ADVICE & ANSWERS: Time Management with Little Ones

Shannon sent this question in for your consideration and advice almost 3 months ago (yes, I'm just now getting to it...sorry, Shannon!):
I need some advice on time management with my toddler and almost one year old daughters. I too often set the girls in front of the T.V. so that I can get my chores or other projects done. My two and a half year old is very dependent and does not like to do activities on her own. I have tried to give her little craft projects (painting, coloring, gluing, etc.) and sometimes I will sit and help her, but other times I need to get to some chores or unfinished projects. She usually gets frustrated with the activity after only a few minutes unless I am helping her. And then I do not have enogh time to finish the things I need to get done! The only activity that entertains her long enough is T.V. or a movie. She can sit and watch for hours if I let her. I have been trying to limit her time to one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon and I still feel like this is too much time in front of the television. So how do you do it? How do your readers do it? How can I manage my toddler's time so that she can stay entertained (while learning) long enough for me to get my chores or projects finished?

I want to teach her and use every opportunity to do so. I have tried to include her in my chores, giving her little tasks to do, but sometimes she gets bored and just asks to watch T.V. I usually give in because then I can finish up whatever I need to do. What do you/your readers think? Is two hours of T.V. too much for a two and a half year old? Also, what are some things that can keep an 11 month old (note from Jess: now 14 month old) entertained and help her development?

So what wisdom and tips do you guys have to share with Shannon?


Joel and Jaime said...

Shannon--This is a tough one, I know. I have a three year old, an almost two year old, and am five months pregnant. Getting 'little tasks and chores done' can be a handful. However, I have limited my kids TV time to 20 minutes in the morning while I take a shower. They know this is their only TV time for the day, and that if they whine when I turn it off, there will be no TV time tomorrow! And, I know it varies from person to person, but in my opinion, yes, two hours is probably too much for your little ones, at least on a daily basis.
So, back to your original question of keeping them entertained while your work. Even little toddlers are capable of 'helping' by doing things like 'cleaning' the front window with a paper towel, picking up their toys, handing mama the dishes from the dish washer, etc, etc. Praise them big time when they do help. "Oh my, what a good helper you are! How would mama get these dishes done without you?" They may only feel like helping for a little while, though. When their interest is gone, don't give in to the TV temptation! Offer them other safe distractions instead, like looking at books, listening to stories on CD(get some at your local library), playing quietly by themselves, etc, etc.
I think the main problem is that you've 'trained' your children to expect TV time if they whine. If they learn that the answer will always be no,(which may be hard the first few times, but stick to it!) they will also learn to find other ways of keeping themselves busy!
Hope this helps! I know this is an easy source of frustration. I am still working on it with my own kids :)
God Bless!

Kim said...

What a hard question, but my first thought is that 2 hours of TV for an almost 1 year old is a lot. My daughter is 10 months old, and I try not to let her watch TV at all, but it is hard. I try to use her two nap times to get things done. However, she also plays well by herself and is not crawling yet, so she can play while I get dinner ready, or put some laundry in or something. (I am sure when she starts crawling we will have a whole different story! I need advice on that one!) I also have a weekly plan for keeping the house clean that makes me not have to do so much every day. I clean bathrooms on Monday, the floors on Tuesday, wash her clothes on Wednesday, clean the kitchen well on Thursday, and dust/vacuum on Friday. I wash sheets/towels on Fridays also. That way I just have one or two things to do a day, and lots of time do those real quick after she goes to bed. My husband helps out so much with that if I don't get it done during her naps, so that makes a difference.
I don't know what else to say! Those are my thoughts. I Don't know what I will do once she starts crawling.

Melissa said...

As a former Early Childhood Educator, I would have to say that 2 hours of television a day is too much. I think that we get our kids to depend on tv and constant entertainment at too early of an age. Little Ones need to learn creativity in their thinking and practice; and that does not come through television. I would suggest using a timer - set it for 20 minutes, and tell your Little Ones that they need to play alone or do a specific activity ("reading" books, craft, etc) during that time. You don't need to tell them how long you are setting the timer for, just that they need to do something on their own until the timer goes off. As they learn to enjoy the 20 minutes, you can extend that time.

