Happy Tuesday: How to Store Toys in an Expedit/Kallax Shelving Unit

OK, this is a totally random recommendation today, but I’m honestly so excited, after years of pondering this issue, that I have to share. I have finally figured out a good way to store toys in our IKEA Expedit shelves. Years ago when I was in a studio I bought two 5×5 Expedit shelves, and they’ve held up through multiple moves. I could never quite figure out how to store toys in them, though — the shelves are too deep to put little toys in (they get lost) and not wide enough for big toys like Tonka trucks. I’ve tried to store toys on the shelves in clear plastic shoeboxes, but those were a poor use of space.

We finally placed a massive order at Walmart for locking storage bins (our littlest one enjoys grabbing any toy he can find and throwing/hiding them anywhere he can get to, so our previous open toy storage situation was NOT working) and OH MA GAH some of the bins fit the Expedit perfectly. IKEA still makes the shelves but has renamed them (with some modifications) the Kallax series — I will note that if you have the space, a tall tower like this one (1×4) is excellent turned on its side as a toy bench for toddlers. Anyway: the two sizes of bins that fit the best are the 15.5-qt. latching boxes (sold in sets of 4 for $17.88, pictured above with the blue latches) — you can stack two in an Expedit shelf — and these bigger 24-qt. latching boxes (buy one for $6.47, or 4 for $22 pictured above with the green latches). You can fit at least one clear shoebox inside the 15.5-qt. boxes and 2 or 3 in the 24-qt. boxes for further organization/subdivision of blocks or whatever.

(Why yes, I do go insane with my label maker, thank you for noticing.)


  1. I love the Kallax. I searched and searched for a dresser that would fill a long space and would hold a tv and a 2×4 Kallax with boxes was the best and cheapest solution.

    I’ve got a 5×5 in the living space (books, games, decorative items, and pretty cooking stuff that doesn’t fit in the cupboard- the tajine and brightly coloured dutch oven), 2×4 in our bedroom, and am going to get another 2×4 for the hallway to give us some more storage.

    You can buy feet for them (from Ikea and elsewhere) which I think makes them look a bit more polished.

    • I love the Kallax, too. We used a 2×4 one (with hacked legs from an IKEA bathroom vanity) as a changing table, and now it’s a bookcase/toy storage. Love the idea of using one for open kitchen storage so pretty things could be displayed.

      • It was partially necessity (tiny cupboards) but it is quite nice and cheerful and is better than climbing to the back of the cupboard and breaking glasses in the process.

  2. UGH I forgot my pumping bra at home. Is there some sort of hack I can use to not sit around holding two bottles and staring into space? Bonus points if it uses commonly found office items.

    • I think I’ve heard of rubber bands or hair ties looped together around the flange and the other side hooked to your nursing bra clasp (if you happen to be wearing one. You might be able to rig it to a regular bra with the cups pushed down). Or maybe you could loop a string of rubber bands around your neck like a scarf to hold them up? I’m sure not comfortable for the long haul but could do in a pinch. Good luck and solidarity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten a critical part of the pump.

      • Ah thank you, that should work! I am wearing a nursing bra.

      • Meg Murry says:

        Yes, here is a link with photos from Kellymom. I wouldn’t trust it to go 100% handsfree, but at least enough to be able to have a loose hold (or one arm across both when you need the other hand).


        But yes, I also agree with closing your eyes and zoning out or watching a video on your phone instead of trying to be productive while pumping and potentially spilling milk.

    • I once cut up my spare set of tights and fashioned it into a back-up bra / pump holding thingy.

      • This kind of McGyvering is exactly what I was thinking as I looked around my office and saw three pairs of shoes but not much else that would be useful.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would just hold the bottles and nap sitting up. Or watch an episode of a show on your phone.

      • OK, this is a great idea. If only I could sleep sitting up…but I most definitely can watch an episode of 30 Rock.

      • Momata says:

        This. I’d get more frustrated trying to magyver a poor solution and it would take longer than just pumping and relaxing. Enjoy a little break. Lord knows we all need one.

  3. Lyssa says:

    I love the idea of a regular “Storage Tuesday” or “Kid-Clutter Management Thursday” or whatever sort of day on this theme. I’m always looking for better options here.

    • Anonymous says:

      yes – please make this a thing!

    • +1. Same here. I LOVE this feature.

      Kat – can we get some ideas on storing various kid stuff? I’m currently wondering about books. We have approximately 50 million of those super thin Scholastic type books that slide off a stack and don’t stand up without heavy duty bookends. I allow books in bed (as long as they’re quiet) so I want to keep these accessible, but those open-face shelves hold like 10 at a time and they’re forever a mess in the bookshelf. Ideas??

      • Magazine holders! I bought a few for my son’s room and they work perfectly for this purpose.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is genius! I’m going to do this with my daughter’s – maybe organize by type – Curious George in one holder, Fancy Nancy in another etc

          • layered bob says:

            brilliant. I’m sending the nanny out to get some magazine holders today and will fix our book problem tonight.

        • NewMomAnon says:

          Magazine holders are great! I also used those wooden Ikea spice racks and screwed one to the side of my kiddo’s bed so she can use it as a little book shelf. Works well for the Scholastic/Little Golden Book things.

          • The magazine holder idea is BRILLIANT. And I wish I could use the spice rack thing, but we have way too many books for that, and my kids are climbers. Those would be rock climbing holds the very first night.

    • +1 There are of course one hundred million IKEA hack websites and blogs, but I like the idea of a tried and true, mom-focused storage segment. I could scour the internet forever and never find the nuggets of info that come out on this s i t e and the comments!

      • Right? Pinterest seems to assume I’ve got ages to DIY and loads of storage space.

