Building Social Skills: A Parent’s Guide to Toddler Engagement

May 21, 2024

I will be the first to tell you that you need to be aware of those child experts I’m using air quotes out there who don’t even have kids above the age of 18. Like, let’s be real. How do you become such an expert in x y z area when you haven’t been in even the thick of it, aka parenthood, for more than a hot minute.

And it seems like every influencer and large account out there kind of falls under this umbrella. But with that being said, I am about to share with you some tips that I’ve personally pieced together the last 2 years when it comes to my toddler. You can take them. You can leave them. Whatever you think is best because, ultimately, you’re the parent.

Incorporating Children into Your Lifestyle

So one of the biggest fears that I had prior to becoming a parent was that my life was going to be totally put on hold. I had these visions of, I don’t know, like, maybe walking around in a housecoat and never leaving my neighborhood and traveling, like, all the things that I’d love to do. Play golf, travel, eat out at nice restaurants, just all of it.

I literally thought I was gonna be locked up with a baby because those are just the lies the enemy tells you. But well, like, that did not happen at all. It actually went in the complete and utter total opposite direction.

I made sure to incorporate my daughter into all of the things, whether it was going to our favorite fancy restaurants, or strapping her in her stroller and literally rolling her out onto the driving range to watch my husband and me hit balls, having her on an airplane multiple times within the 1st year of life, or even attending her 1st polo match at 5 weeks old, which honestly was a heck of a lot more stressful for me than it was her because I was navigating breastfeeding her for the first time really out in public.

Anyway, not only do I think this whole experience is vital for you and your spouse so as to not resent your child or the opportunity of becoming a parent because I can totally see that happening. But it’s even more important for your child.

And I remember my husband thinking it was so silly of me to take our daughter, who wasn’t even walking at the time, to zoos or art exhibits. And he would make comments like, shouldn’t we just wait for her to be older so she understands it better? Like, what’s the point? Like, is she even gonna remember this?

But the reality is children are sponges, and they recall everything you’re exposing them to, both good and bad.

And, yes, of course, it’s no secret that you see kids out, especially at restaurants, with their noses in a tablet. And I’m not claiming to be perfect, and there have been situations where me being an ill prepared mom, quite frankly, I just didn’t have the entertainment on hand.

The Unmatched Creativity of a Grandmother: A Lifesaver in Parenting

So if my mom wasn’t there because my mom has almost 40 years of being a parent under her belt and now 2 years of a grandparent and she has 45 years of being a teacher, I would call her pretty much an expert in kids.

More than your Internet influencers. If she wasn’t around to pull, like, some random thing out of her purse to entertain my daughter, whether it was a, like, her eyeglass case or she would take the straw and make it into a knot and, like, try to teach her how to untie it.

If she wasn’t around, I was doomed. I didn’t have any entertainment. I didn’t have the ideas, right, the creativity that she had. So, yes, there were times where I would resort to giving my phone to my daughter not to watch shows or anything like that and become a zombie, but she would look at old photos, and videos of herself.

She loves it. She loves picking out the dog’s names, you know, her great aunt, her Gigi, her grampy, you know, all different activities that we’ve done with her. And it, quite frankly, keeps her quiet.

The Consequences of Over-reliance on Technology

But if we’re being honest, most of the kids that you see out there who do have their noses in a tablet, they have them because their parents just don’t wanna deal with them. It’s a learned behavior. They’ve been fresh, probably repeatedly, so they probably don’t go out often.

And then when they do, the parents just shove an iPad or a phone in their face.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s the main reason why so many folks cringe the moment they see a child come into a restaurant, especially a high end one. Because they’ve seen they’ve seen the story go down time and time before.

And the wait staff, same thing. Like, even if you have a well behaved child, they’ll put you in the back. They’ll put you by the service bar.

They’re putting you outside, you know, so that noise can get drowned out because this is a problem. And I believe in my heart of all hearts that it comes from the parents.

