trucks. So great.
Sometimes you just gotta get outside. Letting baby explore water and get wet and dirty can be a great way to turn a unhappy camper into an excited, soaked sweetie.
5. “Washing dishes”
This one is fairly new. We have an awesome “helper stand” that my husband built. It’s a tall safety stool that Sam stands in when he helps us cook or looks out the windows.
So recently, I noticed that when we washes his hands in the kitchen sink, he immediately wants to play with the dishes. We were having one of those fussy moments one day, so I decided to go for it. I filled one sink with soapy water (“bubbles!!!”) and gave him a few plastic dishes and the wand sponge. He fell in lovvve.
Let me tell ya, he gets to work. He doesn’t even really interact with me at all during his play time. He is focused and really getting at it. It’s pretty cute. And a perfect distraction!
I’ll warn you, this can get a bit messy. You might want to lay down a couple towels and, of course, supervise closely for safety. But a little spilled water never hurt anybody and it’s totally worth the smiles and fun.
6. Playing in the car
Oh, this is super effective. Sam now requests to go play in my car when he sees it parked outside. He says “dees!” because he know we have to go get the keys first. Cutie.
He loves to “drive” and beep the horn. We turn on the radio and he dances. He also thinks it’s the funniest thing ever to crank up the volume. I laugh and turn it back down, and he does it about 50 more times, cracking up. So silly.
He explores the buttons, the air conditioner vents, the windshield wipers and blinkers. Then he crawls around in the back seat. It’s apparently really fun to sit in your car seat as long as no one is making you.
If your kiddo is having a hard day or you just need a new exciting activity, go for a “drive” in your parking spot!
7. Toddler Pandora
I saved this one for last, because it’s probably one of my best suggestions. Babies love music, right? Well, I don’t know about you, but I get a bit annoyed with those Kidz Bop style songs with kids singing LOUDLY and a bit obnoxiously. No thanks.
We somehow stumbled upon Caspar Babypants radio on Pandora one day. This is actually a minimally annoying station for adults and ultra-fun for littles. We turn it on in the mornings or whenever Sam needs to dance out some frustration.
After a couple weeks, he started to recognize the songs. And we ended up learning the words to most of them, so it gave us more options for singing to him in the car or before bed.
The songs are super fun and cute. He dances and laughs and watches the floating CD cover photo on the TV screen. It’s a good time. And it definitely does the trick.
Toddler Activities for Fussy Moods
I wish I had magic advice to keep your baby or toddler from being grumpy at all! But…I have yet to find that power. Instead, I hope these suggestions work like magic to turn your rough day around. If your little one is especially fussy and doesn’t want to do anything but be held, check out my post on how to handle a clingy baby or toddler.
I’m a firm believer that a bad moment should never ruin a whole day. I want to teach this to my babies and do a better job of practicing it myself. So, find whatever works and hit that reset button. It’s a good day to be a mama, Mama!
For more tips for mamas follow me on Pinterest. You may also like my post about my crazy-easy method to potty training your toddler.