Inevitably there are occasions when you want to take your toddler out later than usual. Weddings, birthday parties and family meals out, are just some of the occasions we’ve attended with Erin.
By the time our babies have become todders, we’ve fully mastered the bedtime routine and have the timings and tricks down to a fine art, ensuring our sanity and marriages survive by giving them a precious few hours of toddler-free time each evening.
So, how then, do we reverse this routine when we want the exact opposite effect? I have followed some simple steps which seem to have worked quite well, I always follow this pattern when I know we have a big event coming up and I want Erin to be at her best to get full enjoyment. These steps may be obvious, or perhaps you have your own tricks – if you do, please share.
1. Move Meal Times
Either move lunch time later or dinner time earlier, ensuring that when they are out they will be hungry enough to want to eat. This helps on two scores, the first advantage is that it gives you another thing to occupy them among your bag of tricks – food, secondly if it’s a meal or there will be a buffet I like Erin to experience the new food. For example when we go to a chinese restaurant she loves prawn crackers and prawn toast, food that she wouldn’t usual get at home. Sharing a meal with the rest of the family also makes her feel involved.
2. Nap Later
Most people I know follow the nap later rule. I usually try and encourage a nap for about an hour to an hour and a half, about and hour before going out. I always try and keep a full hour of awake time before we are due to go out to give her chance to wake up and get dressed without the need to rush, minimizing the stress and maximizing the excitement – Erin usually figures out something exciting is about to happen as she is familiar with this alternate routine. This is an important point, Erin doesn’t become anxious or upset as she recognises this routine and knows that it leads to meeting family and usually lots of attention!
3. The Bag of Tricks
I include a few things in my bag of tricks. Her own bottle of juice/water. Two toys (quieter ones!). Snacks, usually chopped strawberries and grapes and a dry product like crisps or crackers. For the final stages of the evening, milky buttons and a dummy.
4. The Evening
When we arrive I’ll start by giving her the bottle of water/juice. Everyonelse is ordering their drinks and she doesn’t feel left out as she has her own ‘special’ bottle. I try and mirror what the adults are doing so that she feels involved.
I give her a bit of anything from the meal that she likes ie. prawn crackers, chips, prawn toast and give her a little ‘picnic plate’ that she can feed herself. She enjoys this as she feels independent being able to feed herself while we are having our own meal, she also displays some good manners as she copies everyonelse at the table.
This usually keeps her occupied until about halfway through the meal when I bring out her own snacks, she will usually eat quite a bit as I’ve adjusted her meals from the afternoon. Once the snacks are finished, I will give her the first toy which she’ll play with until the main meal is finished.
At desert, again, she will have a little of what I’m having – it’s a special occasion after all, and then she’ll have her buttons as a treat.
Finally she’ll have the final toy, and do the rounds saying ‘hello’ to everyone. By this time she is beginning to fade but it’s usually late anyway. If we need to, we’ll give her a dummy even though she usually only has it when she is in bed, it gets her through the last twenty minutes.
Once she’s had enough we don’t push it. We try and be quite quick to say goodbye with minimal fuss, I think this keeps her memories of the evening positive and when it’s time to stay out late again she looks forward to it.
5. The Morning After
As with us adults, the morning after usually lacks routine and we tend to muddle through gently moving back to the old routine. Erin will usually nap a bit more and be up slightly later but it’s worth it to know that she has had full enjoyment from the big occasion.
Photo by flickr user Nyx