You set your alarm to wake up before your toddler. You shut it off before it even makes a sound, quietly sneak out of bed, and make it to the kitchen. Still asleep… perfect.
You continue to sneak around, brewing your coffee, turning on your computer, and getting ready to work on your business before anyone else wakes up.
As you walk over to your desk with your steaming hot cup of coffee and a quiet house, your excitement is building. Can it be true? Are you really about to get in a solid hour of work before anyone wakes up?
You shush the voice in the back of your head chiding you for speaking to soon, because, even though they’ve woken up early every other time you’ve tried to do this, you’re confident today will be different. I mean, after all, you’ve made it this far…
But just as you sit down to your computer and take a sip of that gloriously hot cup of fresh coffee, you hear it…
…the creeeeeaaaakkkkk of a door opening.
You hold your breath in anticipation. Maybe that was just your mind playing tricks on you?
Shoot. Those are definitely toddler footsteps heading your way.
“MAMA!!!” your toddler shouts with excitement as if it’s been years since you’ve seen each other instead of mere hours…
And just like that, despite your best efforts, you’re done before you even got started. For the third time this week.
While you absolutely love that sweet little face and all of the snuggles that come along with having a toddler, you’re still disappointed that you weren’t able to get anything done for your business. (And that does NOT make you a bad mom!)
They say the days are long but the years are short, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still passionate about running an online business and want to do that now too, while you’re also raising kids.
And I say, if you’re called to run a business, then you should run a business. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom. Even if you’re also working a 9-5. Even if you have a toddler running around stealing pens off your desk and scribbling all over your planner.
So if anyone has ever told you to put your dreams on hold to “focus on your kids” because “they’re only little once,” I’m telling you now that that’s a bunch of crap, and officially giving you permission to ignore them.
But the question remains… HOW are you supposed to get anything done with a toddler tornado (or two) running around, making messes, and trying to fly by jumping off of every chair and couch you own?
With a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of coffee, that’s how. 🤪
But in all seriousness, if you really want to move your business forward without waking up at 3am to work before your kids wake up, then keep reading because I’m going to share my favorite ways to keep a toddler busy while you work from home (without turning them into a screen zombie!).
- Most of these activities are messy. And if messes give you anxiety, I see you, because I AM you. BUT I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can either get some work done and have a mess to clean later or never get any work done and keep my house clean and my toddlers grumpy… so proceed with caution.
- This should go without saying, but just in case, please make sure to provide the appropriate levels of supervision for your children. I am in no way responsible for your children or their safety, but I encourage you to make sure they are only participating in activities that are safe for them! I always have my kiddos in eyesight while I’m working to be safe, but it’s up to you to do what works best for you and your family.
I have yet to find non-screen, non-messy activities that hold their attention for more than 3 seconds. If you’ve cracked that code, please share it in the comments below this article! Alright, let's dive in.
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How To Keep Your Toddler Busy While Working From Home
1.Set up sensory activities
These are activities that stimulate the senses, such as touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Some examples of sensory activities include playing with puzzles, exploring different textures (like Kinetic sand, sandpaper, or Play-Doh), or even bubbles. You don’t have to buy fancy things for this either. A huge hit over here is filling a small tub with uncooked rice and hiding toys inside of it. Give your toddler a shovel and have them go hunting! (Please make sure to keep an eye on smaller kids so that they don’t eat the rice, and also keep objects in age-appropriate sizes, so no one chokes!)
2. Put Q-tips in a spice jar
This one wins for simplicity. Just grab an empty spice jar (or dump the rest of one you haven’t touched in forever… I won’t tell!) and grab some Q-Tips. I’m still shocked at how long this holds their attention! My 3-year-old and 1-year-old both love it.
3. Pull out the art supplies
If you’re not trying to have marker, crayon, and paint all over your floor, walls, and countertops, opt for water painting books or those fancy new mess-free markers that only write on specific kinds of paper. If you don’t mind the mess or have a space where they can get messy without consequence, then by all means go for the real stuff!
