Transcript: Tips For Planning Successful Outings and Activities For Toddlers

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Tips For Planning Successful Outings and Activities For Toddlers and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Many of the mums I speak with find the planning and hassle, each time they want to take their toddler out stressful and off putting. Their little one’s often unpredictable behaviour leaves many mums fearful they won’t enjoy their outings.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Going out with young kids doesn’t need to be chaotic, stressful, upsetting, or disappointing. As parents, you deserve to enjoy time with your children and the company of other families, just as much as your kids need that stimulation for proper growth and development.

If getting out the door with your toddler frustrates you then you’ll want to listen to the many pearls of wisdom this week’s guest Sharon Systad has shared. Sharon is a mom of two, an elementary school teacher and parent coach. Whether you need to pick up groceries, or hope to participate in a playdate at the park, you can anticipate a smooth activity if you begin implementing some of Sharon’s suggestions.

Helen Thompson: Hi Sharon and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m delighted to have you here and how are you going today?

Sharon Systad: Hi Helen, thank you for having me. I am having a great day. We had sunshine in the Northwest of Canada, so although it was still snowy, it brightens our energy.

Helen Thompson: I love the snow. I was brought up in Scotland and I miss the snow in Australia. We get it in Tassie (Tasmania), but. It’s not the same as the Scottish snow.

Sharon Systad: Yeah, it’s a beautiful place to be raising our kids and it’s nice to have all the seasons and the different ways to play. Although by the time you get to March, you’re getting a little bit done with snow.

Helen Thompson: Yes, I can understand that. I thought we’d start by asking you about what you do.

Sharon Systad: Certainly, yeah. So I am a mom of two boys. My little guys are six and a half and three and a half now. And I am a classroom school teacher by training. And when I had my kids, my first boy when he was around six to eight months old, even up to a year. We would go out and and people would comment about how happy he was and did he ever cry. I thought you people are ridiculous. He’s a baby, of course he cries! But we kept hearing this over and over again. And I thought, okay, we must be doing something really different if people keep expecting this baby who became a toddler to be cranky and argumentative and pushing so much and he wasn’t with us.

And so I looked at how other families were handling things, because I could see that from my classroom teaching perspective, and I could see how families were getting really kind of overwhelmed. And I often, as a classroom teacher would see this sense of like, oh, well, when they grow out of it, then I won’t have to deal with it anymore.

I don’t think that from a classroom teacher’s perspective, the growing out of it didn’t really occur the way the families expected. It often got worse. And so once I had my second child, I was looking for opportunities to spend more time with my family and not be tied to a nine to five teaching job. And so I recognize this hole in how people show up for parenting. There’s this sense of, I don’t like the stage my kids are in, so I’m just going to grin and bear it, or I’m going to complain about other people and hope that when the stage passes, I’m magically better at parenting and my kid is magically better at behaving for me.

And I want to kind of interrupt that cycle and say, no, no. If you show up differently as a parent, if you set your environment differently up for your family, you have the potential to have a better relationship with your kids. And so I really like showing up in this space to talk about the way we are with our kids and the way we raise our kids can actually be beneficial for both parties. And I’m the host of the Joyful Parenting Tribe, which is a community that comes together. My Facebook group is Raising Cooperative Kids because I really want people to lean into that, wanting to be with their kids. Not wanting to get them to the next stage or get rid of them at the next level of schooling.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, it’s interesting you say that because I come from a childcare background and I chose to do baby massage for a very similar reason to what you did. Not exactly, but I just felt that there was more I could give parents. There was so much more than just getting parents to come in every day and say, oh, my baby’s crying or my baby’s having restless sleep or I believe they’ve got colic and the doctor said there’s nothing they can do. And I just thought there’s something else. So that’s why I went down my route and as you have found out there is something else.