It trickles down from the parents. It’s learned behavior.

And I get it, okay, for those who maybe don’t have children yet. Because I have this conversation because a lot of my friends are opting not to have children, and that’s their choice. And they like to go to adults only, whatever it may be, hotels.

Some of them are like, why can’t we just have adult only air you know, airlines? I get it that it’s frustrating.

You know? Say you’re going out to eat, you’re spending your hard earned money, and then you have this loud obnoxious distraction of a screaming child at the table next to you. It ruins your date night. It ruins your peaceful time.

Like I said, your hard earned money that you’re spending to have, like, a nice evening out, it’s tarnished. But as parents, we need to do better.

We as a society, like, let’s be real. We need to have children. That’s what makes our world go round and round.

Parental Responsibility and Children’s Learned Behavior

But let’s work on having socially mature children. Let’s bring our kids out to eat, teach them how to behave, expose them to different opportunities. And when it comes to restaurants, right, like, that’s how they learn how to be patient when waiting for their food, and they begin to understand the order of things. Okay.

They’re coming, you know, with the drinks. Oh, now that’s the bread. Okay. Now everyone’s getting their salads, their appetizers.

Oh, here comes the main course. They’re exposed to live music. My kid loves live music. I don’t need any toys if there’s live music. There’s different cultures both with the people who are eating at the restaurant or the staff.

I mean, even down to the food, right, that they’re eating, whether it’s Italian, it’s French, it’s seafood, etcetera.

They see how a table setting should be set up. And as they get older, they’re learning how to interact with the wait staff, and they should be placing their own order.

I can’t tell you how many times I see kids who are at least 9, 10 years old, which come on. You’re in 4th, 5th, 6th grade at this point. And then older, it’s even worse when I see these older kids.

They don’t even pick their heads up to place their own order. Their parents are placing the order for them. Excuse me?

One of my mom’s favorite stories to tell about me as a kid because this was ingrained in me. So, like I said, like, we need to be the catalyst of change. We need to do better for our kids.

And if we have great attributes that our family has passed on, like, we need to make sure we’re reinforcing it. And then if maybe you didn’t come from this type of family, then you need to be the one who starts it.

But we were out at a very fancy restaurant in Palm Springs, and I ordered a steak, and I’m little. Like, I mean, I’m small. Like, I’m talking 5 years old. Okay?

And my mom began to cut up my steak into tiny pieces. And I turned to her, and in front of, you know, the whole table, I said to her, mom, stop it. You’re embarrassing me.

Because I knew from being out with my parents, being socially exposed, watching adults eat. Right? That you only cut one piece at a time.

Teaching Children Social Manners

It’s learned behavior. You know, my daughter is 2. And when we go out to eat and the server comes around to, say, refill the water glass, right, she’s already asking and holding out her cup and saying, more water, please.

I give her I don’t give her the whole menu because she can’t read. Right? But I will give her 2 choices that I know she kinda likes, right from the menu. And she chooses which one she wants, and then she’ll repeat it to the waiter.

Like, kinda like a lady. Hey, sir. You got it? Like, did you write that down? You’re building your child’s communication skills when you do these types of things. You’re not making them functional mutes.

Also, as a sidebar, do yourself a favor and order a main entree for your child. I remember kind of knowing that in the back of my head. But my pediatrician always enforced that with me. And she’s like, listen.

I get it. And it’s true. Like, you know, there are times where you’re out maybe at the beach or, you know, some fun place like that where, yeah, you’re just gonna order the grilled cheese, the chicken fingers, the hamburger, whatever. Right?

But when you’re going out to a restaurant, a traditional nice restaurant, you’re much better off ordering from the main menu. It’s what exposes your child to, first and foremost, healthier food options.

B, you’re expanding their palate. You’re allowing them to try new things. And you as the adult I mean, let’s be real.

