How to Get Things Done with a Toddler

Wondering how to get things done with a toddler when he’s needy (and there’s so much to do)? Organize your days with these 5 effective tips.

How to Get Things Done with a ToddlerAre you finding it impossible to get anything done with your toddler around?

You’re at your wit’s end, unable to do much with him awake, from taking a shower loading the dishwasher. You end up doing most of these tasks after his bedtime, which means you’re dragging yourself the next day from having stayed up the previous night.

Whether it’s washing dishes, grocery shopping, or working from home, you can’t get anything done when he can’t entertain himself at all. Spending time together—from playing to crafts to reading—is still not enough for him to be happy.

How to get things done with a toddler

If you can relate, you’re definitely not alone.

I’ve had my share of days with kids who needed me to play and keep them company. I’ve even found myself anxious for them to get older and become more independent, then felt guilty for not cherishing the moment.

Still, we’ve all wanted to have a few hours—even minutes—to get other stuff done, too (and keep our sanity). To have that infamous “alone time” we moms are supposed to have.

Rest assured, this stage passes on its own eventually. But if “eventually” can’t come quick enough, you’re still not without options. After three kids, I’ve learned a few tricks to get things done (and without relying on screen time).

From actionable tips to mindset shifts, these tips can help you be productive, enjoy your toddler, and even find time for yourself:

Independent Toddler

1. Include your toddler in your tasks

It’s easy to think, If she wasn’t in the way, I’d get these dishes done so much faster. You feel compelled to find something to occupy her, shoo her away, or rush like crazy in the few minutes you have to yourself.

Sometimes we think we need to save our heavy tasks for when the kids are out of the way, unaware that we can do both at the same time. To be sure, getting housework done is much quicker alone, but including your toddler has its benefits.

For one thing, you can reserve your evenings as time for yourself (instead of reserving them for your to-do list). You’re also teaching her life skills she’ll likely need to learn for herself. And finally, you’re able to spend time together, even having fun along the way.

So, what are a few things she can help with? She can…

  • Spray bathroom surfaces while you wipe with a rag
  • Sweep the mess from the kitchen floor
  • Put toys and items in a bin or shelf
  • Hold the cord while you vacuum the living room
  • Pull clothes from the dryer
  • Sort a clean load of laundry
  • Refill the diapers and wipes
  • Sort spoons and forks into the drawer
  • Pick music for your “dance cleaning party”

By including her in your cleanup tasks, you’re teaching her important life skills, clearing up your evenings, and even having fun together. She won’t feel like she has to nag or whine to grab your attention when you can invite her to cook with you in the kitchen.

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2. Create a basket of “trinkets”

One reason your toddler clings to your side is that he doesn’t have anything else to do. Switch things up by creating a basket of “trinkets.”

Before you even need any of them, gather a few simple items and toys to hand him when you need time to focus on something else. This way, he’s preoccupied with something new, allowing you to get your task done.

To start, hand him one item at a time. Giving him the whole basket, or even a few things together, isn’t necessary. Instead, stretch these items as long as they can go by giving him one item at a time.

Then, give simple items that don’t need your help. The point is to keep him occupied on his own with toys that don’t need your attention. Stick to simple items like crayons, water paint, stickers, and figurines.

3. Include “quiet time” into your day

We all treasure our coveted nap time, if only so we can get a few moments of peace to ourselves. But what do you do when your kiddo no longer naps, or naps have become a struggle?

Incorporate a regular “quiet time” in your day, whether she falls asleep or needs a nap. When my twins outgrew their naps and no longer needed to sleep in the middle of the day, I still enforced quiet time so we could all get a break.

You see, toddlers who no longer need a nap are in that “in-between” stage. They may not need a nap, but they’re still pretty needy without it. Focusing on a task with your toddler clinging to your side isn’t exactly productive.

So, enforce quiet time into your routine. She stays in her room and can choose to rest in bed, read books, play with toys—anything so long as the activity is quiet.

This not only gives you uninterrupted time but also provides her a chance to rest and recover from the day’s activities.

If she used to take two-hour naps but no longer does, it may be a bit unfair to ask that she stay in her room for that long. Instead, shorten the quiet time, perhaps to one hour, so you still have that time for yourself. Otherwise, she might struggle to be in her room for two hours without having slept.

Get a few ideas on how to create a toddler schedule.

Toddler Schedule

4. Encourage your toddler to spend time with others

One of the reasons your toddler could be glued to your side is that she isn’t doesn’t have a habit of spending time with others.

Easy for you to say, you might think, especially when she doesn’t want daddy or cries the minute she’s with grandma.

But as exhausted from the meltdowns as you may be, don’t relent to her wishes for mama every time. This only confirms her theory that she shouldn’t be with anyone else but you.

Instead, calmly and confidently explain that daddy is bathing her while you do the dishes, or that grandma can take her to the park this afternoon. She may feel uncomfortable at first, but over time, she can learn to love these moments with other people.

Toddler Doesn't Want Daddy

5. Be where you need to be

We often find ourselves multitasking constantly, don’t you think?