Sharon Systad: And I like your comment about seeing people struggling and, and wanting to give them something different. Because I had that struggle when I had my second, I had postpartum depression. Oh my gosh, I couldn’t imagine adding anything to my plate, let alone feed the baby. It was so overwhelming. And my first solution actually was sleep. And I did a lot of research to solve sleep for the kids and for myself. And that was such a struggling phase for me.

Cause I was like, what is wrong with me? I had that toddler that everybody thought was this perfect kid. The kid that makes you want to have more kids. And here I was with my second, also beautiful, also healthy, also engaging, with a different personality and I wasn’t as healthy as I had been for my first kiddo and so I had to find my way back to the strategies I had used with my eldest. I had to look for new strategies and build a bigger toolbox of how to show up as that parent. Cause I thought, I want to want to be here with my kids.

I’m glad that there’s ways that we can reach out and support people. Because that’s what I needed to do was reach out.

Helen Thompson: So that brings me to a question of what you said, you were a joyful parent. That’s what your website is all about. So it brings me to the question of what does it mean to be a joyful parent?

Sharon Systad: Oh, joyful parenting is how I show up and I pause and chuckle because I’m often video chatting with my parents because they live across the country. And usually towards the end of the video chat is when my children are done being on the video chat. And so there’s more conflict and there’s more loud noises and disruptive behaviors. And my dad will say, all right, well, we love you. We’ve had a good chat! Go have fun being a joyful parent. I kind of think, thank you, thank you. Because joyful parent doesn’t mean that I’m blissfully happy all the time and joyful parenting doesn’t mean that I have perfect children that behave perfectly joyful all the time. I think of joyful parenting as how I show up and I think of joyful parenting as how I can prepare my environment to give us more success.

Whether that’s the routines we have in the day, whether that’s the materials that I’m setting up. That makes me think of classroom teaching, being organized. In my household, I can have, the snacks are going to be successful. I can have, activities ready to go, or I can be prepared to change activities so that if I see something starting to fade, I can change courses.

I can set that environment. I can protect their sleep in terms of not scheduling things that would conflict with nap time. You know, preserving bed time, even though my boys are now three and a half and six and a half we still don’t generally do anything in the evenings, unless it’s very seasonally special.

Like the fireworks for Halloween, we will do one late night like that, but that’s not even once a month, will I break that routine? We’re going to break that routine in a couple of weeks when we travel across the country and we have an early airplane ride, but generally I’m really protecting our schedule for sleep.

So being a joyful parent starts with how I set up my environment and then it moves to how I’m going to show up because I can actually only control how I engage my kids and how I respond to my kids. I can’t control how they behave. I can keep my calm. I can take care of myself that I’m well rested. I’ve had my exercise, my water, whatever’s going to fuel me so that then when I am with them, I have the energy to be with them. I’m also looking for the good, and I think that helps in being a joyful parent, because even when the kids are having a conflict, there’s often something you can find in it that you’re like, Hey, I see you guys are trying to work that out.

So that joyfulness as a parent isn’t there 24 hours of the day. There are times when I’m exhausted. There’s times when I have come to my wits end and I’m often hungry or tired it’s usually the problem, but that’s part of the joyful parenting is recognizing my role in how I’ve showed up to this relationship and how I can guide them through it.

Helen Thompson: That’s interesting cause it’s all about teaching your children to take care of themselves, because if you’re doing that, if you’re taking care of you and showing up when you say you’re going to show up, in a space and if you’re not feeling in that space, you let them know and you take the ‘next step and you do that.

So you mentioned routines to help your babies to sleep, or just everyday routines. To me a routine is an important thing to help you calm as well as to help your children to calm because they know at a certain time of day that’s going to happen.

Is that the kind of thing you mean?

Sharon Systad: That’s precisely it. And when I look into the developmental research both as an educator in my classroom setting and when I was looking at things, when I was trying to get through my own postpartum and I was pulling in more parenting research, children really thrive on the consistency of routines because they will feel the stability of those routines.