Also, have your kids help you with various activities. It may not seem like "help," but you are teaching them responsibility in doing so.

Have fun & enjoy them while they are in that stage of life. They are only there once!

Terry said...

Looking forwardto the advice and comments because I'm having a problem keeping my little one occupied, too. In a lot of ways it feels like I'm a new mom becase I never remember having these issues with my big girls. I wonder why.

anya* said...

i truly know where you are coming from. sometimes as moms we just want to get our tasks done asap and little hands get in the way:).

i think really working with your children, esp. the older one to really play alone is a huge thing. i have really made a huge effort to get my son (now 3 1/2) to really enjoy playing alone. maybe get a few new toys that are designated *while mommy is doing housework and i play alone* toys. seriosuly, my sone has a box of big legos that he knows he can play with alone, also, little puzzles or a pad of paper. if your child begins to whine, perhaps explain to her that the option is only to play at such and such location or sit in time out? maybe it sounds harsh, but she will begin to learn you are seriosua nd that tv is not coming on.

i have a 3 1/2 yo, 1 1/2 yo, and 11 month old, so perhaps they are occupied more with the option to play together? also, the older kids watch a 1/2 hour of tv at night- after the littlest 2 are in bed. BUT there have been days when i use the tv as a crutch, i.e. i am sick, they are sick, i am lazy:)
also, i remember that there was a time when i was reaqlly pregnant and didnt want to move and my son watched lots of tv- my husband and i decided to turn it off for a month, and itr was really great b/c our son soon stopped asking for it and learned to do other things. maybe have a tv fast? sometimes removing something completly is the only way to truly make change?

Claire said...

In a big rush so I will just make one suggestion very quickly: your daughter might not be very good at sticking to a little project on her own right now, but that's ok. It's a skill she needs to learn, like any new skill.

The television, which entertains her passively, is probably not encouraging her to develop skills like patience, diligence, and taking control of what she's doing. But like I said before, that's ok - nobody's born knowing these things and it's certainly not too late for her to learn!

She is old enough that should be able to do this, but it won't happen immediately. Get her a little timer. Sit her at the kitchen table with you in the same room, but NOT sitting with her. You should have your own job - cleaning cabinets, washing dishes - something that makes you look busy but means you can surreptitiously keep a close eye on her! Start by setting the timer for just ten minutes. Tell her she needs to work on her project for that long. The next day, bring out the same project, in the same place, and set the timer again. If she did well the previous day, increase it - by two minutes, or five minutes, whatever you think is best.

Do this for five days and voila, she'll have finished something all on her own! AND she'll be learning how to entertain herself.

Sorry I'm in a huge rush but Shannon I have tremendous sympathy for you - the TV is a constant struggle - not just for the kids but for my husband and I! (Oh dear!) DON'T WORRY - it's just a skill she needs to learn, it's not surprising she's having trouble with it at her age, so many kids do! You will be able to teach this to her!

God Bless,
Claire x

Shannon said...

Thanks for all of the ideas...I'm still not completely sure what to do when I need to do email or sewing things that she really can't help with, but it is just a season.

One thing my oldest has recently done is created imaginary friends that have helped her play alone a little better. Thank the Lord. :)

Jess said...

Hey Shannon,
I agree with the other ladies-- 2 hours is a lot of TV for any child. We limit it here in our house to 40 minutes max per day. And often that's only 3-4 days a week.

Some ideas for how we manage the day:

* Toys in "sets"-- for example, with my 2 boys, they have a train set, a duplos set (GREAT for little hands), a tool set, dress-up clothes, a ranch/animals set, and cars. We keep these rotated out every couple of weeks, so that there are always "fresh" toys to choose from. Then, I'll say, "you can play with either x or y". They'll choose one, and we'll either pull that tub out to the living room or kitchen (where I'm working, or in the room adjacent to where I'm working), and they'll play, often for at least 20-30 minutes minimum but sometimes for as long as an hour (that has become more likely the older they've gotten).

* BOOKS: We also keep a LOT of kids' books around the house. I rotate these out also, keeping interesting ones in about 3 different "sets", so that they're intriguing, interesting, and fun to look at. They'll each sit on a sitting chair or lay on the floor or sit on the kitchen rug while I'm doing my work/projects and look at books for a good long time. We have at least one book time every day, sometimes two 30-45 minute times absorbed in books.