        • The more I got into exploring organization hacks on Pinterest, the more I realized that some people really over-complicate some of this stuff. Sometimes, the simplest solution really is best. A complicated system that only I can follow is a no-go. And don’t even get me started on the DIY aspect.

        • BTanon says:

          Yup, this exactly.

    • That’d be wonderful. I’m looking at my pile of handmedown baby clothes and pinterest inspiration assumes I have a nursery or a big dresser or some sort of extra storage in my small flat.

      • I use the giant Ziploc bags to store clothes. You still need space to store but it helps corral them at least.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is what I do. I find it so satisfying to vacuum a huge pile of baby clothes down to a reasonable size. I also use them for travelling when I want to minimize how many suitcases we take.

      • Anonymous says:

        We stored these in cardboard boxes or plastic ones under my son’s crib until we had to lower the bottom too much for them to fit, at which point they became a stack in the corner. An underbed bin would fit though.

      • Ooo that’s smart. We have a closet and a room for baby, but it’s currently housing other clothes of ours. Husband has two dressers full of stuff, and I have most of the closet. I realized we need to just rotate our stuff seasonally rather than using every available closet in the house (lol) but was struggling with a way to keep it in the attic reasonably – I think ziploc + vaccuum + giant plastic totes could work.

        I started looking at “attic storage solutions” and similarly fell down the Pinterest rabbit hole…. hacking IKEA free-standing closets and all that jazz. Which, how does one even set that stuff up in an attic?

        • This seems like SO MUCH WORK to me to rotate clothes every season. I feel like this suggestion works for south Florida or SoCal or something where they don’t have 4 seasons and definitely not 4 seasons in one day.

          I’m in Chicago and it was 70 degrees this weekend. In February. Just a few years ago, we had multiple feet of snow in Feb. Being able to mix and match short sleeves and spring jackets and sweatshirts was perfect, having to dig through the attic for the 4 people in my house means we’d STILL be looking for someone’s hoodie.

          I just try to limit the number of pieces so the whole year’s clothes can fit in one closet per person. That’s super hard with 4 seasons and then having to do work/ school vs weekend/ play vs workout/ sports, plus the various shoes and coats, but we’re pretty close. I’d go crazy otherwise.

          • Sarabeth says:

            I live somewhere with four very distinct seasons and I do seasonal rotation. I think it actually think it makes more sense in this climate. Yes, there are two days in winter that are warm, but not so warm I can’t wear jeans and a tee shirt. Meanwhile, I will go all summer without wearing my wool sweaters, so it makes sense to put them away.

          • AnonMN says:

            I live in a place with 4 seasons, and only rotate the really seasonal stuff 2x per year. So in the fall I put away shorts/tanks/summer only and bring out sweaters/cords/warm wintery gear. Same (but opposite) in the spring. I feel like this gives me a little extra space, but also ensures that I am cleaning out some of my closet atleast 2x yearly.

        • Anonymous says:

          As a semi-hoarder living in New York, going vertical is my best storage tip. Install extra shelves on top of your closet shelf and a second rail below the main rail – that space can be PACKED from floor to ceiling. No bed should be without stuff under it – there should be no room for monsters! Underbed storage bins can often go under a couch. Books can be stacked 2 rows deep on your bookshelves! Install extra shelves between the shelves under sinks (sinks without vanities underneath are NOT ALLOWED)! Pot racks hanging from the walls/ceiling in the kitchen! Use the space above kitchen cabinets and hang extra shelves on the wall if needed. I get so angry when watching home shows with people living in giant suburban houses who complain about no storage space – amateurs!

          I used to rotate clothes 2x a year just because I didn’t have room in my dresser or closet hanging space to store them all. Extras would get stuffed in a large plastic bin stacked on top of the high shelf in my closed. It was a PITA to get down, so I didn’t do it more than I needed to. I didn’t enjoy it but it worked.

          • Ha, this is such a good point. We’ve gotten soft. Everything in our current giant suburban home used to fit in our 1000 square foot apartment in the city.

        • These are awesome tips! I was planning to rotate 2x a year. But I also see that throwing everything away can be magical. And that we have a lot of under-utilized vertical storage space, for sure.

      • Anononymous says:

        Under couch sweater bags. Normal sweater bags are 6″ tall, but Container Store has some that are 3″. Future baby clothes live under the couch.

        (Also they should just give every woman a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up at her first OB appointment, since the real answer to how to store baby stuff is Throw Everything Else Away.)

    • EB0220 says:


  4. So thanks all for the ideas for getting my two year old to sleep without me. I went and bought her a VERY EXCITING giant cat stuffed animal saturday to replace me, whose job it would be to sleep with two year old. Brilliant idea! I still believe that! Well, it backfired. Now, 2-year old, Mama, noodle to keep 2-year old in bed, and giant Cat are all sharing a twin bed! It’s getting pretty cozy and I got punched in the face several times last night. Oh well. It was a good idea!

    On the plus side, 2 year old loooves her new stuffed animal and even had us do a photo shoot of her and cat last night!

    • Anonymous says:

      Does she wake up if you slide out? I often remove myself from the bed while keeping a hand on toddler’s back/belly, use other hand to slide stuffed toy or pillow into my place. Then remove hand slowly and make my escape.

      • We actually can slide out but she wakes up and (at least behaves) terrified in the night when someone isn’t there. So I just stayed with her last night because I thought it would be more restful than the back and forth. This was wrong!

    • Anonymous says:

      Why not say that if Mama is in bed, cat can’t be? Either Mama or Cat?

