Whether you're at the doctor's office, the airport, or the post office, waiting is never pleasant. But when you're accompanied by your small child, it can be positively harrowing. As long as you're not afraid to be a little goofy, these simple games can help you head off disaster and have some fun too.
Everything in this slideshow
Where's the Baby? This silly game is perfect for a dentist's waiting room and is sure to get a laugh from your baby, although you may also get some strange stares from other people. While your baby is in your arms, suddenly ask, "Where's the baby?" Look all over the room, especially in ludicrous places, like in your bag or your shoe. Finally, notice your baby and say, "Oh, there's the baby!" If she laughs, milk it for all it's worth. You'll get tired of it long before your baby will.
Who's This? Laminate photos of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and their pets too. Put them on a key ring. Say the name of each person as your baby looks at the picture. When that gets boring, point to the cat and ask, "Is that Grandma?" Then try to get your baby to shake her head "no."
Crumple a piece of plain white paper and give it to your baby. Let her crumple it more. This is apparently really, really fun. When she gets it too soggy (because it will go in her mouth), replace it with a new sheet of paper.
Toddlers: Use Those Eyes
Look Closely Pack a child's magnifying glass. If you're at a place where she can walk around, let her check out her surroundings. If not, dig things out of your purse for closer examination.
Mirror Game Let your child draw on a nonbreakable mirror with a dry-erase marker (don't forget to toss one into your bag) as he looks at his reflection. Whether he gives himself a mustache, glasses, or freckles, he's bound to give himself a giggle.
Toddlers: Get Talking
Tell Secrets Whispering has a great effect in a loud, crowded place. Simply whisper a message in your kid's ear. The background noise will require him to focus intently on your message, and he will undoubtedly want to whisper a message in your ear next. Concentrating on hearing and delivering the whispered messages is calming for your child -- and for you too.
Talk to the Hand Use a plain brown paper bag as a puppet, and talk to your toddler with it. Give your toddler a bag too, and your hand will have someone who speaks the same language.
Toddlers: Props Please
Edible Jewelry Before you leave the house, accessorize your kid with a Cheerios necklace. Kids love making them, but that's an activity to be done at home. The thing to do while waiting at the post office is to eat the cereal from the necklace. This is a double-duty activity. It banishes the hunger pains, and it takes a lot longer than just eating the Cheerios from a baggie.
Stuck on You What is it about tape? Kids love playing with it, balling it up, sticking it on their knees. It's a sensory delight! Give your toddler a strip of Scotch tape -- it's not too sticky, so it won't hurt the skin when it's pulled off. If you want to get something out of the deal, ask your kid to use it as a lint brush on your sweater.
Toddlers: Let's Pretend
Beauty Parlor Get out that hairbrush and ask your kid to go to town on your hair. Your child will think you look like a movie star (you can put your hair back the way you want it when she's not looking).
Big Spender Give your older baby his own wallet, filled up with old store discount cards and business cards. Taking out his important cards and putting them back is way fun. An old handbag can serve the same function.
Preschoolers: Art Appreciation
Quick. Look around you. Is there a painting on a wall? Ask your kid questions about the painting and, together, create a story. Who lives in the house? Why does the man look so happy?
Preschoolers: Police-Sketch Artist
For this activity you'll need a small notebook and a pencil. This is the perfect game to play during long airport waits. Draw a picture of a random person in the crowd. Don't worry if art isn't your thing; it actually makes it more fun if you're not a great artist. Challenge your kid to guess which person you drew. Teach him to identify the suspect by whispering in your ear -- not by jumping up, pointing, and yelling, "He's the one!" Then switch roles and have your kid draw the suspect.
Advanced Police-Sketch Artist Add a twist. Instead of just drawing a picture of the suspect, describe to your kid the person you want her to draw. Tell her the shape of the person's face, the color of his hair, the kind of clothes he's wearing. After your kid finishes drawing the picture, she has to guess who she just drew. Again, encourage quiet talking to lessen the chance of an embarrassing moment.
Preschoolers: Use Your Imagination
Vacation Time Pretend you're going on a family trip to the beach. Ask your child what to pack. Make suggestions, especially silly ones like snow boots. Then try a vacation to the mountains. Or to the moon.
Robot 20 Questions This is almost exactly like the regular 20 Questions, but with one difference that will delight your kid: You are a robot. Think of an object, and have your kid ask yes/no questions. But instead of answering "yes" and "no," answer, in a robotic monotone, "affirmative" and "negative." Trust me, it makes all the difference.
Preschoolers: Tricks and Kicks
Magnets If you'll be waiting someplace with a table -- like a restaurant -- take along a magnet (swipe one off your fridge) and a bunch of paper clips. Magnetize one paper clip by rubbing the magnet against it a bunch of times in the same direction. Have your kid see how many paper clips he can pick up in a chain without dropping any.
Tricks of the Eye If your kid doesn't have a wise-guy uncle who has exposed him to these tricks, now is the perfect time to share the joy. Floating Hot Dog: Point the tips of your index fingers together until they almost meet. Bring them closer to your eyes until it appears that a hot dog is suspended in the air between them. Hole in the Hand: Roll up a piece of paper and look through it with one eye. With both eyes, focus on a distant object. Now hold your other hand right next to the rolled-up paper. You'll see a hole in your hand.
Preschoolers: Phone Home
If you've got a chatty preschooler and a cell-phone plan with lots of minutes, take advantage of the waiting time and let your kid catch Grandma up on all the latest news. If you have a chatty preschooler but don't have lots of cell-phone minutes, there is a small window of time during which many preschoolers are perfectly content chatting on an old cell phone without a battery. Enjoy -- until they figure it out.
Preschoolers: How Big?
Whip out a plastic retractable tape measure and your young surveyor can get the measure of the land ... and the leg ... and the arm. When that gets dull, challenge your kid to a "guess how many inches" contest with your child's head. All kids love to have their head measured.
8 Things to Have On Hand
* Emergency lollipop. Even if your kids don't normally get to indulge.
* Favorite book. The one they always beg for. The one you're sort of sick of reading.
* Bandages. For your child to play doctor and tend to your boo-boos, or just to decorate himself with.
* Travel-size Magna Doodle. Or Etch A Sketch.
* Notepad and crayons. Can't do without 'em.
* Audio story. Whether it's delivered by a CD or an MP3, a story is a lifesaver for a very long wait.
* Deck of cards. Have your kid make up a card trick or two.
* Sticky notes. Doodle on them, make a flip book, or arrange them on a table in a cool design.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Parents magazine.