If there is something on their plate that maybe they don’t like, you’ll probably eat it. But you’re probably not gonna grab the greasy fries and chicken fingers every single time you’re out to your favorite restaurant, high end restaurant.

And C, speaking of, you can bring the leftovers home for yourself or your kid the next day. It’s a win all around.

And one of the biggest tips I can give you though when you do go out to restaurants.

Especially if you don’t have a creative mother like I do with you, and you are solo or, you know, with your with your spouse and you’re kinda noobs to this whole parenting gig is to put together a special bag of toys for your child that only comes out when you go out to eat. That way the toys seem new to them. They’re fun.

They’re exciting. It’s not like, yeah, mom. Been there, done that. I’ve been playing with that for the last, like, 3 weeks. You know? And my daughter, she recognizes with this obnoxiously bright orange bag that my husband got from a company at the PGA show, I’m like, what are we gonna do with this thing? You know? I mean, I could just throw it out, but…. put said toys in there.

And she knows when she sees that bag come out, she’s going to dinner. And she knows that there are certain toys in there that she normally doesn’t have access to that she’s gonna get to play with.

And just as a heads up, I do have a link to some of our favorites in the show notes, but let’s just keep it short here.

My Amazon Must Travel Items

It’s anything that is quiet, like a quiet book or her sticker books, and something that gets her creative juices flowing. So I have a lot of activities that involve coloring and all of that.

Tips For Traveling With Young Children

Now let’s talk about travel. So my little girl has been on an airplane since she was 5 months old and has been all up and down the East Coast out to Texas, Missouri, and more. And, you know, maybe flying is not your thing. All of what I’m about to say is applicable if you’re driving in a car.

I will say one of the benefits of flying when they’re under the age of 2 is that they fly for free. But, you know, they are on your own lap. They’re a lap child.

But all of these things, no matter what your means of travel is, they’re gonna benefit your family. And I’ve done some of these trips by myself, which honestly makes you feel like a freaking super mom. K?

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Traveling solo and feeling like supermom!

I will never forget getting off the plane when I was flying to New York one time with her by myself. And I was gonna be up there for a while. So I had a lot of luggage.

I had her stroller bag. I had a big suitcase for the 2 of us, and I also had her car seat, not to mention my backpack and her diaper bag on my back. Okay? And my dad was circling and he pulled out front.

And I had her in her little pouch, like her little Joey pouch, you know, her carrier. She was that little. And I picked up the car seat. Right. I picked that up on my left shoulder.

And then I had that on my shoulder. I had the stroller, which by the way, the UPPAbaby stroller is heavy as you know what. Had that in my left hand, because I didn’t have an umbrella stroller with me because I knew I was gonna be up there for a while, and I wanted her regular stroller.

And then I had the luggage in my right hand, plus my backpack and diaper bag. K?

And I had everything, plus my child is not small. K? She was, like, in the ninetieth percentile for, like, the first 18 months of her life. And I picked everything up, and I just brought it all out to the car because I knew I couldn’t put the baby in the car without the car seat.

And I was like, I don’t wanna make all these trips in my luggage there. Yada yada yada.

And I remember this one couple looking at me like I had 5 heads and literally she’s like, wow, you’re a freaking super mom. And it made me feel so dang good. So I know it’s a scary feeling, ladies, but you are gonna feel so empowered when you do this by yourself. I promise you.

And if you’re a travel buff, hear me when I say this, travel with your children as often as possible while they’re young. Okay? Before they’re moving about the cabin. Because once your kid starts walking, life as you know it does a literal 180.

Benefits of Traveling With Young Children

And when you’re traveling, this whole experience, it desensitizes them. Right? So they are exposed to the sounds of, obviously, a ton of people in the airport, the loudspeaker, the dinging of the bell on the airplane, the loud engine noise, the, you know, the air blowing on you, the amount of people that are around them, the machines that they have to walk through.

Make sure you’re TSA approved so you don’t have to go through the radiation machine. K? You know, experiencing putting your gear on the conveyor belt. Like, all I know it sounds so mundane and so silly, but it’s true.