* Include them in your chores-- give them little interesting jobs (can you put these plastic dishes in the cabinet?, can you take this to the trash?, can you pick up that towel and take it to the dirties?, etc.), and then praise them for being so helpful (or with my boys, "so strong", etc.). Thank them, and let them know how helpful it is for you! Especially with my daughter, I've made it a priority to help her delight in *being* a helper, since that will be the crux of her role as a wife one day (and perhaps the most difficult to muster up delight in if she has not been trained to enjoy it and derive pleasure from being helpful).

* Coloring in a chair (we use the high chair for this with little ones)... give them a bag of colors, assigning the older one to dole out new crayons to the younger one every now and then, so you can get 10 minutes of dishes done.

* We break the day up into 30-minute or 1-hour segments. I definitely use naptimes to my advantage, but I also use 5-minute times to get things done... in between times, letting the kiddos bring pre-sorted clothes over to the washer, while I throw everything in to start a load. Let them try to 'match' socks while you fold laundry. Give them a set of plastic dishes to cook with while you're cooking. Set out condiments where they can reach so that while you're finishing up dinner preparations, they can be taking those to the table.

Your oldest is old enough to set out napkins on the table, try to get all the silverware on the table for dinner times, etc. Try to include them as much as possible in the tasks of your day. The older they get, the more they can do this. Now, at the stages mine are at, they each have a "job" around mealtime. My 21 month old daughter takes things to the table before the meal, my 3.5yo son clears the table (with a little help from us), taking things up to the sink, to the trash, etc., and my 5.5 yo sweeps under the table after meals with a small handheld broom and dustpan.

They also can clean up their room easily because each of their toy "sets" are in bins, so they know easily what goes where, and even if the room is a disaster, can clean up in 10 minutes or so if they work together.

Some of these things will come more easily as your kids get older, but some of it can be done now. I hope this gives you some ideas.

I'll bet others will have more good ideas as well.

Amy W said...


I can imagine that you feel overwhelmed during this season in your life- it's good that you are remembering that it is only a season :)

Perhaps you can do tasks that your daughter cannot really help you with (email, sewing, etc.) while she is napping in the afternoon? I think it would be a good idea to make a list of all your usual weekly tasks/cleaning and assign them each to a certain day (as Kim has already suggested). That way you may not feel as overwhelmed with what needs to be done each day and you can schedule these tasks in appropriate time slots (some when your daughter is awake and can help, others for when she is sleeping).

Hmm...I guess I am just assuming that your daughter takes naps each day. If she does not I would strongly suggest that you implement a "quiet time" hour (or whatever time frame you choose) each afternoon. Your daughter does not have to sleep, but she does need to play quietly in her room (or wherever you assign her to stay during that time) with certain toys of your choosing: books, puzzles, dolls, listeing to music/book on tape, etc. It may take time to work up to this, but if you are consistent she will eventually realize that she must obey you and spend this time quietly and alone, and that she can be independent.

I hope this helps, Shannon!


Mrs. Bethany Hudson said...

As the new mother of a 7-month old, I would feel presumptuous giving advice to a mother of two, so I'll refrain, except to say that I have had great success getting work done with my infant in a sling--for those who also have infants. Other than that, I just wanted to thank all the other mothers for giving such a great advice that I will be adding to my stock of parenting tools. And, thank you, Jess, for posting this.

Jessica said...

I have implemented a toy rotation system sort of like Jess suggested. I categorized all of my son's toys (he's two) and split them up into four bins. I have different types of puzzles, vehicles, books, little people toys, etc. in each bin. Every week we pull a bin out and put last week's toys away. This helped so much with his attention span. He really plays with the toys now because they are new to him every four weeks. Before I did this, he would play with something for two minutes tops and then move on. With this system, I am able to get more done, because he is playing better.

Sharyn said...