They will feel a sense of empowerment that they know what’s coming and they know how to contribute in this space and so I really lead into those routines as much as I possibly can. Toddlers, especially but depending on the developmental maturation of children. Their routines can make or break their day because having consistent and stable timelines and activities in the day can give them that sense of security and that reassurance everything’s going to be okay. Now I’m not talking about military strict precision. So, kids really thrive on these routines and I have lived it where if I’m feeling tense about the timeline of the day, and I want to hurry things along. I might drop a piece of the bedtime routine. Oh my, nope, the three and a half year old is going to lose it and I’m going to lose the calmness of our evening. And it was to my advantage to just let everything happen in order, even if it means we’re 10 minutes later than I wanted us to be, because if I try to cut something out, he will fight that change and it will make it worse.

So when I think of the routine, I think of it over the course of the whole day. And so, for your audience, that has very little ones and up into those early toddler years, less than two, three, right? So in general, that age group is in the 13 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Now that can include their nap windows as well. So my little guy who’s now three-ish, but usually around 18 months to two years, they will be only on one nap a day. So if that one nap a day is an hour, hour and a half, then their evening window should be about 12 hours. And so I’m not a proponent of, this is a time your kids should be awake or asleep.

Instead. I think that your family should find what suits them and pick that 12 hour window and keep it. So my family is 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. That’s when we’re awake and then 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM for sleeping. And the reason I say it’s not so much about the time of day, but your window, because my sister, is actually 9:30 – 10:00 AM to 9:30 – 10:00 PM, with her little girl who’s the same age as my youngest son. And so again, their window is the same. She has an amazingly engaged child who’s well rested because they keep the window, even though it’s shuffled on around the sunshine. And so once you are awake in your day, even that will have routines, whether it’s when or how breakfast is served and whether or not the child is making the choice, you serve it and they choose it.

Whether or how you’re going outside or what you’re up to. And I look forward to chatting with you more about my Successful Toddler Outing, a tool that I have developed, because I think oftentimes when people think about doing activities with their kids, it either doesn’t go well or it extends too long into their day or there’s something that goes wrong with it.

And so it feels like they shouldn’t bother doing it. Or they’re just constantly bumping up against the challenges of taking their kids out and not knowing why it’s not going well. And I’m always preserving when we eat and when we rest and everything else fits in around that, because feeding a kiddo allows them to reboost their energy, it takes away the crankiness and our little people really don’t have that emotional regulation to be like, oh, I’m a bit peckish right now. No, no. They’re just going to shout at you that something bothered them because their level of frustration will rise and food can actually help that calm down.

Food, water, rest. Those are the big things that are gonna help them to calm. And so the rhythm of my day followed, when are we eating or when are we snacking, when are we having rests? My little one is almost ready to drop naps. So we’re calling it quiet time now, but it’s still okay after lunch and then a story and then quiet time.

And today it was a nap but yesterday it wasn’t a nap, it was just a quiet time and then he and I played and then play time and a mealtime. Because then I know what’s happening throughout the day and what comes next. And I’ve talked to people who have said, well, that’s really constrictive. I just want to live a bit more free. When you have that freedom and you go out with your kids and then they’re cranky and tired and irritable and resistant to activities, and it’s not fun for you anymore, how was that freedom playing out for you?

What I have actually found for myself and my clients, especially following my successful toddler outing tool when you know what your window is, it’s actually a whole lot more freeing because you know, within this window of time, it’s going to be amazing and successful and fun, and the kids are going to cooperate and if I get it done between these blocks of time, it’s going to be fine. So it actually becomes more freeing because you know it’s going to be successful rather than I just want to keep my dates with my friends, because what I find is when we have these babies that are super cute and cuddly and in our snuggle packs, they’re really easy to take around for the first few months and then that transition to around when they’re three to four months, they’re still kind of like, sure, mom I’ll fall asleep in the car seat or in somebody else’s arms or in your arms when you’re out. But around that time they hit that six to nine months of age, they really start needing that routine of, I sleep in my bed, I nap in my bed.

