8 Tried-and-True Tips for Successfully Navigating Outings with a Toddler

Go out as a family—without losing your mind.
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It isn't until after you've had children that you realize just how impossible it is to 'have your child fit into your lifestyle' and not the other way around. Between navigating naps, child-friendly restaurants, unpredictable temper tantrums, and food preferences, our own wants are often easier to compromise in the moment. That being said, both our Associate Editor Marilynn, whose daughter recently turned one, and I have made a conscious effort to not let parenthood completely alter some of our favorite things about Los Angeles, namely eating out. Along the way, we've developed something of an arsenal of tools to make going out (and long car rides) not only doable, but fairly seamless and smooth for the entire family—barring the occasional and unavoidable mishap or tantrum. Read on for each of our favorite tricks for successful family outings: 

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G and I used to look forward to long car rides, specifically the 6-hour drive from L.A. to my parent's house in Mill Valley, which we did several times a year. We'd listen to Howard Stern, audio books, or our favorite music—all while making good time. That all changed once we had Sloan. You basically have to shift your expectations to be much more accommodating, with everything from the music (we're big fans of putting on an entire Disney album from start to finish, then repeat it) and more frequent rest stops, to being extra prepared with snacks and entertainment. Recently, our favorite trick is to leave around bedtime. Yes, it's a slightly inconvenient time for us, but that way we can drive in one stretch while Sloan sleeps—and listen to something that isn't the Moana soundtrack. - Emily

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When we go out to eat with Kaia, we almost always find a place with outdoor seating. I feel less self-conscious about her squawks and screeches (of delight or terror) when there is more ambient noise. Plus, she's generally calmer when she's outside. -Marilynn

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At 3 1/2, Sloan is very independent, but her ability to entertain herself comes to a screeching halt the minute we sit down to eat at a restaurant. Instead of quietly reading to herself or coloring (the way she does in her room for what seems like hours at a time), she's her most needy self. So in order to anticipate that, I help steer her in the right direction with a game. It doesn't need to make any sense at all—I'll give her a receipt to see how many pieces she can tear it into, give her an expired credit card to "use," or have her work on a 'computer' that I'll draw onto her notepad. Basically, if we give her even a little bit of guidance, it turns the outing into a game for her (that we can all participate in) instead of this formal experience where she's expected to sit still and be quiet. - Emily

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Nick and I have two strollers, one that we always keep in the car and one that stays in the house (for walks to the grocery store, farmers market, coffee, or just around the neighborhood). This way, we never have to think about and debate whether or not to grab the stroller from the house when we go out (one less thing to think about and pack is quite a luxury) and have a surefire way to calm Kaia, since the combination of being outside and being walked in a stroller will at least quiet if not rock her to sleep. We don't always use it, but it's nice knowing we don't have to dart home if she has an unexpected meltdown while we're at a friend's house, a restaurant, or just out and about. The cost of a second stroller is well worth the peace of mind. -Marilynn

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Once Sloan started preschool, birthday parties became a thing nearly every weekend. In order to teach Sloan how to behave appropriately (and not turn it into something about her), the first thing we do upon arrival is go right up to her friend to wish him or her a happy birthday with a hug. It sets the tone immediately that we're excited to be there to celebrate that friend. I've noticed it even makes a difference later on when presents are being opened that Sloan doesn't feel jealous because we've encouraged her to focus on how happy we are for her friend. - Emily

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One of the biggest shifts I've made since having Kaia is giving our friends (especially those without kids) a window of time for our arrival, versus a specific time, to reduce the stress that comes from running late due to an all-too-common baby-related mishap. For example, if there's a party that will last a few hours, I'll tell them to expect us between 3 and 3:30 and still aim for 3:00. Giving a window of time isn't always possible, but it's a good way to minimize disappointing a host and ourselves while allowing for a potential pitstop or detour for milk, snacks, or a fresh diaper. -Marilynn

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G and I still love to entertain, although it looks a bit different than before. Instead of doing anything fancy that requires an entire Saturday in the kitchen, we think of fun ways to incorporate the whole family (Sloan is very into helping with measuring these days) that come together quickly and don't require too much clean up. Not only do friends not care if we don't have this fancy, coursed meal, but actually prefer the relaxed vibe of the entire evening since we have a lot more energy to hang out since we haven't been cooking all day long. - Emily 

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Besides extra diapers and wipes (which we keep in the center console of our car), we always bring plastic bags/doggy bags/diaper bags. If we need to change Kaia in the middle of nowhere (and there's no trash can in sight) or at someone's house, we can contain odors. - Marilynn