I'll echo all the other wise mamas' comments -- particularly a) I struggle with this myself, particularly in the mornings [but always we have a better day without the TV on] and b) rotate activities to keep things fresh/interesting. I have a 4 1/2 year old and a 2 year old (both boys), so we do have some age difference, but I have definitely found success with focusing on the things that the 4 1/2 year old naturally enjoys doing (cooking, clearing table, organizing things into different boxes/bags) and have found that the 2 year old is eager to follow the example of big brother. I don't expect them to be a huge help (tho the 4 1/2 year old is, definitely), more involving them in what I do and trying to show that the house does not run magically all on mommy steam. I do rotate around the house based on what they're doing somewhat (i.e. I have table time things they can do while I am cooking dinner -- stickers/activity books -- my older one is very into mail so I got him a box of plain envelopes and index cards and he makes up his envelopes and addresses them to his friends/family, along with 'stamps' -- more stickers ... I'll use the time we're in the playroom to put away kids' laundry, straighten toys, sort out broken/giveaways ... when we are getting gas in the car I will toss out all the trash/cups and usually on Fridays vacuum the car as well so it will be nice for the weekend -- while they are contained in their car seats).

I also found it helpful to give way on some things that I realized really didn't need to get done -- i.e. folding my older son's pajama sets; they all go in one drawer and he goes through to pick them out anyway, so folding them and putting them away is a big waste of my time.

Hobby time is tough. I like cooking, so we usually do 'project'-type cooking -- i.e. baking muffins ahead, making breakfast tacos for freezer -- together. Baking cakes/cookies for anything that doesn't involve them is a challenge, though! I usually try to do this while they are asleep/otherwise engaged. I used to really enjoy sewing and haven't done so much of it lately because the tools/implements are likely to find their way into little hands and I end up with more of a mess than when I started. One thing I'm fortunate to enjoy is that a local sewing teacher offers a 'studio class' at her studio -- basically just a 4-hour block of unstructured time to sew/get help on projects/etc. Perhaps you could arrange with your husband to watch the girls while you go over a friend's house and do this together? I have also done this with scrapbooking/photo time. These are the only ways, I find, I get any of them done!

You are on the right track with the desire to reduce your girls' TV time. Just take it one day at a time and remember that most (if not all) of us, have had 'relapses' -- just get back on track the next day. I find it helps to have a little reminder list of activities they can do when they start getting rambunctious and I feel the urge to plop them down in front of the TV -- that way you can just refer to your post-it on the fridge with a couple of fun ideas without having to come up with something exciting on the spot. It gets easier with practice!!

Good luck!

anya* said...

hi, i commented earlier this morning, but i wanted to pop back on and read other people's great ideas.
thank you jess for this opportunity to allow moms to support and help one another. it was so nice to come back on here and find some comments that were useful as well as encouraging. i feel funny writing this, but it truly lifted me up and was just what i needed this afternoon. thanks.

Johanna said...

Shannon, I really relate to this one. I had postpartum depression very severely when my older son was almost 2 until he was 3. He watched A LOT of TV. It was really on all day. We had to do a bit of a TV fast to get him out of the habit. Now he is almost 5 and my younger son is 3. They have to earn TV by doing their chores. They earn a ticket for doing a set of chores and each ticket can be used for a variety of things, one of which is TV (20-30 minutes depending on the show he chooses). This way he knows that he earns it and it is not a right to watch. It also really motivates him to get his chores done! I'm not sure yours is old enought for something like that yet, but I guess I am throwing it out their so either you can tuck it in your mind for later or hopefully someone else will find it useful.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the specific occupying suggestions that the others had, just wanted to share our convictions and results. Our children are 5, 3 and 1. They have never really watched TV or videos on a regular basis (less than 1 hour per week). Even during pregnancy, new baby time, etc. I have really been focused on having them entertain themselves...I have worked very hard to keep them outside. As a result, I truly believe they are able to play and entertain themselves with very simple things. I'm sorry I'm not being very specific, but it has been a long, hard road to raise them with no passive watching. However, I think it helps more in the end. Maybe I have worked too hard at night and weekends as a result, I don't know, it's just what we've always done. Mary Brooke

Anonymous said...