When we’re with our kids, we’re thinking of scrubbing the pots or cleaning the toilet. When we’re doing these tasks, we feel guilty we’re not spending more time with our kids. Then each time we butt heads with them, we’re secretly wishing for them to be older children already and not so clingy.

What if, instead of battling these multiple thoughts and feelings, we’re 100% focused on what is in front of us?

Dedicate an hour to be with your toddler, without any work, chores, or other worries and thoughts clouding your mind. Let go of unrealistic standards you may be holding yourself to, and instead, be where you need to be in that moment.

That way, he has your complete attention and feels better equipped for independent play. This can then allow you more uninterrupted time to tend to that sink or focus on work because he’s now playing quietly nearby.

6. Do complex tasks during your most uninterrupted time

We can all agree that we lack long stretches of uninterrupted time. From the days of newborn sleep deprivation to our toddlers asking constant questions, we don’t always have hours to devote to important work.

Interruptions break our concentration. We scramble to find where we left off before we were interrupted, wasting valuable time better spent on the task.

While we may not have endless hours to ourselves, we can find pockets of time throughout the day. Take a look at where you can find the most time to yourself, then pair that with your most intensive work or task for the day.

And by work, I mean anything that requires your full attention, where you’d rather not have your toddler clamoring for your time. Maybe it’s finally getting around to calling the cable company or dedicating time to revising your resume. You’ll have better luck getting these done when you’re least interrupted.

7. Give your toddler a heads up

Tasks—even those you can’t put off for later—can often come up when you’re with your toddler. I’ve found that the simplest way to get them done is to explain the situation.

Let him know that something came up and that you’ll need about 15 minutes of no interruptions to get it done. Providing a time frame lets him know that waiting will be temporary, and giving the reason you need to focus makes him more likely to comply.

Better yet, give him something to do, preferably a new or exciting activity that requires little of your help. Then, when you’re done, devote plenty of time only to him as a “thank you” for being patient while you handled your business.

Conclusion

Getting things done with a toddler is definitely a skill to master, but not impossible.

Start by providing your young child with simple trinkets you’ve collected in a basket, ready to hand to him when you most need time for yourself. Combine play and work by including him in your tasks, from holding the vacuum cord to wiping the dining table.

Even if he no longer naps, include “quiet time” into your day to allow both of you to recharge and catch up. Find opportunities for him to spend more time with others, from your partner to his grandparents.

And finally, remember to be where you need to be—parenthood is filled with seasons that come and go. Sometimes we need to be with our kids more so than other tasks and obligations calling for us.

Yes, even if that means playing on the floor with your toddler while the dishes are piled in the sink.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Nina! My daughter will not let my husband do things for her if I am around! How do you address this? We have started small where I say I’m busy with the baby and can’t pour her milk, can she ask daddy (or if she wants it right now then daddy has to do it). But some things she throws the biggest tantrums. Do we just let her tantrum and hope that she gets tired out? I really can’t handle bad energy around bedtime so I usually just step in.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely rough on everyone if your little one insists that you do everything for her. She’s fighting an issue that doesn’t even have to be an issue, you feel burdened with having to do everything, and your partner might feel rejected and useless.

      As tough as it is to hear her tantrums, don’t succumb to her unreasonable demands, even—perhaps especially—if she throws a fit for a long time. This only teaches her that she’ll eventually get you to do things for her if she fights it long enough. And more importantly, this “confirms” her beliefs that you ARE the only person who should be doing everything for her, and not your partner or anyone else.

      Let’s say she insists that you pour her milk for her, but you’re busy washing dishes right now. Explain that you’re doing the dishes right now, so either daddy can pour her milk right now, or she can wait until you’re completely done with dishes to get her milk. Either way, she’s responsible for the choices that she makes.

      Yeah I think done consistently and often enough, she’ll accept that daddy is going to put her to bed. Maybe try being consistent for now with what he does (for instance, he’s the one that will bathe her). I’d also step out of the room or try not to “console” her within earshot so that it’s almost like you’re not there. Sometimes it’s more frustrating for her to know that you’re nearby but not with her. And I’d encourage dad to be patient even when she’s throwing a fit instead of getting angry, as this will just feed more into her reasoning why she wants you to do everything.

      It might be a difficult first few tries, but with consistency, she learns that it’s totally okay for daddy to do these tasks as well. Hang in there, mama—I know how hard it is to have a child want you to do everything. It won’t always be this way forever!

  2. Since the start of the pandemic I have been working from home. My greatest challenge is with my toddler who misbehaves badly when I am on the phone with a colleague. She think of all the naughty things to do and cries and screams, making it difficult to continue my call.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      t’s definitely rough to get interrupted during a work call, especially when kids seem to know that that’s when we DON’T want them to interrupt.

      One thing I would try to do is to see if another adult can be with her during really important work calls, so that she is less likely to interrupt. You can reserve TV time for when you need to make a phone call. Another tip is to pay her lots of attention at another time in the day, so that when it comes to your meetings, her “bucket” will feel full and she’ll be less inclined to nag or whine.