      • I’m going to try harder on this tonight. Last night she very carefully arranged all three of us in a row with “Mama too! Mama too!” as the repeated refrain. I actually kicked Cat out at around 3 am :)

        Also I may just put my husband in charge tonight.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      Kiddo went through a phase in which she wanted mama in bed with her every night. I found that if I slid out of bed, she would wake up alone in the middle of the night and be really scared. Instead, I fought the battle before she went to sleep at night; I started by sitting next to her bed while she was falling asleep, and then moved a bit further away, and now I lay on the daybed in her room while she’s falling asleep. It means you have to put up with some sadness at bedtime with each transition; my kiddo really, really objected to it but calmed down eventually.

      Unfortunately, I still sleep on the daybed in her room (a trundle would work too) because if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she’ll go right back to sleep if I’m there. If she wakes up alone, I’m looking at half an hour of reassuring her so she’ll go back to sleep.

    • Anonymous says:

      My younger brother used to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor by my parents bed. (With the 3rd child, I think they just gave up on a lot of rules). This seems to have worked okay although I do remember one morning finding my Dad in bother’s bed, mother on couch, and younger brother sleeping peacefully, spread-eagled, on my parent’s queen sized bed. He was about 4. It was my job to walk him across the dark house to their room in the middle of the night.

  5. I have two kids’ clothing questions:
    1) Have any of you bought clothes from Primary? I love the concept but I’d like to know more about quality, durability, and sizing. It seems a tad pricey for very basic items, but I’d be willing to order if the quality is better than the Carter’s/Oshkosh/Gymboree/Children’s Place stuff I buy. I don’t need to build an entire wardrobe out of Primary, but I like the range of colors and could see them as good filler items.

    2) My 2-year-old girl is getting holes in her leggings from playing in our daycare’s outdoor classroom. Other than jeans, what are some good non-knit options for little girls? It was a lot easier to find chinos and rugged stuff for my boy. (This is such a pet peeve of mine. Even little girls’ fashion is more about looks than practicality. I love cute stuff, too, but there is a time and place!)

    • Why not just buy the chinos for your daughter to wear at daycare? They won’t be as tight fitting, but a looser fit might be comfortable. They usually come in navy, which looks cute with pink, in my opinion. Also, I think the new cat and jack line at Target has thicker sweatpants for both girls and boys.

    • mascot says:

      Kohls and Childrens Place were my go-tos for boys daycare clothing. Childrens Place should have toddler girls chinos. You could probably get iron-on patches for the knees.

    • Anonymous says:

      I just buy from the boy section at Old Navy. They have pants where you can roll up and button the bottom. They are lined as well with cotton so nice and soft. I tend to buy a lot of navy ones so the dirt doesn’t show. Old Navy also has stretchy girls jeans that my daughter likes because they are close to leggings but denim material so more durable.

      Haven’t bought from Primary because they don’t ship to Canada (boo!) but I love the concept as I am so sick of all children’s clothes being so gendered. I don’t want to have to buy an entirely different wardrobe for my younger son. I miss the 1980s when a red t-shirt was just a red t-shirt (as in ‘Red is Best’).

    • I’d never heard of Primary, but that stuff looks so cute! It seems like yes, you could get similar items for less at Carter’s but I think it’s the idea that it’s all in one place and you don’t have to sort through non-basic items for what you want? Plus the range of colors as you mention.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      Don’t tell kiddo’s dad, but I’ve been known to shop for pants in the boys department for exactly this reason. Also, Old Navy sells (girls) corduroy pants that might work. And H&M’s sweatpants wear like iron.

      • AwayEmily says:

        Yes! H&M’s kid clothes are shockingly durable. My daughter’s H&M clothes (received via hand-me down, so they’ve already gotten one run-around) have held up incredibly well — better than Carters/Old Navy/Gap; more like Hanna Andersson quality.

    • layered bob says:

      We love Primary. I appreciate that they make an effort at ethical production and that none of the clothes have glitter, words, or logos. All the colors work together when my kids pick out their own clothes.

      I also definitely buy my daughter boys’ pants, especially sweatpants and chinos.

    • bluefield says:

      I bought from Primary and their sizing was all over the place.

      Second the idea that you should just buy boys’ pants for your daughter. There is no such thing as boy pants and girl pants. There are just pants.

    • The Children’s Place in my town recently closed, but I’m happy to see these woven joggers on the website!


    • Sarabeth says:

      I like the quality of Primary, although I buy 95% of my kids’ clothing from consignment shops, so Primary seems expensive in comparison.

      My daughter wears fleece sweatpants almost every day in the winter. They don’t get holes.

    • Momata says:

      Target’s Cat & Jack joggers. They look like 1980’s sweatpants, so I cringe a little bit every time my daughter wears them, but they hold up much better than leggings and are also warmer. I figure she’s got the rest of her life to sacrifice comfort for fashion.

    • Butter says:

      Looooove Primary. 95% of my kiddo’s wardrobe is from there. Love that there’s no logos or prints or gender-based designs. We often buy in bulk as the prices per piece go down when you buy 3 or more. I’ve also scored a bunch of stuff on their occasional sale, including one last week where items were $5. Everything has lasted for us, but he’s small so it doesn’t get a ton of wear and tear (yet).

    • EB0220 says:

      We buy from Primary often. My oldest is super picky about the softness of clothes, and Primary’s are very soft and feel nice against the skin. A few years ago, I went to a policy of neutral bottoms only – that way the kids can pick out their own clothes. We have many pairs of their leggings. The older pairs are still going strong and we keep buying new pairs. We are also very happy with their pajamas and dresses. I do agree that the sizing is all over the place, so that can be a challenge. Also, I thought their shorts fit strangely so we typically don’t buy shorts from them.

