Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Toddler Tuesday: 5 tips for a stress-free visit to the park.

Going to the park is simple right? Right. Well, yes, as simple as anything is once you have a toddler to consider. Parks are a great place for kids to get exercise, socialize and get fresh air, but they can be a source for a lot of stress as well. With all of the benefits come stressful hazards like keeping your toddler hydrated, watching out for bullies and the inevitable small scale injury. Besides keeping some hand sanitizer and a bit of antiseptic spray in your diaper bag, there are a few more things a parent can do to make a trip to the park more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Bring back-up toys.
As the name implies, these special "back-up" toys are not the only ones. Give your little gazelle her choice of one toy to bring to the park, then slip a couple more into the bag. This way she is more focused on the one toy that she specifically got to choose to bring to the park instead of wanting to bring the whole nursery. Also, if there is a problem at the park later, say another kid has a sand shovel, and she really wants to take a turn, but the other kid is not sharing, then you can produce a shovel from your bag. Some basic back up toys are: a shovel, pail, truck, doll, ball and a box of sidewalk chalk. The sidewalk chalk makes a great distraction if there is a situation where your toddler is trying to take away another kids toy, or having trouble sharing her own toy. A nice big box of sidewalk chalk generally has enough pieces in it that everyone can have something to color with, and whatever the issue it was that caused the disruption is quickly forgotten in the light of an opportunity to deface public property with parental approval.

2. Bring a snack and 2 drinks.
Even if you are not going to be at the park that long, chances are that you will just get settled when another child at the park will start to have their snack. Nothing inspires hunger in a toddler like watching someone else eat. You don't need to bring much, a baggie of little crackers, a box of raisins and a banana are generally enough to satisfy any sudden cravings. The reason I recommend bringing two different kinds of drinks is that if your child is watching another kid drink juice, then water is hardly going to be what he wants, so one of the cups should have some diluted pure fruit juice. Then, by the time you are getting ready to go, it will not matter what other kids are drinking, he will probably just be thirsty, and nothing is better for pure thirst than fresh clean water, so your second cup should have water in it. I generally discourage parents from bringing milk to the park because it can spoil so quickly, but if you have a cooling pack and an insulated carrier to place the milk in it should be fine.

3. Bring the umbrella stroller.
You may not need it on the way to the park, there is no reason to keep your toddler in there because chances are she would much rather walk. But, after an hour or two in the sun it may be your best bet at getting your exhausted little munchkin home without having to carry her. I use my umbrella stroller to carry the diaper bag on the way to the park, which is extra helpful because the extra drinks and snacks make that bag pretty heavy. The back up toys can go in the stroller too, and if your little helper needs something to do, she can always help push. I particularly like the umbrella style for a quick jog to the park because it is light and easy to maneuver, and if I run into sand or mud, I can just pick it up.

4. Apply sunscreen before leaving the house.
Getting out the door to go to the park is tough, and many parents forgo the application of sunscreen in an effort to save time. However, once your little ping pong ball sees the park with all of the fun waiting to be had, holding still long enough to get a thorough coating of the protective lotion is going to prove to be a struggle at best and a total meltdown at worst. It is much better to have the smaller shorter struggle at the house before you leave than to risk the frustrating wrestling match I not-so-lovingly refer to as "greasing the piglet".

5. Wear appropriate shoes.
This goes for both you and your little Tarzan. If the park you are going to has grass, a shoe with a little bit of tread is good. For sandy or wood-chip covered parks, I recommend socks and sneakers. I know that you might think that sandals would be best, but with all the running and climbing your little spider monkey will be doing, the friction caused by a few grains of sand or a couple wood chips inside a sandal can get very uncomfortable. Also, unless you are very familiar with a park and are confident in its cleanliness, do not let your child go barefoot in the sand. I have found everything from rusty nails and broken glass to poisonous spiders and used drug needles in the sand at parks, just waiting to skewer an unsuspecting little foot. For parks with the rubbery stuff, sandals are fine, as long as they are snug and have good traction for playing on the climbing structure.

Trick: Use a timer when it is time to go.
Since leaving the park can cause quite a fuss, I have found it is much easier if it is not my "fault" that it is time to go. When you go to the park, set an alarm on your phone, or bring an egg timer with you. Explain to your toddler on the way to the park that when they hear the bell it is time to go home. Then when you are ready to go, set off the alarm. Your toddler still might not like the idea of going home, but he will be much less likely to fight it. Also, letting him push the stroller for a block or so before you put him in it will give him something to do to keep his mind off the fact that you are leaving the park.

Trick: Bring a blanket.
Now the sun may be shining down as hot as it has ever been, but bringing a blanket to the park is still a very good idea. On hot days sometimes the sand gets too hot to sit on, but you can spread a blanket to sit on quite comfortably. Also, swings can be too hot, slides, teeter-totters or just about any surface that your little fire-walker might want to play on. A blanket makes a great easily adjustable barrier for any of these. And if the weather takes a sudden turn, you can bundle your baby beluga against chilly breezes. Then, when it is time to head home, if you have an awning on your stroller, you can drape the blanket over it for a bit of added sun protection.

An outing to the park is a wonderful activity on a nice sunny day, especially if there is one fairly close to your house. Hopefully with these tips you will have a couple more ideas for how to take the stress out of an otherwise fun day in the sun with your little one. If you have found these tips and trick helpful, please forward them to any new or expecting parents, or parents of toddlers you might know. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome. Happy parenting!

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