You’re just exposing them and opening their eyes to so many things that they’re gonna experience throughout their life. And then, obviously, once you get to said destination, the food, the culture, nature, exhibits, all of it. And we all know, not to mention.

When you’re traveling, you’re off your normal routine.

So that in of itself is a whole another adjustment that they are going to be experiencing for when they’re older. They’re not sleeping there in their own bed.

They’re I mean, unless you live in an apartment building, like, that was one of the first times my daughter had experienced elevators. You know, walking out of her room and going down the hall and going to an elevator.

And so this is setting them up being off their routine, right, is setting them up for when they go to college, when they have their careers. And yet again, their communication skills are being enhanced because they’re seeing so many new things.

And as they start to talk more and become more vocal, they’re gonna ask questions, and they’re absorbing everything around them.

And we all know that travel doesn’t come without hiccups. So teaching children that life is gonna throw softballs at them, and they are gonna have to pivot and move out of the way. And they’re gonna have to learn to be flexible and adapt. They have to adapt to canceled flights, lost luggage, you know, traffic, all of the things to get from point a to point b.

Motherhood and Business Travel – Involving Your Children

And I mentioned that I brought my daughter to both Missouri and Texas, and those specific trips were work trips.

And even though she was, at the time, so she was 5 months old when we went to Missouri. And then when we went to Texas, she was about 16 months old. I did that because I wanted to show her that mommy is working.

I wanted to have her meet my peers in the industry. And at one point, I even had her physically working out with me at one of my fitness summits. You know, my little girl sees me recording podcasts and making reels and sending voice notes, you know, getting my hair and makeup done for photos, for content, for my website, all of it.

And I wanted to show her, like, this is why mommy does what she does.

It’s not like when I’m on my phone or if I’m not playing with you with the magnatiles or whatever. Like, there’s a reason for it. I’m not I’m not dinking around looking at cat videos.

And even if she doesn’t fully understand, she can look back at the photos and then recall the memories together that we had in the future.

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3 Of My Major Tips When Flying With Your Littles

If they’re small and they’re still either nursing or bottle feeding, it is so important because they can’t understand the concept of the pressure changing and their ears popping.

So upon takeoff and descent, to help them with that whole transition, especially if they’re teething, especially if they’re teething. Hear me. Hear my words.

Make sure you feed them

Because that motion, the swallowing, the sucking, that’s gonna help make sure that their ears stay popped when that pressure changes.

And then you don’t have a child with their ears just killing them for the next 2, 3, gosh, 5 hours more, they’ll be able to be more relaxed.

And I will also make sure I put my favorite homeopathic method for teething, those drops that I swear by, in the show notes as well because I would hit her with both. I would give her the drops, and then I would nurse her.

Get the teething drops here

And not once did this child cry. And, typically, what? When they’re doing that, they fall asleep. So that’s even better. Right? So that’s my first tip.

Have special toys available

My second tip is just like the restaurant, to have special toys that they haven’t seen before they got on the airplane. Like, these are new hot things that they’re like, oh my gosh.

I can play with this for hours. And my little one loved these reusable stickers that I found on Amazon. She would put them on the window. And in her book, I’ll never forget the flight attendant was like, do those come off? I’m like, yeah, lady. Like, we think I’m an idiot.

And, yes, I get it that there are some people who only use a tablet for when they’re on a plane. I get it. But know that there are other options out there before you have to make that investment for a tablet because tablets aren’t cheap.

And unless you’re traveling pretty regularly that you need that distraction, like, you can suck it up for a few hours with all these different things.

My daughter loves listening to music, so getting some kiddo friendly headphones are a good go to option, as well as downloading some toddler friendly podcasts and story time and Bible stories.

And my 3rd tip is take pictures

Like I mentioned, my daughter loves to look at photos of us as a family and she especially loves video. And it’s another way for them to recant the memories better.