  6. Good news: I just accepted an offer at my first post-law-school real job! Looking forward to moving back to the Midwest and to be doing work that I’m really, really, excited about.

    But of course it’s not as easy as that… We’re not moving back just yet because of my spouse’s job situation and we will be temporarily relocating to NYC for an academic year (he’s a visiting professor type) while I work out of my firm’s NY office. Any suggestions on finding temporary (Sept-May) day care and housing in NYC? Especially on the east side of Manhattan? He is not teaching in NYC so faculty housing is not an option, sadly. There seem to be a ton of options and a lot of waiting lists.

    • Anonymous says:

      How old is your child? You might be able to get a combination of preschool and a college student part-time nanny to expand your options beyond full time daycare centres.

      • He will be 2 years and almost 9 months old – just a few weeks too young for preschool where we live now, but I should check the age requirements of preschools, too. That would expand the options. Good idea, thanks!

    • Anonymous says:

      Housing: find a June or July 1 lease, and just bite the bullet on the extra month or two. August 1 is by far the most expensive time to start a lease. Or, find Sept 1 or Oct 1. As far as actual apartments, well, do you know NYC? It’s gonna be crazy expensive. Consider one of the boroughs. Upper East Side (UES) will run you easily $3k/month for a 2-bedroom.

      • I think we can do September 1 or later, so that’s good to know. I can’t leave my current job until then anyway, so that’s a plus I guess. I know NYC a little bit – well enough to know that I’m getting into crazy high rents on Manhattan. I will look into Queens as I’ll be working in midtown, but I’m really trying to minimize our commutes given that the expense will be relatively short term, and spouse will be taking a commuter train to teach. I think Brooklyn would be prohibitively far?

        • Anon in NYC says:

          If your husband is teaching on Long Island, don’t forget that he can get most (not all) LIRR trains at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. If he needs access to Metro North, Long Island City could be an alternative.

          • Thanks! Had forgotten about LIC – we have friends in Astoria so I always think of that as my only option.

        • Anonymous says:

          Also look at Sunnyside

        • BTanon says:

          The E and F trains run express in Queens until they hit Manhattan, so they’re really efficient for getting to the east side of Midtown. Commute may not actually be worse vs. living on the UES depending on your proximity to public transit on either end of the trip.

    • Anon in NYC says:

      Congrats on the job!

      In terms of daycare/preschools, you can definitely find preschools that follow an academic year rather than a full-year schedule. Here is a list of parenting groups in the NYC area – some of them may be helpful for locating daycares/preschools, although there might be other ones not included on this list. http://www.parkslopeparents.com/Local-Organizations/other-parenting-groups.html.

      In terms of apartments, you can negotiate a shorter lease period than 1 year, although it will be more expensive on a monthly basis. You might want to consider getting a 1 year lease and then trying to sublet the apartment for the period where you’re not going to be living there (although that will depend on your lease terms, etc.). You probably won’t be able to sign a lease until 30-60 days out from your lease start date, so just know that going in (the uncertainty is frustrating!).

      If your husband is not teaching in NYC, is it an option to live outside of Manhattan? It might make the preschool/apartment search a little easier.

      • Thanks! This is great info. I was wondering if there was an equivalent to the NPN website for Chicago and here it is!

        As for the not Manhattan question – this is the eternal money/time dilemma. I was hoping to be a 20 minute subway from work and somewhat close to the Harlem 125 station for my husband’s commute. I will be working pretty long hours and so want to maximize kid time. Which makes Manhattan (especially UES or East Harlem) the obvious choice, but at a clear premium rentwise and probably more competition for childcare.

        • Anon in NYC says:

          Another suggestion, if your husband has to be at the Harlem 125 street station, is to consider White Plains. It’s outside of the city but it’s approximately 40 minutes to grand central (and occasionally as quick as 35 minutes during peak hours). I believe there is a Bright Horizons in (or very near) White Plains and you can get a lot more space for your money.

          • Anonymous says:

            In White Plains, Bright Horizons is the super expensive option. Check out Childrens Corner instead.

  7. greedy kids? says:

    My 3 1/2 year old pitched a fit when we wouldn’t buy him a toy from the aquarium gift shop… which they make you go through to exit the building, ugh … and other than “you have plenty of toys at home and you don’t need any more,” I was struggling to articulate for him how it’s not good to be greedy. Any recommendations for books/ shows that deliver that message to the preschool set?

    • I’m not sure that a kid that young understand the concept of “greed” – it’s not likely he wants to accumulate toys just to have them, but rather he sees something and feels an impulse to have it. So, focus on the impulse control, and not always getting everything you want when you want it. For instance, if he asks for a treat and it’s right before dinner, hold firm that it’s not time for a treat now. Relate that experience to buying toys – buying toys is for special occasions like birthdays, not anytime you want it.

      • avocado says:

        This is a great approach. I also make a point of telling my kid when I am exercising impulse control. “Wow, this mug is really cute, and I would really like to have it. But we have a nice set of mugs already, so I am not going to buy it.” or “These are really nice shoes, they fit perfectly, and my old ones are getting worn out. I am going to watch for them to go on sale and then buy them.”

    • avocado says:

      My kid had a postcard collection at that age, so I could preemptively steer her towards the postcard rack in any gift shop situation. Whenever she got interested in other stuff, I would say, “Wow, that’s neat! Let’s go pick out your postcard now!”

      Once we started giving her an allowance, she had to start buying her own souvenirs. Her dad gets mad whenever she buys a souvenir instead of saving her money, but my position is that she needs to learn how to manage her money now while the stakes are low. She still sometimes wastes her money on stupid overpriced junk that just gets thrown out six months later, but she has also managed to save up for a long time for some larger items and is learning to prioritize and understand the tradeoff between instant gratification and long-term priorities.

