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Why won't my 1 1/2-year-old relax?
Q: My 1½-year-old boy won’t relax; he always has to be doing something. His 3-year-old sister will sit and finish a movie, but he won’t have anything to do with the TV or anything that involves sitting for a while. What can I do to get him more involved with quiet activities?
A: Melissa, it’s exhausting caring for two young children, and it’s always a relief to have some time when your children play quietly and independently. It’s good to encourage both of your children to enjoy a balance of quiet and active activities, but let’s look at what’s reasonable to expect for your son’s age, development, and temperament.

At 1½ years, most toddlers are busy trying out their new-found physical abilities. Toddlers enjoy exploring their environment through walking, running, climbing, pushing, pulling, pounding, and throwing things. They are also developing their ability to talk and communicate more effectively. Toddlers tend to crave interaction—they want you to play with them; and when they play on their own, they want you to be nearby and will look to you frequently to make sure you’re watching and helping them. Although some toddlers will play independently for brief periods and may even watch a short video, many toddlers like your son crave more activity and interaction.

You’ve also noticed differences in temperament or personality between your two children. While your daughter might have a more calm and quiet temperament, your son appears to have a more physically active temperament. Although this can sometimes be more challenging, the positive side is that your son is developing his physical coordination and strength, exploring his world, seeking out interactions, and stimulating his own development.

Here are some tips for activities for your son’s age and temperament:
  • Make sure he gets plenty of physical activity every day. Take him for a walk or to the park where he can run, climb, throw a ball, and dig in the sand. When the weather outside is bad, set up physical activities indoors such as push/pull and riding toys, soft balls to roll and throw, or an obstacle course of sofa cushions.

  • Gradually encourage more quiet playtime. Choose a couple of times during the day to encourage quiet play, such as before nap and bedtime. Be prepared to start out with interactive quiet activities such as reading a book together. Other good quiet activities for toddlers are stacking blocks and rings; playing with toy people, animals and cars; fingerpainting; scotbling with large crayons; and playing with pots and plastic containers. Over time, encourage him to play on his own for longer stretches of time while you’re nearby.

  • Don’t push TV and videos. Many children spend too many hours in front of the television and don’t engage in physical activity—this increases their risk of becoming overweight and unhealthy. By encouraging activities other than TV, you may avoid those problems with your children.

  • Get somebody to help care for the children so you can get a break. Even a couple hours of babysitting once or twice a week can really help with two young children.