I feel I must weigh in on the TV question as well. Two hours for a little one is too much television! It will be hard (if your child has become used to having TV on a regular basis) to try & instill new habits....but you can do it! Some of the others have described a weaning process, some say just fast. Both would work. You will not be a bit sorry you take a higher road on this. Children who are not overly dependent on outside stimulation make far better companions later on. They will have interests that go beyond electronics...their thought processes are just different. BUT...when they are little, it's hard-hard-hard sometimes, when fatigue has overtaken you, to keep from using that TV as a cheap babysitter! I do know this!

Other commenters have given great suggestions here about ways to occupy your little ones' time. Best of luck to you!


Shannon said...

I'm so thankful everyone was willing to help without judging. We started today with only 45 minutes of t.v. - one 30 minute show in the morning and two shorter shows after nap. It went well since grandparents were here to help entertain, so we'll see how it goes in a couple days when things get back to the three of us. Thanks again for everyone's suggestions - what a blessing you are, Jess, for using this blog for His glory :)

Mrs. Sewell (Professional Wife and SAHM) said...

You know this is one I struggle with as well. My Sofia is 21 months old and I am 22 weeks pregnant and it is way easier to put her in front of the TV to watch Veggie Tales or Boz, so that I can get things done.

I found today that when I turned the TV off completely and just let Sofia play...she actually entertains herself very well. She has lots of books and toys in the living room that she likes to drag out...ALL OF THEM! I try my best to pay with her, chasing her around the house, reading to her. However, the chasing her part usually makes me feel like I am going to pass I let hubby to that since he is carrying around and active baby in his belly! HA HA

God Bless
Crystal <><

Domestikate said...

I confess Shannon, this is something I struggle with as well. It is one of those "easy wide paths" we mothers are tempted to take instead of the "straight and narrow".

I agree with the other moms above. There are some great suggestions. One thing that hasn't been mentioned that has been a part of my children's toddlerhood has been a designated room time or playpen time (depending on the age of the child) during the day. I have 2 boys (ages 11 and 9 years) and a little girl (almost 2). When they become mobile I set up a playpen in a visible area that I can keep an eye and ear on. I usually turn on some music (Bible songs) and put in some age appropriate toys. This may only be for 20 minutes twice a day. By no means am I advocating leaving your little one to fend for themselves in the playpen the whole morning!

When they are too old to be in the playpen I set up the same principle in their room. First I make sure all "dangers" are out of their reach (outlets, cords, small objects, wipes, ointments, etc.) and make a safe environment. I put a gate at their door with the door open so I can keep an eye on them. My daughter has a little kitchen in her room and shelves with board books and other toys. I always have the monitor on too so if I am vacuuming or out of earshot I can still hear her. She has room time twice a day at about the same times, it has become part of our routine. Usually in the morning so I can take a shower or get ready for the day and the other while I am making supper in evening.

This may not work for every parent/child but it has been great for our family. We live in a small house so I can keep a pretty close eye on my little one and I also have two older children that can peek in on her as well. There have been times where the child will empty the dresser or dump toys. He/she is required to "help" clean up these messes and appropriate discipline is taken if it continues. Usually they learn within a week what their boundaries are.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw that out there.

dkt said...

I agree--2 hours a day is way too much. The TV comes out about once a week at our house. But our kids have crazy imaginations! :-)

Another suggestion... painting, gluing and most 'craft' projects are too much for little ones. Try making the table time more simple--give a small box of crayons. Or one container of playdough with five or so cutouts. This way the activity isn't so much, that the child doesn't know what to do first or how to do it best. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Dianna (mom to six under age seven)

Mrs. Amy Brigham said...

We are a television free family, so I have planned our home and my daughter's activities & routine with this in mind from day one. She is sixteen months old right now, and there have been several activities that have helped keep her safe & happy, while allowing me to complete my duties around the home.

*Getting my "big helper" involved in the chores I am doing has been a big help. My daughter has a strange obsession with cleaning the bathroom and washing the floor & would probably do it all day long if I let her. I simply give her her own of whatever I am using (little bucket & cleaning rag, a toy that looks a bit like a vacuum, etc) and then she will join me in whatever I am doing. She is also eager to help place folded laundry away and empty the dishwasher.

*Placing a basket with books and toys in the rooms I am most frequently has proved helpful. My daughter does not have too many toys, but has a huge assortment of books, and I rotate these items for added interest.

