10 Ways to Distract a Grumpy Toddler

Sometimes little ones get grumpy. Over time, you learn what their cries mean, and even further down the road, they start to talk and can actually tell you what’s wrong.

But other times… well, other times, you just feel like you’re at a loss. Even when they get a little bigger and have words to use, it can still be difficult for them to express more complicated emotions like boredom or frustration.


My daughter has a pretty robust vocabulary and we have been working on naming emotions lately, but sometimes she’s just plain ‘ol grumpy. At times like these, it’s helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to distract and redirect from a grumpy mood. Here are a few of my tried and true grumpy toddler distractions.
10 Ways To Distract a Grumpy Toddler

1. Build a fort.

Doing anything in a fort is more fun. I’m actually not much of a fort builder, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy to create enough novelty to distract your little one. Often I’ll just throw a large blanket over our dining room table so we can hide out underneath and play. Even just reading books or playing with cars or stuffed animals seems more exciting when you’re doing it in a fort.

2. Read a book.

Speaking of…reading a book is always a pretty good distraction for us. This obviously depends on your particular child and their enjoyment for reading, but for us it’s always been a great way to take a minute to catch our breath (both she and I) and get focused on something more constructive. Reading books about emotions during this time can also provide a teachable moment for your little one. Our current favorites are The Way I Feel and Sometimes I’m Bombaloo. I highly recommend both.

3. Take a bath.

There is just something about bath time that can be truly transformative to a little one’s mood. Even if my daughter is in the grumpiest of moods a little bit of novelty in the form of a midday bubble bath is enough to change her tune.

4. Get moving.

Sometimes when my daughter is grumpy it’s because she hasn’t had enough of a chance to burn off energy that day and all she needs to turn things around is to get moving. If I suddenly turn on her favorite tunes and dance with her in the kitchen or if we play tag in the house it can help to turn her frown upside down.

5. Break into song.

When you have a crying toddler and you’ve exhausted all your other options of reasoning and trying to calm them down, why not try breaking into song? It might feel silly, but if my toddler is in a grumpy mood and I suddenly interrupt her tantrum with a heartfelt rendition of “For the First Time In Forever” she can’t help but get drawn in by the instant distraction and it usually results in smiles.

6. Dress up.

My daughter plays dress-up pretty often, but I don’t often play with her so she always gets a kick out of it when I do. If you’re dealing with a case of the grumps, try to stop what you’re doing for a moment and run to your dress-up closet to put on a silly hat, or a tutu. When you come back in costume your toddler will be surprised and won’t be able to help but smile. Hopefully it will distract her into playing dress-up with you while forgoing that grumpy demeanor.

7. Try a change of scenery.

Kids get a bit stir crazy just like adults and sometimes a change of scenery is just the thing to turn everyone’s day around. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Take a walk to the park. Go run around outside. Have a picnic lunch in your living room. Just do something different to change it up!

8. Give your toddler a job.

This is going to sound terrible, but before I had kids I learned a very valuable lesson about parenting…from a dog training class. We were taking our dog to weekly obedience classes and I remember the trainer saying that often dogs who are misbehaving are simply bored. Give them a job and you’ll see a different dog. It’s totally the same with kids. Little ones (even tiny toddlers) LOVE helping out. Perhaps your little one is just feeling grumpy because you’ve been preoccupied with household chores that morning. Give them a rag and a spray bottle filled with water (or even just a baby wipe or two!) and set them to “work”. My daughter loves helping to wipe up messes and dust and it is a wonderful distraction!

9. Pretend with them.

A lot of parents are probably really great at doing this all the time, but I have to be honest…playing pretend isn’t really my forte. My daughter loves when I do it though, so I try to bust out my best pretend play when she’s feeling grumpy. Grabbing her favorite Minnie Mouse doll and starting up a conversation with her in Minnie’s voice can instantly divert her attention and get her involved in a world of non-grumpy make believe. It’s also good practice for me to get better at using my imagination.

10. Watch a show.

We don’t watch TV often around here, but sometimes a little down time while watching a favorite show is just what a grumpy day calls for. I try to reserve TV watching for semi-special occasions like Saturday morning cuddle sessions or days when one or both of us is in just a bit of a funk and needs to relax. This happened last week after a total meltdown. I ended up deciding to forgo our plans for the day and just have some cozy time on the couch with my girl and some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. It was just what we needed.

How do you distract your grumpy toddler?

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