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Published on February 25, 2015

Taming Fussy Toddlers… Without TV

February 25, 2015

toddler reading a bookIt’s late afternoon, and your toddler is cranky, whiny and restless. You’re trying to cook dinner, but your little one’s on the verge of a meltdown. What do you do? If you’re like many parents, you may be tempted to sit your child in front of a television or tablet.

A new study published in April 2014 found that toddlers who are more irritable and demanding tend to have more screen time than their less fussy peers. Researchers at Boston Medical Center surveyed parents of 7,450 kids and found that the average fussy toddler spent approximately two hours and 29 minutes in front of a screen each day—about a half hour longer than the daily screen time limit recommended by the Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for 2- to 4-year-olds.

The Witching Hour, Unplugged

The most likely time of day for a toddler to be stuck in front of a screen may be the famed “witching hour”—the hour or so before dinner when toddlers tend to be at their moodiest. Distracting a cranky cub with a TV show or tablet app can be more appealing during this time, as parents tend to be worn out from a long day of work and are trying to prepare dinner. But resorting to screen time isn’t your only option. Try the following tech-free strategies to minimize late-afternoon fussiness:

  • Give your toddler attention. If you’re a working parent and late afternoon is the first time she’s seen you all day, she may just be craving some attention. Devote an hour of your predinner routine to playing and interacting with your toddler. If necessary, try prepping meals ahead of time so you can spend less time in the kitchen.
  • Offer a predinner snack. Your toddler’s fussiness may be a simple case of hunger. If dinner is still an hour away, a small, healthy snack might curb her crankiness.
  • Enlist your toddler’s help. Involve him in the cooking process by having him scrub veggies or mix ingredients. You’ll get dinner in the oven and still give your toddler the one-on-one time he needs.
  • Ditch your own screen. The same researchers at Boston Medical Center conducted another study that found parents who are glued to their smartphones around dinnertime tend to become crankier and less patient with their kids, which may lead the kids to reciprocate those behaviors.

If all else fails, cut out screen time at other times of the day so he can watch TV or play on the iPad before dinner without exceeding the AAP’s recommended screen time limit of two hours.

Meltdown at 30,000 Feet

Your end-of-summer vacation is approaching, and so are the holidays. Whether you’re flying to Cancun or just visiting your cousin’s house, you know how disastrous airplane rides with a toddler can be. To save yourself from a tantrum at high altitude, try to schedule flights around your child’s naptime and break up longer flights with airport stop-offs to give your toddler a chance to walk around and get some energy out. You should also make a fuss-proof packing list that includes the following:

  • A pacifier, blanket or stuffed animal. Whatever your toddler’s favorite soothing object is, don’t forget it.
  • Yummy, wholesome snacks. Pack more munchies than you think you’ll need in your carry-on luggage.
  • Juice. If your toddler becomes fussy from ear pain related to altitude changes, drinking liquids through a straw can help those little ears “pop.” Carry an empty sippy cup through security, then purchase juice from a vendor to fill the cup.
  • Toys, toys, toys. Toddlers can get tired of a toy within a few minutes. If your flight is a few hours long—well, you do the math.
  • Something to watch. Limiting screen time is important, but when desperate times call for desperate measures, it helps to have a moving, talking, singing distraction.
  • A roll-with-it attitude. If your toddler does have a first-class freak-out, stay calm and remember: for every irritated passenger, there’s a sympathetic one who has likely been in the same position you’re in.

For more ideas of activities to do with your toddler, visit our Pinterest board!



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