But please, as always, like, try to stay present as well when you’re traveling together. Don’t be on your phone unless you have to. And if you are gonna be, make sure it’s for these videos.

When it comes to exhibits, classes, and museums, I cannot recommend them enough.

Just today, my daughter was combing through a coloring book that we had bought her and she spotted a fish.

And she immediately shouted, lionfish. My mom and I almost fell over. She’s 2 years old. K. And I bet you most adults wouldn’t even know what that was if they were combing through the book. How does she know that? Because I’ve been bringing her to aquariums since she was a baby.

She’s seen her dad and me eat actual lionfish out at a restaurant while on vacation. Like, these kids remember everything. It’s just repeating the exposure to them over and over again.

And the classes that we have enrolled her in have exposed her to other children, which I pray will be super helpful as we enter this new season as a family of 4.

She’s seeing different ethnicities and religious backgrounds. There’s structure to the programs.

She’s listening to an instructor or coach versus her parents. And, you know, and or her immediate family. So she’s understanding that whole concept because later in life, she’s gonna have, whether it’s in sports or some kind of, you know, art talent that she may have or in school.

She’s gonna have to listen to someone else. And these places that we’re bringing her to many, if not most of the museums, zoos, etcetera, right, in your area. They’re not gonna charge you for a child that’s 2 and under.

So that’s a win right there. And I don’t want you to forget about your local library or your church either. Like, kids may not be able to read the signs.

They’re not gonna sit there and learn all about, you know, the ins and outs of what makes a lionfish a lionfish, but they’re certainly gonna recognize the animals. You know, some places allow them to touch them or feed them.

They’re gonna have fun at the science museums with the different exhibits. They’re gonna play on water tables. They’re gonna feel different textures, hear new sounds, all of it.

You might even discover a new talent or skill or passion that they may have that you can grow upon and do more of those activities at home. And I know it sounds crazy, but even the sounds in a public bathroom, I remember when we first started going out and she heard a hand dryer for the first time, she freaked. It was loud. She had never seen it before. She hated it.

And it’s like a puppy. You have to desensitize them to things to make them better in the long run. Also, low key, I have used crying or screaming kids as an example to her of what not to do. Okay?

We will literally be in Target and she’ll note a kid who’s misbehaving, and she’ll say, that baby crying. But even when she’s had her own meltdown, because it happens, she’s a little human, just like me and you, she’s caught herself and said to herself, no crying.

And a quick Google search will tell you that from birth to approximately 6 years old, your child’s brain works very differently than an adult’s does. It’s a sponge that is soaking up huge amounts of information from their environment. It’s effortless, continuous, and indiscriminate.

So I cannot stress enough. You need to get your kiddos out there. It is happening whether you realize it or not. So you might as well expose them to all of these wonderful things that will help them grow as little humans.

It will make them better, and it will help you long term. It’s hard to put the work in now when they’re little, but it’ll pay off in dividends when they’re older. And I know it’s scary at first, especially if you are by yourself doing these things.

But what makes you and your little nucleus of a family worldly is getting your children out there and exposing them to the world together.

Let’s Chat About Motherhood

I know this whole journey of motherhood and beyond can be a bit overwhelming at times. And I want you to know you’re not alone.

Sometimes we just need to talk it out and have some oral processing time with someone who understands and can help us answer some of our questions, and I would love to be able to provide that for you.

I have 30 minute motherhood mentorship calls that I offer to talk you through your questions, your research findings, your birth preferences, you name it.

So if you are interested in that, this is your time and we will customize it to fit your needs. The conversation will be all about you and what you need answered.

If you wanna get more of this type of content, make sure you follow me on Instagram at @macrowley. And if you love this episode, let me know by tagging me on IG or even leaving a podcast review. See you next week.

If you wanna get more of this type of content, make sure you follow me on Instagram at @macrowley. And if you love this episode, let me know by tagging me on IG or even leaving a podcast review. See you next week.

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