      Another strategy that helps is limiting the space dedicated to souvenirs. Our kid has one plastic tub for souvenirs, party favors, and other junk, and one fabric bin for stuffed animals. When those containers fill up, she has to go through them and purge unwanted items. Whenever she wants to buy a new stuffed animal or a souvenir, she has to think about whether she has space for it and whether she is willing to get rid of something else to make room.

      • NewMomAnon says:

        Have you seen the piggy banks with three slots? The ones I’ve seen are labeled “Spend, Save, Give.” The theory is that you give your kid an allowance and one part has to go in each of save and give (i.e., charity). They can use the rest however they want. I’ve usually seen it with little kids who $1 allowance in quarters, or $4 allowance in singles. They then have to put 25% in each of save and give.

        I think it grew out of the evangelical tithing practice, so you might find some pretty religious information if you google it. But that’s my plan when kiddo is old enough for an allowance.

        • avocado says:

          I have seen this before as three envelopes, which is a great idea but we haven’t implemented it. The kid usually has something she is saving up for, and that is usually enough to keep her from spending money on random stuff all the time. The problem is that her allowance is tiny ($5/week) and most of the stuff she wants is in the $50 – $100 range, so if she weren’t saving most of her allowance she’d never reach her goals. If daddy had his way, she’d just save it all and never spend anything. I’d like to raise it to something like $10/week and start splitting it into spend/save/give.

          • NewMomAnon says:

            I think at some point my parents started doing allowance once a month, probably so they didn’t have to remember to have singles in their wallets every Friday.

          • Anononymous says:

            Don’t know where you live, but when I got to be ten or so, my parents pegged my allowance to slightly more than the cost of a movie ticket. Going to the movies once or twice a month with friends in middle school was a huge deal. If you want to raise her allowance, you can always try pegging it to an external factor (movie ticket price, cost of lunch once a week, etc.) Then you and husband don’t have to argue about it.

      • I love the space idea! I definitely do not want my house taken over by kid stuff.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure about teaching how not to be greedy, but my technique in this situation is to say, we’ll put that on your wish list. This really appeases my son, possibly because we put a couple things on his wishlist 2 days before Christmas and Santa magically brought them. But I’ve used it year-round.

      • Anonymous says:

        +1. Also, telling your child you’ll write it down (and then ACTUALLY writing it down) goes a reeeeeaaaaaaallly long way in convincing your child you understand how much they want the thing, and that while you’re not buying it for them, you’re also not ignoring them.

    • Tired Mommy says:

      Use the idea of a Wishlist. Worked like a charm on my three year old. Oh, you really want that? Let’s put it on your wishlist. Then write it down and draw a picture. Keep it handy and add to it as necessary. My son carried it around for days, and often refers to things on his wishlist, but is satisfied without having to actually purchase the items. Bonus, you actually have an idea of what they want when it does come time to buy a toy/gift/present.

      • Tired Mommy says:

        Didn’t see Anonymous @ 12:22 right above. +1 to what she said.

        • reading and photos to distract from greed says:

          I may be too late for these tips to be helpful, but here goes: We read “The berenstain bears get the gimmies” and talk about how treats/toys are rewards and must be earned. I only ever buy my 3.5 year old books when we are together. I also offer to take a picture on my cell phone of him holding the toy he wants- and promise to tell Santa or save it as an idea for his birthday…. Then he can look at the picture on the way out… Seems to distract him enough before he sees the next shiny, new object of desire. good luck

  8. Those of you with toddlers and a nanny/au pair: Do you plan activities for them to do during the day, or is that part of their responsibility? Does the caregiver have a general schedule/routine like a daycare does?

    • FTMinFL says:

      Our nanny plans activities herself. This is not her first nanny job in the area, so she is familiar with scheduled activities at the Children’s Museum, libraries, aquarium, community center, zoo, etc. After a week or two they settled into a pretty good schedule based around nap needs that includes getting out of the house at least once per day. Now that kiddo only takes one nap, they usually go to a more structured activity (e.g., space day at the Children’s Museum) in the morning, then the playground after nap to run off more energy. I hope that helps!

    • Katala says:

      Our nanny did not plan any activities and rarely left our building, which was a big factor in our decision to put him in daycare. This is something we would screen for in the future. Not just excursions, but also activities to do at home. She would do things if we did all the set up. I would prefer more initiative – we are happy to purchase supplies or pay if the nanny were to do the shopping, but the mental effort of coming up with everything ourselves was too much.

  9. Running Numbers says:

    What do you do when the words and actions of grandparents don’t align? My dad and stepmother have been making remarks about how much they would like to watch my 17 month old son. We have three sets of grandparents all within a 15 minute drive of our house, and the other two sets of grandparents both watch him regularly or semi-regularly. In 17 months, my dad and stepmother have yet to watch him and I think they’re hurt because they know he gets a lot of time with other sets of grandparents.

    The problem is, they do not engage with him when they are around. My son sees this set of grandparents maybe once every other week and the visit is always the same, they sit down and let him run around while they chat with me. Over the weekend, they came over and we were outside, as we should be when it’s 70 degrees and sunny instead of 30 degrees and snowing in February. We were outside with plenty of toys for Son to play with and that they could have used to play together. Instead, they found chairs and sat down. Every visit, my husband ends up entertaining my son while I talk to the grandparents. During this visit, my son saw his best neighbor friend outside and wanted to play. If his grandparents were actually spending time with him, I would’ve stopped that but the fact of the matter is they were just sitting there making small talk and so neighbor friend came over. Grandparents then made comments about how he would rather play with his friend than see them.