Helen Thompson: I totally get what you mean because I was thinking when you were saying that, you have the quiet alert state and you have the deep sleep and there’s another one, I can’t remember what it is. I was thinking more about the quiet alert state, because we’re talking about routine and that’s when you do the massage, when they’re in their quiet, alert state, because they’re in that peaceful, calm state.

When they’re in that quiet alert state they’re more likely to be responsive and want to engage with you and calm down with you. Whereas if you do it too late, then they’re going to be cranky so I can understand where you’re coming from with routine.

Sharon Systad: So the successful toddler outing tool is seven steps that can guide you through having a successful toddler outing and I can go through them in order and talk about them. And the big thing to remember is they’re written in order of how you would have a successful outing from the start of your day to the end of your outing.

But even if your listeners are like, arghh, that’s one that I can tweak or make a little bit better, even any piece of these tips is going to make an improvement on its own.

Helen Thompson: So what are the seven steps? I’m curious, you’re getting me excited here!

Sharon Systad: So I will say them all quickly and then I can go into them. So first is, everyone is well rested. Second everyone is well fed. Third, have your bag already packed to go. Four, engage your child to promote positive participation when you’re on your outing. Five, provide your transition warning before your departure. Six, focus on the next activity your kiddo is doing. So that you’re not focusing on the leaving or the ending, but you’re looking ahead to the next thing they’re going to connect you. And number seven, is time your return home to deliver the next meal and sleep sessions. Those are the seven.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I like the last one because you don’t want to get them overtired and overstimulated because if you do that, the whole routine will go out the window.

Sharon Systad: Yeah and we’ll talk more about that when I come back to number seven. I think it’s important for everyone to be well rested. And this is an overriding goal for your whole life. This is not necessarily going to be perfected every day. And the reason I phrase this, everyone is well rested, is because sometimes as a parent, if you have stacked too much in your evening, whether you are working a side hustle or you are caring for older children or you’re cleaning the house, or you’re feeling like when do I finally get my me time?

But then you’re staying up too late, scrolling social media or watching Netflix. It doesn’t have a clock like TV used to have on it.

Helen Thompson: And that’s not good to be watching TV before you go to bed either.

Sharon Systad: But what I find is, we lose track of time. I think about when I was a teenager. You turned on the television at 9 o’clock when the 10 o’clock news came on, you either watched the news or you turned off the TV. It wasn’t the next episode rolling over and over and over again. I have other tools that talk specifically, but how we can use our time as the adults, but for this first strategy in the successful toddler outing, everyone has to be well vested. And so adults can be well rested by taking care of themselves.

I talk about your good day started yesterday. Tomorrow’s good day starts today because it’s things that we do repetitively that overlap. And you want your children to be well-dressed. So if they had a really cranky night because they’re sick or they’ve been coughing, or there was interruptions in their sleep, you might want to tweak whatever your plans were the next day, because if they haven’t had a good sleep, they’re not going to be showing up with as much patience and tolerance.

And you’re not either. So sometimes we kind of have to make that hard choice. Second, everyone is well fed. And I think this is a strategy that probably actually made the community say that our eldest was so well behaved and must never cry because we never left the house before a meal. Eat breakfast, go for an activity, eat lunch, go for an activity, have a snack go for an activity. I’m constantly feeding my family right before a meal for an activity. And I’m always traveling with sacks, which kind of leads into have your go bag already packed. Now my husband provided our primary care for our children when I went back to full-time teaching in the classroom and he never liked the diaper bag. That wasn’t his style. So we actually have a basket, an open basket, looks like a picnic basket and in it goes the extra diaper rags and an extra water bottle and the bag of snacks and the extra wipes and could be gloves right now, or, anything that we would need, change of clothes. And that bag is already ready to go.

