A Toddler’s Tips for Staying Happy through a Pandemic

As we headed into January, I was hopeful that we’d soon have some good news. Instead, restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the current pandemic were extended. As we mentally braced ourselves for another month of no playdates and staying home, I realized that one member of our family didn’t seem to care. Three-year-old Joey has no clue that there’s a pandemic happening outside our little condo. As I thought about his outlook on life, I realized that I could learn from the things that keep him happy. Here are my toddler’s tips for staying happy through a pandemic.

Dig in the Dirt

At least once a day, Joey will ask if he can go outside. I’ll help him into his shoes and coat and then let him outside onto our patio. It’s a small space, but it has one thing he loves: a box of dirt. He’ll be happy as a worm with his shovel and diggers and dump trucks, pushing the dirt this way and that, until he gets cold and decides to come inside again. I realized that dirt is a bit therapeutic for all of us. He has that box of dirt to play in because we built garden boxes last spring.

A toddler's tips for staying happy in a pandemic #1: dig in the dirt.

I grew up on an acreage where we had a huge vegetable garden and several flower gardens. Since getting married, we’ve lived in rented homes in the city and now in a condo. I’ve been frustrated at the lack of things to do in our yard, because it’s maintained by a landscaping company. Our solution last spring was to fill most of our patio with two big garden boxes. The girls had a blast helping me plant our favourite vegetables—corn, carrots, peas, lettuce, celery—and then watering, weeding, and watching them grow. Oh, and helping to keep Joey from digging up our plants with his diggers.

Planting celery in our patio garden box in the spring.

Not all of our vegetables were a huge success, but like Joey, we had a lot of fun digging in the dirt. I almost wished for more weeds, because it didn’t take long to care for our tiny garden. Wheter you have your own yard, or just a tiny patio like we do, I encourage you to start a garden. In a month or two, we can start planting seeds inside to prepare them for spring planting outside. I’ve also seen creative ideas for indoor herb gardens, and of course, there’s always house plants (the more the merrier!).

Two children playing with trucks together in a garden box.

An Apple a Day

Apples, bananas, oranges—these are Joey’s favourite snacks. He went through a time when he’d eat three or four apples a day. And he’ll eat his apples—often right down to the stem. I keep the apples washed in the bottom drawer of the fridge so he can help himself when he’s hungry. If he wants a banana or an orange, he has to ask for help peeling them. He reminds me to make sure that I’m eating enough fruits and vegetables myself. Too often, like my older girls, I grab a sandwich or other carbs when I’m feeling hungry. An apple a day not only keeps the doctor away, it also helps brighten my mood.

Reread Your Favourite Book

If you’ve hung out with toddlers for any length of time, you know that they often like hearing the same book over and over again. When Sunshine was two, I’m pretty sure I had Bear Snores On memorized. Pearl likes Sandra Boynton’s Little Pookie books; one year, Lily (who often reads to her little siblings), stood up at the homeschool camp talent show and recited Hippos Go Berserk. Joey’s preference runs to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site or Roadwork, but we still read and reread these books.

A toddler's tips for staying happy in a pandemic #3: reread a book.

Rereading books to toddlers is actually great for their little brains. Rereading books can also be comforting and reassuring for adults. There’s something exciting about reading a new book and not knowing what’s going to happen; but sometimes, when we don’t know what’s going to happen in real life, it’s calming to read a favourite book with a well-known happy ending.

There is an allure to the repetition of rereading, submitting to the rhythms of a narrative, place, and characters you know well, and the familiar emotions they evoke. Rereading also has a different pace. I tear through a book on the first read, to find out what happens next, but rereading feels mellower and more leisurely, even while relearning the parts I’ve forgotten. ~ Emma Court, The Atlantic

Rereading a favourite book can be relaxing and comforting.

Over Christmas, I read The Hobbit aloud to the girls. I’ve read it several times before, so I thoroughly enjoyed rereading it and immersing myself in a world of dragons and trolls and gigantic spiders, while letting Tolkien’s rich language roll off my tongue and appreciating my daughters’ reactions to their first time through the story. Now we are reading The Lord of the Rings together and again, I’m enjoying the process of rereading one of my favourite novels.

When childhood favorites retain their magic though, they can serve as an anchor over the course of one’s life. Well-loved books stay the same even as so much else changes. That constancy can be comforting. ~ Emma Court, The Atlantic

Take a Bath

After dirt, Joey’s favourite thing is water. This is great, because often when he’s been playing in the dirt, he needs a bath. Or if he’s having a grumpy day, running a tub with lukewarm water and lots of bubbles is a great way to reset. Often, I throw in some bath salts for him, especially if its close to bedtime and I’m hoping that the bath and bath salts will help him calm down and sleep better.

A toddler's tips for staying happy in a pandemic #4: take a bath (like this toddler playing with his goldfish and rubber duckies in a buble bath).

Baths are a great way to relax as adults too. Beyond just being warm and comforting, baths can also be therapeutic and health-boosting. If the kids are coming down with a cold, I’ll often give them a detox bath to help boost their immune systems. Sometimes, the girls and I like to plan a relaxing spa day together—a great way to reconnect and recharge after a particularly busy or stressful week. If you can’t manage a bath, try having just a foot soak.

Bake a Big Batch of Cookies

Joey also loves hanging out in the kitchen. If I’m baking or cooking, he’s the first to ask, “I help you?” He loves stirring sauces or dry ingredients together for me, or turning on the mixer if we’re baking cookies or muffins. If I don’t have time to bake with him, he’s also happy to mix cheerios and rice krispies together with a selection of whisks and mixing spoons…

Toddler whipping up a batch of cheerios and rice krispies in the kitchen.

Baking can be a very calming activity. It can soothe ruffled nerves because it takes up all your attention and makes you focus on one thing. In that sense, it is meditative. You may want to try your hand at baking if you’re looking for a way to relax/unwind after a grueling day. ~ Despina’s Cafe

Baking is also fun to give away! Before Christmas, a friend of ours dropped off a huge basket of Christmas cookies. When the apple bread recipe in The Vatican Christmas Cookbook yielded two huge loaves, I gave one loaf back to my friend. Other friends have organized baking drives as a way of thanking essential workers. Cookies and other goodies were individually wrapped and then dropped off for nurses and first responders who work long shifts and could use a snack. I’ve mailed cookies to my dad and brothers. Baking is a fun, easy way to say “I’m thinking of you,” especially in these times when it’s harder to connect in person.

What has helped keep you sane and happy through this pandemic?

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