    I do not understand the inclination to come “visit Son” and then sit on a couch or chair and wonder why they’re not connecting. He is a very active, busy 17 month old. He can’t sit and have a conversation. Physical limitations are not the issue. My dad has run several half marathons over the last year and my stepmother bikes with some regularity. Additionally, we have an open door policy to never say no when a grandparent wants to visit but they come by relatively rarely, and when we do need something, they’re nowhere to be found. We recently had the stomach bug visit our house and when I mentioned that it was a rough week I was told, “Well, I don’t want to get the stomach bug! Let me know when you’re healthy.”

    One other layer of complexity to this is that my dad moved away and met stepmother on the other side of the country when I was young. They lived 300 to 3,000 miles away for most of my childhood. They came back to live locally once I was an adult, so we don’t have the same level of closeness one might assume from a family living so close in proximity.

    This got long, but I guess it’s bothering me because I want them to have a closer relationship, but they don’t engage with him. I’m not comfortable with leaving him with them when I’ve never really seen them interact. I don’t want to directly tell them “you need to play with your grandson” because it sounds condescending, mean and obvious to me. We’ve also had some trouble over the years with them feeling like they don’t live up to my expectations or that nothing they do is good enough for me, so telling them that their relationship skills need improvement seems to me like something that will be met with defensiveness. Is this just how it is? Do I just accept the lack of closeness or is there another way to address this?

    • NewMomAnon says:

      My grandparents were like this – they were much more comfortable doing adult things when there were adults. Funny thing was, when my folks left me alone with them, they were a lot of fun. My parents can also slip into just chatting away when I’m around, but my daughter loves playing with them.

      I’ve taken to inviting them to do a certain task with daughter. Last night my mom came over to “help” with dinner (which usually means she chats while I make dinner and kiddo destroys the house). Instead, I asked her to help kiddo make part of the dinner, and then asked her to help kiddo set the table. It was great. I’ve also handed my dad a book and asked him to take kiddo into another room and read with her when she’s getting out of control.

      Sometimes older adults don’t remember how to interact with kids and don’t want to step on your toes when you’re around. Invite them to do things with kiddo (i.e., they are doing it on your terms), or just wing it and leave kiddo with them for a short time (a couple hours is great) while you go shopping or get a hair cut or see a movie.

      • Running Numbers says:

        That’s really smart. I’m solo most nights and having them help him with something specific would be great bonding and relief for me.

        • NewMomAnon says:

          I’m trying to expand my list of dinners that kiddo can help with, because she LOVES to help. So far, I’ve got the following:
          make your own pizza (kiddo spreads sauce and adds cheese and toppings), grilled sandwiches (kiddo constructs the sandwiches, adult grills them), tacos (kiddo “builds” the tacos), quesadillas (kiddo puts cheese on the tortillas and brushes them with oil), and roasted or stir fried veggies (adult chops them up, kiddo adds oil and seasonings).

          Kiddo also loves to do laundry and shovel snow/rake leaves, so I’ve had her work with Grandma and Grandpa on those too.

          • shortperson says:

            my 2 yo loves to stir the bechamel sauce and add cheese for homemade mac and cheese. it involves constant stirring so she’s actually a big help. then she sprinkles bread crumbs on top and watches it bake.

          • Anononymous says:

            How We Montessori has some good ideas for kids helping with dinner. Tearing lettuce, mixing dressing, grating carrots for salad is a good one. And I truly believe that risotto was invented to keep five year olds busy (keep stirring! shout when you run out of liquid!)

          • Edna Mazur says:

            My 3 year old helps with almost everyone before it hits the oven/stove. He LOVES making cookies and cakes and knows that only mama touches the oven/stove. He helps measure and adds. We both will have a whisk for mixing. He absolutely adores frosting and decorating cakes.

            Even if I’m just dicing things, I’ll give him his own cutting board and a butter knife. I’ll chop, move it over to his board to “chop” and when it’s “done” he puts it in the bowl.

    • Following, because I have the same issue with my parents to some extent – they live halfway around the world and we visit/ they visit once a year, and they’re great at whole-family activities (with ME there along with kid) but I literally asked them if they wanted to take kid out to the playground for an hour and they said no. Compare with my amazing MIL, who is capable of entertaining kiddo at the grocery store solo while never missing an item on her shopping list.

      One thought – do your dad and stepmom not interact with toddlers very much day to day? They’ve had some chronological and certainly geographic distance from raising you, so they might not realize what kind of attention toddlers need.

      • Running Numbers says:

        They don’t have much or any regular interaction with toddlers. They did raise a son together but he’s now 23 and out of the house, so his toddler years were a long time ago as well. They also have a lot of younger friends (my age) but have shown disdain for their friends who have kids and want to still carry on a friendship by occasionally bringing their kids along to restaurants and activities… so this shouldn’t surprise me.

    • Oh, I have so much sympathy. My in-laws are a lot like this and it drives me absolutely bonkers. We’ve had some success steering our kids toward activities with the grandparents (coloring together, games, puzzles) but it’s so much harder when they’re little toddlers and can’t sit still for more than a few minutes.

      But honestly? This might not be fixable. This is who they are. Some grandparents are really hands-on and active; others just … aren’t. That type is not likely to understand that the grandparent/grandkid relationship is a two-way street and they’ll get out of it what they put into it. A grandparent who sits off to the side and doesn’t engage at the child’s level will miss out on having a certain type of relationship.

      I wish I had some brilliant suggestions for you, but I’m in the same boat. I also struggle with expectations. I feel like my in-laws expectations for the type of relationship they want with our kids is not at all aligned with their actions. There is tension on both sides because of unmet expectations, but dam*it, I have tried to make this better for all parties and I’ve realized that I can only do so much.

