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Troubleshooting Toddlers:
How we use Visual Aids

Setting up the calendar

Troubleshooting Toddlers posts will walk you through some toddler problems we have had in our house. I will tell you how we solved the problem and what worked for our family. I get ideas from many different methods and schools of thought. I rely a lot on my Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) training, but we also implement Montessori practices. I have also recently been reading a lot of Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber. We take the parts of each philosophy that work for our family and use them. I don’t think parenting has to be so black and white, but I do believe in consistency. Before we try anything with the kiddos, we talk about it as a team and agree on how we will both implement the new plan. I hope you enjoy reading about some of the things that helped us with difficult toddler behaviors.

Visual Schedules

Since Gray was a baby, he thrived with structure and routine. He liked to be able to anticipate what was going to happen next and what to expect. We use a lot of priming with him – “we are going to get dressed, brush our teeth, and then we can go to the park.” Basically we are telling him, we need you to do these boring things you don’t want to do first and then we will do something fun. He’s at a point now where he can understand these schedules verbally. He is also able to wait longer to get to the fun stuff. When the girls came, it was a really confusing time for him. Even though we tried to be consistent, things were chaotic and a lot of unexpected things happened every day. Around this time (Gray had just turned 2), I introduced a picture schedule. At first I printed out pictures and we were using a Velcro system. This was super labor intensive and we couldn’t add things on the fly. We quickly moved to the Choiceworks app. We have it on our phones and can easily make schedules anywhere. It comes with a library of pictures or you can use the camera and add your own.

picture schedule toddler
Gray really liked “swiping” the pictures (moving the picture to the all done column) and will occasionally ask us to make him a schedule. When he does this, I feel like we are meeting his need for predictability. Now that he has more language we don’t use it as often but on rough days or special days (birthdays, vacation, haircuts, etc.) we do use it to help explain things to him. He now comes up with his own plans, recites them to us, and finishes with, “That’s the plan, okay?”.

The Song Board

When Gray was about 16-months-old he was getting very frustrated during bedtime (a recurring theme in our house). He was really into music and wanted to sing specific songs but was having trouble communicating which ones. I put together a song board – images of 12 of his favorite songs that he could pick from and then use the pictures to request. I made the pictures using Boardmaker (great software I use for work) but you could just use Google Images. After he selected the song he wanted, we were to able to work with him and help him say it more clearly. We used the board for about 2 months, and then he could clearly ask for his songs and we quit using it.

song board toddler

A month ago, we started having more trouble at bedtime. We had gotten into the habit of finishing his bedtime routine with Old McDonald every night. When we got to Old McDonald, he would cry and flail on the floor. It was awful. I felt like we needed to remove the “cue” that it was almost time for bed. I decided to mess with the predictability of his routine a little bit. I put all of his old pictures into a basket and we (Gray, Mom and Dad) each closed our eyes and picked one out of the basket. He got to pick the order we sang the 3 songs and then he went to bed. This is part of our current routine and we haven’t had any problems since.

song basket toddler
Basket o’ songs

OK to Wake! Clock

Gray doesn’t get out of his bed until one of us comes to get him at 7am. Some mornings he will wake up earlier than this but he usually just sits in bed sucking his thumb and waits for us. A couple of months ago, Gray started waking up at 6:30 and screaming and crying. Usually I would just go comfort him or get him up for the day, but this was during my pumping time. I was hooked up to a machine and couldn’t go help him. Two days later, the magical OK to Wake! Clock arrived from Amazon and I showed it to Gray. We talked about how it was special because every morning it would turn green when it was time to get out of bed (it is set for 7am) and until it turned green he needed to stay in bed and be quiet. It has worked really well! By the way, if you go to get Gray up at 6:59, you will have to sit down and wait a minute until you can start the morning. The boy loves his structure and rules.

OK to Wake! Clock
OK to Wake! Clock

The Calendar

This is my latest addition. We have only been using it for a couple of weeks, so I’m not sure how successful it will be long term but I thought I would share. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I go to Gray’s room at 7. He goes to the bathroom, gets dressed and then climbs into our bed and is allowed to watch some tv while we get a little more sleep. He loves it and we get more rest. Win win. Except on school days. On school days, Gray wakes up and wants to watch tv. He totally loses it when I tell him it’s a school day and we aren’t watching tv. He tantrums, refuses to do the morning routine, and it’s an awful start to our day. I decided to introduce a calendar to help visually explain weekends vs. weekdays.

toddler calendar
Setting up the calendar – he is super excited about Uncle Tim’s birthday

I really like the calendar we bought but you could use whatever you like. The important feature for me was that weekends and weekdays look different (they are red vs. yellow). I let him move the “today” card over and if it’s a red day we can watch tv, if it’s a yellow day we can’t. I like that it kind of makes the calendar the bad guy – sorry dude, the calendar says it’s a weekday, mom isn’t just being ridiculous. It’s also helping with waiting for exciting but far away things like Halloween. This calendar also comes with weather, seasons, days of the week, and the year. The weather cards come in handy because Gray loves his rain boots and would wear them every day if it were up to him. When he looks out the window and realizes it is sunny we don’t have to have a battle on our way out the door about what shoes to wear. I think it’s a great addition to his morning routine.

toddler calendar room setup
Hanging in Gray’s room

Comments (11)

  • Love this!! We’ve been wanting to get a calendar for Luke, I think you just convinced me #schooldays

    • It is still going really well! This morning he got up and said “it’s a movie day”. I told him to check the calendar and we moved right along with our routine 🙂

  • This is so cool! My daughter might be a little too young for this (not quite 2) but I am totally doing this for her when she gets a little older.

    The Cuteness

  • So many good ideas! I really like that calendar. Thank you for sharing! XOXO


  • I really like the calendar because My two older kids had a tough time telling time 🙂 So I might start sooner rather than later with our youngest. Great post.


  • Great ideas! My toddler is starting to pick up on more and more things so I’m looking for inspiration!

    • Thanks Claire! Your little girl is super cute! Hope you found something useful.

  • Great Idea, Very cool. Esspecially for the calender, really cool. Thanks for sharing

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