4. Make a yes space/safe zone
Sometimes the best activities are the spontaneous ones they come up with themselves or imaginative play. I like to set up a few activities for them to easily grab and play with if the mood strikes. Right now, magnetic tiles and Rainbow blocks get the most use. Just make sure you have a safe and kid-proofed area that they can plan in without you having to scrutinize their every move.
5. Get outside
Sometimes a change of scenery is in order, especially when the weather’s nice! I’ve started bringing my laptop out to the patio table and working a bit while my kids run around and play in the yard. This one is getting a bit harder now that my youngest is a newly-walking toddler and falls a lot, but she still has fun trying to keep up with her siblings. You can even combine being outside with any of the other ideas on this list to make it even more enticing for your toddler!
6. Encourage water play
This can be done inside or outside, depending on the weather and your mood! We have a small water table outside that the kids love to play with, but if I want to stay inside, I either fill up a small tub with water and toss in some toys (on top of LOTS of towels), or throw everyone in the bathtub. (If you do this, PLEASE make sure you’re able to watch them closely even if you’re working, drowning is no joke and can happen in an instant!) I’ve even brought a bucket of snow inside once when I just wasn’t feeling gearing everyone up to be outside in the snow!
7. Create an obstacle course
Depending on how old your toddler is, you may be able to set up an obstacle course for them to go through over and over. This works better with my 5-year-old and 3-year-old, the 1-year-old can’t really follow directions (but she has fun chasing her siblings!). But if your toddlers are on the older side or have an older sibling or two to help them out, this is perfect! We usually pull of couch cushions, set up blankets, and lay out all the Squishmellows for a good old-fashioned game of lava too.
8. Let them “work” with you
You know how toddlers would rather play with your real iPhone than that play phone you got that looks just like a phone? Well, it’s the same thing with work stuff. A toy computer or keyboard will only last a few seconds, tops. But if you give them a Bluetooth keyboard that isn’t connected to anything or even a wireless mouse that’s turned off, suddenly it’s much more fun! My niece, who is two and hardly ever sits still for more than 30 seconds, will sit at the table with her mom and tap away on her Bluetooth keyboard for 20 minutes or more sometimes! Any time kids feel like they are part of something that’s important to you, they will be happy—even if they’re still too young to understand what’s going on.
9. Take quick play breaks
You’d be surprised by how quickly you can fill your toddler’s desire for attention between working on your business tasks. Take a few minutes (5-10 will do, but you can take more if you’d like) to play with your toddler while taking a break from your task. I like to do this as part of a Pomodoro block. The key here is to make sure you’re really engaging with them and are fully present in playing (aka no answering emails or checking social media).
Tell them before you start that you’re going to play with them for however many minutes you decide so that it isn’t a negative surprise when you have to stop. If you spend some time intentionally engaging with them, they will have a much easier time transitioning into solo play or play with their siblings when you go back to working.
Try Some Of These Ideas Next Time You're Trying To Work From Home
Working from home with a toddler isn’t easy—but it is possible! You can get through your workday while still keeping your little one happy and occupied with some of these tried and true ideas so you can still get things done.
What If It Doesn’t Work?
But here’s the thing. You can take these ideas and implement them tomorrow, and it can go off without a hitch. Everyone will be happy, you will feel confident in your ability to work with a toddler at home.
Then, the next day, you can do the same thing, and it will be an epic disaster.
It’s not because the suggestions aren’t good enough, or you’re not a good enough mom, or your toddler is crazy (well ok, I can’t promise that last part because I still think all toddlers are a little bit crazy!).
It’s because toddlers are predictably unpredictable, and what they love today they may hate tomorrow, and vice versa. If you’ve ever tried to serve a toddler their favorite food when they’re in a bad mood, you know exactly what I’m talking about!
That’s why I’ve started teaching moms how to maximize small pockets of time throughout their busy days so they can stop trying to wake up early or stay up all night for their only chance to get work done and instead be able to work even when their toddler is awake.
It’s Time To Master Biz Mom Life
If you’re looking for a better solution than playing roulette with activities all day, then come on over to my course, Mastering Biz Mom Life. You’ll learn the actual strategies I use as a mom of three kids under five running multiple online businesses from home. And they are the exact strategies I have taught other biz moms to implement too so that you can begin to juggle mom life and business without feeling frazzled all the time!