May contain affiliate links. See my disclosure page for more information.
There’s a common refrain I hear for my kids’ grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives:
“I’ve never seen such a wiggly baby!”
“Those boys sure are busy!”
“What active little boys you have!”
Yeah, I know. And while I would prefer them to be active than little couch potatoes, I have a confession to make: it’s exhausting.
I tried to be one of those moms that followed the directions and didn’t allow my kids screen time for the first two years. I was mostly successful with my oldest; not quite as much with my younger one.
All this is to say I didn’t rely on screens when I needed a moment, or to get my kids to calm down. (No judgement here if you use screen time. I don’t know that I would be as strict if I had to do it all over again. Screen time is a tool, just like any parenting tool.)
So I had to rely on other tools to occupy my kiddos. If we’re just playing around the house it doesn’t matter so much if they’re squirmy. But there are two times in particular when a wiggly baby (or toddler) is especially tough: diaper changes and getting them into car seats.
So, how do you survive as a caregiver to a wiggly baby? You’ve got to be sneaky, and conniving, and anticipate. Here’s how you do that.
Sing, Sing, Sing
One of the best things you can do to get the attention of a wiggly baby is to focus his attention on something. And few kids can resist the power of song.
Choose songs that invite participation from your child, like “Wheels on the Bus,” “Old McDonald,” and “Where is Thumbkin?”
By involving your child in the song with hand motions or making sound effects, you will distract him so that you can get him in the car seat or get his diaper changed. Just rotate your songs frequently before he gets bored and is back to squirming away from you!
Make it a Learning Activity
Kids are sponges. They love learning, and even better for you, they love to show what they know.
One of my go-to tricks when I was trying to change a wiggly baby was to ask him to show me where different body parts were. My kids would almost always settle right down so they could show me how smart they were.
If your child is a bit older, ask them to help you recite the ABCs, count to ten, or point out the colors in her room.
Make ’em Laugh
There’s no better way to get kids to cooperate than to bring on the silly. Need some ideas? Here’s what has worked for me to calm a wiggly baby and a wild toddler:
- Blowing raspberries on their tummies
- Making funny faces
- Mixing up the words to a favorite song
- Making weird noises
Toys to Distract a Wiggly Baby
Once I realized how wiggly my boys were, I got into the habit of keeping a basket of toys at the diaper changing station and in the car. Whenever he got a bit squirmy, I’d grab one of these toys to distract him so I could get his diaper changed or strapped into the car seat.
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Puppy’s Remote: My mom got this for my older son when we flew across country to visit her for the first time. She couldn’t believe how much he would flip and flop whenever we tried to change his diaper.
I admit that I was resistant at first to introducing electronics into his life. But that resistance quickly melted away when I was able to change his diaper quickly and stress-free while he was playing with it. I began to realize that electronics for kids aren’t terrible. They’re a tool that can really help out sometimes!
I ended up getting one for my other son as well. Even at four my older son would still pick his up and play with it periodically. They’re great for car rides too when the kids start to get bored and fidgety.
Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Snap-Lock Caterpillar: If you don’t want to use electronics to tame your wiggly baby, this snap and lock caterpillar is a great alternative. It’s cute, happy face and bright colors are appealing to babies and toddlers. My wiggly baby loved that it was as wiggly as he was! It also helps to develop fine motor control by encouraging kids to put together the pieces in any order they wish.
Lamaze baby toys: I love pretty much everything by Lamaze. Jacque the Peacock was my older’s favorite while Freddy the Firefly was for my little one. They’re so interesting for babies to explore: mirrors, black and white geometric patterns, bright colors, crinkles, and rattles. All these textures, patterns, and colors keep your wiggly baby entertained so you can change a diaper, get them in the car seat, or maybe, have a moment or two of quiet.
Rubik’s Cube: This is a bit better for toddlers whose hands are a bit bigger. Your little one isn’t going to solve the puzzle of course, but the bright colors and ability to move the blocks around is fascinating for busy hands and growing minds.
Water Ring Game: Remember these? They’re a great distraction for wiggly babies. These regularly traveled in my purse when we were trying to keep a rambunctious child quiet in church. If your child gets frustrated easily though, this may not be the best choice.
Kaleidoscope: I remember loving kaleidoscopes as a kid, so we bought this for my older son for his second Christmas. He loved looking at the patterns and colors. In addition to being a distracting toy for when you’re trying to change a wiggly baby or get them in a car seat, they’re also good calm down toys. If your child is getting frustrated by something or you sense a temper tantrum coming on, introduce this calming toy to help your child regain control.
Other tools to distract a wiggly baby or squirmy toddler:
- Baby mirror
- Kitchen utensils like basting brushes, rubber spatulas, or plastic measuring cups (stock up at the dollar store!)
- Crinkle books
Obviously, adjust these recommendations based on your child’s age and interests.
Surviving a Wiggly Baby
Wiggly, active babies and toddlers are tough. There’s no getting around that. They’re exhausting, which means you need a whole bunch of tricks up your sleeve to keep baby distracted while you change his diaper, get him in the car seat, or run an errand or two.
And unfortunately, it’s not enough to have the tricks, you need to constantly rotate them before baby catches on and gets bored again. After your child has played with a particular toy for awhile or you’ve been singing a song for a day or two, rotate it out and introduce something new.
Is this plan foolproof? Unfortunately not. No matter how many distractions you throw at him, sometimes your baby is just going to wiggly and squirm. But will these tricks help more often than not? Absolutely. Good luck taming your wild child!