So actually, when we come back from an activity and the kids have settled as part of our afternoon or evening cleaning up the house, we check the go bag. Yeah, does it need anything refilled? Does it need the water bottle refilled? Did we use diapers that needs to be refilled? So that then the only thing you have to add in the morning is snacks out of the fridge. If you’re grabbing a cheese stick, you’re grabbing a yogurt drink, you’re grabbing the apple or the banana. You’re just grabbing a snack. And you know the rest of the day is ready to go.

Helen Thompson: Yes, which is good because sometimes you just need to just go and you don’t want to be thinking, oh gosh, what am I going to take? What am I going to do? And you’ve got to be organized. I like that idea.

Sharon Systad: Well, and I find that especially depending on your child’s nap window, when your child is napping a couple of times a day, like when they’re having those two naps a day, that was a lot smaller. And so you don’t want to be spending your outing window time remembering you forgot something. You also don’t want to get your outing and realize you forgot something. I have had the unpleasant experience of taking my toddler home with a poopy diaper. So having that bag just means you’re grabbing and going so that when everyone is ready, you’ve had your meal, cleaned the diapers, out you go.

And so if we reduce the steps that we can control, then that will make it smoother.

Well, rested, well fed. Step four is to engage your child to promote positive participation when you’re at your outings. And again, because I developed this for toddlers it’s obviously gonna look different for you if your little one is, I call them potatoes. We set them down and they don’t really move. You’re still gonna want to be with them and sitting and being playful, but it’s what our toddlers have that more independent movement. I’m going to go to the playground or I’m going to go up or down the slides, things like that.

That time they’re not as independent as you think they are, and you still need to be participating with them, for them to have these positive interactions on that play date. And so I really encourage parents to be connecting with their kids during these outings, so that the kids are still doing okay.

Whether you’re checking in with them socially or you’re just engaging with them so that they know that you are with them. I think oftentimes, when we do outings, it’s going to be with other people and especially for the parent, you want to have that adult contact time and you have to remember not to have the adult contact time at the expense of also being their parents, the parent of the child you brought with you. And I see that sometimes. I think that’s why outings can go badly because I have seen parents craving this adult contact at the expense of their kids. I remember really distinctly being at a playgroup setting and all the moms are on the floor and the kids are all around us and a little kid came toddling up to the mom and wanting to sit in her lap and read a book.

And she said, no, I’ve already read that book to you three times today, I don’t want to read any more, I’m here to visit my mommy friends, go play with something else. And I just thought, oh little one. Re-reading a book is an amazing skill to help your child’s development.

Number five is about providing transition warnings because your children, I mean, you talked and you’re correct. Kids have a sense of routine in their bodies. Like, oh it’s time for rest now, I’ve had little guys say, I think I’m tired. Okay. Let’s go have a rest.

But in terms of stopping an activity, they’re enjoying, that’s not something they are interested in doing. And so you have to provide them with transition. So steps five and six kind of go together to provide transition warnings and to focus on the next activity. Because what you don’t want to say to a kiddo is it’s time to leave because that focuses their attention on the not having this anymore.

So if you said it’s time to leave now, that’s probably the least successful comment you can say because they don’t want to stop. They don’t want to be told what to do. That’s going to create tension at the end of what could’ve been a wonderful activity is gonna make you feel like fine, I’m never leaving the house ever again until you’re 17, because it didn’t go smoothly. So providing them a transition warning gives them an opportunity to finish something or do something one more time that they enjoy. And it creates that clarity of the ending of the activity. So I use counting all the time when it comes to transition warnings.