*I have made up several little containers with special activities to be done only when she cannot help me. One box has large rocks with different colors & textures that she enjoys looking. She also has a box with large seashells and another with different types of fabric for more sensory stimulation type play. Another box has several balls of yarn and a Kleenex box so she can use her love for unrolling & pulling in the way she loves most, but is not allowed to at any other time. ;o)

I also have a basket all set up with special toys, activities, and snacks for the eventual day in the future when I may not be feeling too well and might need some additional help entertaining my little one that day.

*Musical instruments or a pot & spoon can always keep my daughter occupied for a little bit. Wooden puzzles also work nicely.

*When I must make an important phone call while she is awake, we play the "clothespin game." Basically, I attach large clothes pins all over clothes and she needs a good ten-fifteen minutes to find and remove all of them. She thinks it is a blast, and I get a kick out of watching her, and great entertainment when I have to be on one of those dreadfully long holds.

There is a wonderful book called "The Toddler's Busy Book" that is full of ideas for activities galore. This author has also published a book with activities for preschoolers as well. Check to see if your library has a copy as I am sure this book will spark your creativity. There is also a website called Toddler Toddler that features many wonderful activities for littles. We have done many of them together, and I have the Zippy Finger painting activity to be another great mess-free activity to keep my little girl amused while I finish some homekeeping tasks.

I hope you find a few solutions from the wealth of information shared on this thread! I am excited to have learned some more tips :o)

Bekah Miller said...

I haven't read through all the answers, so I apologize if I repeat what others have said. I have a four year old and a 21 mos. old, so I understand where you are coming from. We started out with no TV purposely, but we given one for videos when our oldest was 18 mos. old. It didn't take long for me to start using it as a babysitter for almost an hour each day. (durning shower and one other time) After a while I noticed that he was less able to entertain himself and he kept asking for more TV. My solution - NO TV! It took a few days, but he quickly forgot about it and found things to do. Now I do let the boys watch something occassionally, but NOT every day or at the same time, so it's not a habbit, but a treat.
Now, I know for my son, craft activities are not an independent activity yet. Drawing or coloring, yes, but gluing, no.
I take my little one to help me do laundry, both help put silverware away and set the table, both help put folded laundry away, and both LOVE to bring wood in for the stove. There are chores that they can't help with, so I do make sure I have things for them to do. When I cook dinner, (only if I need to) I'll pull out a special container of dried beans for them to dig in with thier trucks. A little girl could use her tea set or measuring cups.
When I clean in my bedroom I have two special toys that they only get when I clean rooms.
I guarantee you that if you stick with the no TV rule and keep the kids with you, it will get much better.
As a teacher I have seen that kids who watch a lot of TV are far less creative and able to entertain themselves with simple things even at an older age. The kids who don't watch were having fun with blocks at age 9 and 10!

haleGISwonk said...

Sorry, I'm lurking. But I think that a moderate approach can be used. While I agree that 2 hours a day is too much TV, a creative way to get around dealing with the TV boundary (and I find that this helps with every age all the way up through adults!) is to simply move the TV to an inconvenient place to watch it. Away from food, too much comfort, and other centers of activity. The alternate activities seem to magically appear all on their own. Especially if books and other creative learning tools are more accessible. Then, the TV can be watched in a more deliberate way because you have to out of your way to watch it. TV is not eliminated or even directly limited, but will be used much less frequently.

Stephanie C. said...

I agree with the previous comment about boundaries. I do not want to step on any toes, as so many are anti-TV in general, and I am not in any way against that decision. But I think it should be said that it's important to remember that the novels we respect and honor so much today were cheap entertainment when they came out. As they were developed as a craft, and as they were used for the expanding of ideas, they became respected. I think it is important not to soley consider how much time is spent watching TV, (which I very much agree is an important limitation), but also to consider what is being watched. Is it educational? Is it biblical? Does it have a valuable lesson? I would advise that we not consider every bit of television-watching a "guilty pleasure" or regretting it all as giving into meaningless entertainment. Both books and videos are outside entertainers -- neither is the child entertaining himself. If it is enriching your child's mind, and they don't depend on it in order to be content, and are continuing to develop various interests, abilities, and responsibilities, in my opinion they're doing great!