      • JayJay says:

        I’m in this same situation with my husband’s parents. They want to be involved and both sets of grandparents live within 30 minutes of us. I make sure that we invite in-laws over often, offer to let them babysit, etc. And 9 times of out 10, in-laws decline because they are either traveling, have plans with friends, have tickets to the theater, etc.

        There’s only so much husband and I can do to give them opportunities to see the kids, and in-laws sometimes mention that my parents see the kids more – but my parents make time to do it! So, I’ve just accepted that there will be some tension on their side, but I’ve done all I can to accommodate them seeing my kids.

        • Running Numbers says:

          Yes! We have a lot of drama revolving around expectations, both with other sets of grandparents and my own. You are really wise to accept that there’s just going to be tension. I have a hard time accepting that some things are out of my control and that it is OK.

    • layered bob says:

      My husband’s mom does this with our children. She complains that they “don’t know her” but when she comes she acts annoyed that the kids interrupt her conversation with us. She has gotten better with interacting with our oldest (I think she just doesn’t “get” babies and toddlers), but still needs a lot of direction. E.g. being outside with the child and the toys would not be enough “direction.”

      Enough direction would be “Mom, here are some trucks that Sophie likes to play with. Sophie would probably like to play “construction zone” with you – why don’t you sit down here and take this truck. If Sophie gets tired of that, she would probably like to read these two books, here. I’m going to go get a glass of water.” And leave.

      It’s like having another child around, she needs that much coaching and limit-setting. And she has a much shorter attention span than our children do for their games. But she will now, sometimes grudgingly, play/interact with each child for a few minutes at every visit, and seems to be getting more confident with interacting with them as they get older, so I’m hopeful they will eventually have a close relationship.

      • I second the suggestion to leave. Not having the middle man around forces interaction.

        • Thirded. Leaving is the only way for us. Also, it’s gotten better now that my son is talking a little bit, so maybe time will help.

        • ElisaR says:

          yes – this is my suggestion. i struggle with the same issues and it’s really that i am distracting the grandparents from interacting with the baby. just give some suggestions “he likes playing with this door and stacking these blocks and just keep him away from the power cord” and then walk out the door.

      • I like the very specific suggestion of stuff to do with kiddo. I’m worried my mom might be a bit like this with our LO, because this is how she is as a houseguest in general.

        She’s very much content to sit on the couch and read, ignoring everything else – which, sometimes is fine, I don’t need 50 people in the kitchen plus kids and animals. But sometimes I wish she’d hop up and help me with the dishes, which she will do – the minute I say, “Mom, please help me with the dishes.”

        My dad on the other hand has been preparing to be a Grandpa his whole life and will literally sit and talk about trains or dinosaurs or whatever for hours, with no prompting.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d be curious about others’ answers, because I have a bit of that struggle when I’m with my in-laws, except in their case, we travel like 24 hours to see them, and then they just watch TV while I chase my kids around their non-kid-proof apartment. All my “structured” attempts (like making decorating Christmas cookies, etc.) to engage them failed, but maybe you could try a specific activity? (Although it’s hard to think of something specific for a 17-month-old off the top of my head) That would be somewhat less awkward than saying, “um, why don’t you just play with the kid?”

      I also sort of think they just need to get over themselves if they are offended by the kid preferring to play with his toddler friend to them. That would be the case even if they were super engaged — that’s just what kids do. Likewise, if they’re offended that he spends more time with the other grandparents because the other grandparents are there, helping, more often, that’s their problem, and one they know they can fix if they want. (Obviously, if they don’t know they are welcome to babysit and whatnot, you can make sure they do…)

      Finally, I wouldn’t give up hope — my dad, who loves both of my kids — has an easier time spending time with my older son, because they can do science experiments, go explore further afield, and have fuller conversations than he can with my toddler. So maybe you sort of accept that they won’t be much help and won’t engage a whole lot and maybe will engage a bit more when he’s easier to relate to as he gets older.

    • Yeah, I think some people just don’t know how to interact with children. That doesn’t mean they don’t love your son and don’t want to see him. They simply don’t know what to do or how to play with him.

    • Lurker says:

      If you allow screen time, what about allowing them to cuddle on the couch to watch a show? Not sure if that age is ready for that yet.

    • CPA Lady says:

      How old are they? This might partly be a generational thing. My mom was born in the ’40s and she did not play with me when I was a kid. She was an adult and I was a kid, and if I wanted to play with someone, I needed to go find my sister. I think she grew up in a time when parents didn’t play with their kids. There just wasn’t the same set of expectations about kids being the center of everything for people in her generation or any generation prior to that.

      Both my parents and my FIL were born in the 40s and they are the same. My FIL would take his kids places, but they were places he wanted to go, not places specifically to cater to what the kids wanted. My MIL was significantly younger than the other three and there is a big difference between how she interacts with my daughter. She is also in better condition physically, can get down on the ground, etc.

      • CPA Lady says:

        Also, 17 months is a hard age, or at least it was for me. My kid couldn’t really DO anything other than make decent attempts at accidentally killing herself. She didn’t have the attention span to watch TV. She was mobile but clumsy and had frequent tantrums. I don’t really remember what we did at that age. She’s almost 2.5 and can do so much more, and is starting to play pretend a little bit. So maybe it’ll get easier when your kid is older.

      • Running Numbers says:

        They’re young, late 50’s, but they were raised with a very different mindset that I could see this being some of the issue. And I agree, it is a hard age. His good times are very good and his tantrum times are very challenging.