It could be, you can have two more slides, or sometimes I’ll give the kid the choice. Would you like two or three more slides? It doesn’t matter what they choose. I didn’t offer them two or 10. This was still going to finish up in about the time that I need. They say it’s almost time to go home for lunch. So this is the key of focusing on the next activity. So instead of saying, it’s time to leave the park, it’s almost time to head home for lunch. Would you like me to sing? You could use Frogs On A Speckled Log, any kind of song that will get stuck in your brain and it counts down and same thing. Would you like Alice the camel to have three humps or four humps. And then when the song is done, Okay, Alice is a horse, of course. Okay, let’s go grab this, help me out. We’re heading home for lunch. The key here is if you tell them they’re going to have two more slides, if you tell them that you’re going to sing three camels, if you tell them that they can go on the timer, cause they chose two minutes on the timer. When it stops, give them time to go, because if you say, okay, you can have two more slides because you’re in the middle of a conversation with somebody, what that’s going to do is undermine your authority the next time you tell them.

Helen Thompson: Yes, I was going to say that. I’ve experienced that in the childcare and I’ve shifted now because I know that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve just got to stick your ground and be firm with them.

Sharon Systad: Time is a really abstract concept for little kids. It’s very abstract. This is why I sing down the camel. Or we count down the number of slides we’re going to have. The timer on my phone was something that I was using a bit more when my older one was getting older, because he was starting to do more with the clock. And you can watch the timer, slide down. How much more time now? So saying, okay, we’re going to leave in two minutes. They don’t know what that means.

And again, if you say, okay, I have two more minutes. Okay, two more minutes, okay, two more minutes. You’re undermining what two minutes actually is!

And you know, for your audience, that’s listening that wants to take advantage of the workbook. The workbook actually comes with a video of me talking to the tool. And the workbook includes detailed write-ups of each of these components of the tool. As well as the example timeline and the timeline that they can fill in that ask them to prompt questions, to fill in what’s their world going to be about so that they can find their own timelines and really find that successful window for these outings.

Helen Thompson: It sounds like a wonderful tool. I think I’ll look at it because I come from a childcare background, so I have an understanding of what you’re talking about. For a first time, mom, who may not know what to do how can they find out about that?

Sharon Systad: Well, two things I will share the link directly with you. It’s a link that connects to all of my coursework material, and specifically this successful toddler outing toolkit. And you can also find me on Instagram.

I show up there as a mom walking the walk beside you. I’m doing my best to raise kids with that joyful parenting heart and I have lots of materials on there whether it’s reels or videos. So Instagram, let’s go learn more.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to add for a first-time mum.

Sharon Systad: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for having me. I know that your focus is those first time mums, so I appreciate you inviting me. And my comment for first-time moms really is to be as present as you possibly can with where your kiddos are right now. You know, the cliche of the days are exhaustingly long and the months are so short.

I mean, it’s a painful cliche because it’s so true. Everyday feels like there’s so much to do and you might not make it through and you’re exhausted the whole time. And then poof, you look back and you’re posting another, like now they’re this many months old, now they’re this many months old and it really amplifies that this time is passing.

And if you can find a way to settle away from that time passage and be present. I found a wonderful app when my youngest was six months old. It’s called one second every day. And it’s an app on your phone. So one second everyday I am not affiliated, although I would like to be because it’s amazing. One second every day is an app I have on my phone, which actually will grab videos that you’ve taken and clip them together in these little compilations. So I did them a month at a time. It is so beautiful to see what you’ve done with your kiddos, how they’re developing, what you’ve enjoyed together. We have a YouTube channel, let’s go learn more and I often put these up on the YouTube channel as well as the episodes my husband makes of our adventures. That was my tip for your first time up is to find something that connects them with the moments they’re having with their children, because the time is going to pass, but you don’t have to feel like you’ve missed something if you find ways of being present in it.

And I, I love documenting, I love taking pictures and videos probably because my family lives across the country. And I always say if I don’t take pictures of my kids, they won’t exist for the family, but it ends up being really a blessing for me to have these stories and these memories like a living photo album.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, thank you, Sharon so much for that. I enjoyed talking to you and I will add all those links that you’ve given me into the show notes. So thank you for your wonderful chat and your wonderful pearls of wisdom.

Sharon Systad: Thank you, Helen. This was a wonderful time.