You interact with your toddler throughout the day, from his early morning visits to your bed to the last kiss goodnight. But on long, stressful days, getting in quality time with your little munchkin can be a challenge. Aim to schedule at least one activity each week that is just for the two of you: a chance to slow down, share an experience and appreciate all the things you love about one another.
Cook up a Storm
Bolster your toddler's big-kid pride by involving him in meal prep. He can help get breakfast ready any day, but when you have more time, invite him to be your helper for a special meal celebrating his potty-training success or an older child’s report card. He can sprinkle ingredients over pizza, stir together dry ingredients, make table decorations and help fold cloth napkins. Use this opportunity to teach him about kitchen safety and maybe even coax him into trying new foods, all while you dance to his favorite music and talk about how much the family will love the foods you make together.
Date Your Tot
He's messy, loud and cranky—but you love your adult partner anyway. You know that date nights keep your bond strong and spice up the monotony of everyday life. So take your little loved one on dates sometimes, too. Both of you can get all dressed up—that is, wear clothes without pudding stains—and go out for breakfast or lunch. An older toddler might be able to sit through a matinee of a cartoon flick or stay in one place long enough for a children's play. Forget about that will-he-or-won't-he worrying of your youth: This date will definitely end with a kiss.
Encourage your toddler's natural curiosity by taking him on an adventure to a new place. This might mean something as small as taking a new route to the park or visiting a different library than usual, or it could be a bigger expedition, like wandering a nature path at a state park or taking a boat tour on a nearby river or lake. Whatever activity you choose, talk it up to your toddler. Together, create a list of things you might expect to see or do on this adventure, and check them off as you go.
He can scribble in a coloring book anytime, but crafts you make together are lasting symbols of your bond. Work together to create a photo album or painting for an upcoming relative's birthday, or focus on handprint crafts—these are always sweet mementos in later years. Paint your hand with one shade of paint and press it onto a canvas. Let it dry, then cover your tot's hand in a different shade and press it over the center of your print. Make new home décor by tracing and cutting out paper prints of both your hands and stringing them together into a banner.
Jump off the Page
Story time probably anchors your daily routine already, but sometimes doing things differently will surprise and delight your toddler. Make him an active participant rather than a passive one. Try substituting your child's name for that of a character in the book, asking your toddler to predict what will happen next or using props such as puppets. Ask your little one to "read" his favorite book to you, or act out a story you've just finished using stuffed animals. Keeping a log of books you've read together will also make him feel invested in story time. Buy a blank book, and note the title of each new book you read, with an accompanying illustration by your toddler.