    • So, I’ll come at this from a different angle, and I hope I don’t sound like a monster for this. I struggle to connect with my 22-month-old son, and it’s better now than it was at 17 months. It was just hard for me to connect with a toddler with high energy, few words, and a small attention span. I’m also really bad at playing, and I get stir-crazy after about 5 minutes of shape-sorting and ring-stacking. So, when I’m alone with my son, the best way for me to connect with him is to get out of the house and do something. We go to the playground, the grocery store, the children’s museum, the pool (when the weather is warm), the frozen yogurt shop, for a walk around the block, etc. DH has a planned out-of-town trip spanning two weekends in a couple of months, and I have already planned to go to a Touch-A-Truck fundraiser and a farm with a petting zoo. Maybe the grandparents would do better with some out-of-the-house activities?

      Besides getting out, books! All the books! I cannot say “no” to my kid’s request to read a book to him. Maybe choosing some of your kid’s favorite books and asking the grandparents to read to him would help? Also, things are getting so much easier for me now that Kiddo is speaking more and more interactive in how he wants to play (pretend/imitation).

      • Anonymous says:

        You take your kid to the grocery store, pool and playground. You’re a great involved mom! Those experiences are just as important, if not moreso, than playing rings on the floor.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not a monster. Me too. It helps to put away the dang phone. I do wish I found building with blocks and magnatiles as inherently interesting as my engineer husband though!

        • Yes yes to putting away the dang phone. I had to have a Stern Talk with grandparents about screen time. One set needed to put down the iPads, the other needed to stop answering the phone. You don’t get to whine about wanting quality time with the grandkids, but spend half of the time “just checking Facebook” or chatting on the phone with Great Aunt Kathy because she randomly called.

          (Yes some of that might be fine, but literally we were pulling the kids out of daycare, a fabulous daycare with a curriculum and lots of physical playtime, so they could stare at Disney Junior until Grandma was off the phone. Just no.)

          • AnonMN says:

            I just casually mentioned this to my mom and she seemed so confused by it. To her watching TV all day with (young, exercises 2x per day) grandma is much better than going to daycare. I wasn’t sure how to get across that tired and (mostly) plesant 2yo after daycare is 100% better than strung out on TV 2yo. Luckily she’s only in town quarterly and we’ve largely gotten around it by just refusing to pull them out unless she has a specific activity planned (because she bailed on us once when we already told daycare they weren’t coming that day, and similarly didn’t understand why this was a big deal).

          • layered bob says:

            yes! I do not understand this! I am millennial who, according to all the old people, is on my phone “all the time,” and yet it is my parents and in-laws who I need to ask repeatedly to put their phones away and interact with us please.

      • Running Numbers says:

        +1! It is hard. You’re doing great and finding things that work for both of you. That’s what counts.

    • avocado says:

      We have this issue with Grandpa to some degree, and Grandma was the one who came up with the best solution: one-on-one outings. Grandpa picks the kid up and takes her to lunch or dinner and an activity like a play or concert. Grandma doesn’t go–she insists it must be just the two of them. It gets Grandpa to give kiddo his undivided attention, and they have made some wonderful memories together.

    • mascot says:

      You’ve gotten some really good advice so I’ll co-sign all of that. From day one, my younger parents have been totally hands on grandparents. For a variety of age/illness/geography related reasons, my older in-laws were not very involved in the first couple of years of my son’s life (FIL passed away when he was 18 months). It wasn’t until my son was potty trained and really talking that MIL truly felt comfortable taking care of him on her own. Also, he was a lot more fun to be around. He’s six now and she lives locally so she sees him a lot more. They like to do quieter activities together and she will watch from the sidelines when he’s being more physical. It took several years to get to this point, but it’s a good relationship. Don’t give up hope quite yet.

    • Running Numbers says:

      I appreciate all the replies so very much! It’s just encouraging to see that we’re not alone on an island with strange problems. These are things that many people deal with to some degree and it’s wonderful to have a place to commiserate and share.

  10. avocado says:

    I was soooo sure that my 10-year-old had figured out Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny five or six years ago and has just been playing along since then. So why does she think the Easter Bunny can bring her tickets to Hamilton? Sigh.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ha! I was that child. I figured it out when I was quite young, but figured that as long as my parents were going to keep pretending, I was going to keep asking for stuff. I decided it was their thing to fess up, that it wasn’t real. (They never did.)

      • Me too. I played along for years. But I didn’t necessarily know what was reasonable to ask for and what wasn’t. I don’t think I would have realized Hamilton tickets were hundreds of dollars and impossible to get, particularly if I had been to other shows.

        I don’t think my parents ever truly fessed up either. But at some point (high school? college?) I admitted that I knew when Santa and Grandma had the same wrapping paper.

        • avocado says:

          She knows how much they cost and that they are impossible to get, which is why she thinks the solution is to ask the Easter Bunny. Mommy can’t get them, so surely the Easter Bunny can work his magic! This is what I get for helping Santa get his hands on some hard-to-find items in previous years.

          • I still suspect she knows–but also knows that you’re willing to stretch the limits of possible to make a holiday special or magical.

            So, CAN the Easter Bunny bring her Hamilton tickets?

          • avocado says:

            Haha, nope, not unless a new block of tickets is released in NYC. And even then, the Easter Bunny has never brought anything nearly that big before. He was already planning to bring her a t-shirt and the book that contains the annotated script, and we already thought he might be going overboard with those.

    • I would believe in the Easter Bunny if he would bring me Hamilton tickets!

      • Anonymous says:


        Also, I’m 31 years old, and Santa still sometimes brings me presents. (Not the Easter Bunny though — he never brings anyone presents — just sprinkles candy throughout the back yard.)

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