How To Herd Toddlers by Talking Pictorially

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Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

The toddler years…they can be rather, er, challenging shall we say? Toddlers have a strong, opinionated, and independent mind. They want what they want when they want it. Toddlers are not keen on being disrupted from whatever has captivated their attention. They typically do not jump on board with whatever plans mom has when they are engaged in their little world of awe and wonder. I mean, cleaning up, eating, diaper changes, brushing teeth, running errands, and doing what mom requests are not high priorities in the toddler years. 

So how can moms and dads ease the pain of prying a toddler away from something he or she is engaged in and enjoying?

Playful parenting via talking pictorially! 

Children of all ages should be allowed to lose themselves in play, their imagination, and the wonder filled world that unfolds around them. Adult disruption of this, especially an overly verbal adult, takes children quickly outside of the hallmark of childhood – to be unconsciously at peace and in the moment. Talking in pictures is a gentle way of keeping a child in the moment while transitioning them to the activity that you, the parent, needs them to participate in. It is also a fun, playful way for a parent to connect with their child during routine activities that can become a battle.

Below are 40 examples of talking pictorially to help ease the pain of herding your toddler. I would love to hear your suggestions as well, so please comment with ways in which you might already be using pictorial language to move your toddler through the day.

Waking Up/Getting Out of Bed
1. “Time to rise like the sun.”
2. “My little bear needs to come out of his cave.”
3. “Time for my caterpillar to come out of her cocoon.”
4. “My little lobster may claw his way out of bed now.”

Getting Dressed
5. “My little bear may put on his fur coat now” (when putting on a sweater or coat).
6. “Slither into your skin like a snake” (when putting on pants).
7. “Looks like some pirates left behind a special pair of shoes. Let’s put then on and see if they lead us to buried treasure.”
8. “Those toes are cold as ice. Let’s slip them into some socks so they don’t melt!”
9. “My construction worker needs to put his hardhat on before going outside!” (when putting on a hat.)
10. “It is time for this caterpillar to get cozy in her cocoon” (when putting on a shirt).

11. “Time to practice our rain dance” (when it is shower time).
12. “Let’s grab our bubble catchers (cups or ladles) and see how many bubbles we can catch tonight” (when it is time for a bath in the tub).
13. You can pretend like your child is a fish and you are a fisherman/woman trying to “catch” them. (Be sure to have a pretend fishing pole ready!) When you “catch” your toddler, tell her that you have to throw her back into the pond so she can swim with her fishy friends. (This would be the time to put her in the bath).
14. Take a small green towel and put it in the water then say “time for my little froggy to sit on her lilly pad.”

Brushing Teeth
15. “Open wide like a crocodile.”
16. “Time to go mining for gold.”
17. “Time to sweep the cobwebs out.”

18. “It’s time for my little mouse to nibble on some breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack.”
19. “It’s time for my turkey to gobble his food.”
20. “Superheroes need food so that they may save the world. Let’s have a bit to eat!”
21. “I see that my airplane/racecar/motorcycle/boat needs more fuel. Let’s pull into the fueling station and fill your tank!”
22. “My little flower needs water. Let’s get the watering can and give you a drink!”
23. “My darling plant is wilting. Time to water you!”

Picking Up Toys/Cleaning Up
24. “Time to turn into the wind and blow all of the toys to their homes.”
25. “Time to put the toys to bed and tuck them in.”
26. “Where is my moving truck? Let’s load you up with all the toys and drive them to their homes.”
27. You and your child can call for the cleaning gnomes or fairies to come and help with the clean up. I like to sing a little song while we clean with the gnomes. “Here come the cleaning gnomes, cleaning up their messy home, putting all the toys away, so they may play another day.”

Going from Point A to Point B
28. Suggest that your child (and you) march like ants, slither like snakes, run like cheetas, hop like bunnies/frogs, fly like birds, leap like lizards, creep like turtles, pounce like cats, or stomp like elephants.
29. “Nestle into your kangaroo pouch” (if you are trying to wrangle your toddler into your babywearing apparatus).
30. “Let’s be race car drivers and drive our cars as fast as we can to the bedroom.”
31. “Let’s chug-a-lug like choo choo trains to the kitchen.”

Getting in the Car
32. “My little birdie may fly into her nest.”
33. “Buzz like a bee and snuggle in to your hive.”
34. “It’s go for launch! The rocket ship is leaving. Where is my fearless astronaut? Hurry, buckle in so you can zoom to the moon.”

Getting in the Stroller
35. “The train is leaving, all aboard.” (Be sure to choo choo quite a bit.)
36. “Your horse drawn carriage awaits. Climb on in and the pony will pull you home.”
37. “All aboard the mighty ship! Ahoy Captain, point me in the direction of home and we will sail away!”

Washing Hands
38. “Reach into the waterfall to see what is on the other side.”
39. “Rub the magic dream stone (bar of soap) so that you may have special dreams tonight.”
40. “I see that your busy hands are having fun. Let’s take them to the sink where they may splash in the water like a fish.”


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Photo Credit: Nico


  1. These are *way* fun, Jennifer! We love honoring nature and so many point to the interconnectedness of life – in really simple ways. :) Thank you so much!

  2. Oh, my goodness, I totally need to use these! I use picture talking when we’re playing (“Mmm, I love sausages” when I’m eating toes, for instance), but I never thought to use it for getting tasks done. Borrowing these now… :)

  3. I’m going to try these on my husband too and see if it helps him get out of bed faster. :D

  4. Beautiful, imaginative, and fun! I’ll be trying these for sure. Thanks for putting together such a great list.

    One of our latest animations was created by Munchkin himself: he acts like a cat while crawling and meowing, the works. “Does the kitty want some milk?” He loves it!

  5. These ideas are so unique! I love it. I’ve done this once or twice, I suppose…Baby T loves Laurie Berkner’s song “We are the Dinosaurs” so I often get him to go places (like to his room) by saying, “Let’s march like dinosaurs” and then I sing the song and march, and he follows me. But I can’t wait to try more of these out.

  6. This totally worked! We’ve been having a lot of struggles with bathing time lately. After reading your post earlier today I tried a couple of your suggestions this evening. I asked my 3-year old if he wanted to be a froggy on a lilly pad in a pond or if he wanted to dance in the rain. Total change of attitude, he leapt at the chance to go in the shower for the first time in over a week! Thanks for the fantastic ideas!

  7. I get so stuck in a rut with my 4 yr old daughter. I often forget to use playful words. Thank you for reminding me and giving me some more tools to help get my very stubborn and headstrong daughter to cooperate. I can’t wait to try these at dinner tonight and for cleaning up her room before bed.

  8. So I tried these with Baby T, and he was surprised! First, he said, “Stop talking!” Which is what he says when he thinks I’m acting weird.

    But when I grabbed him and “flew” him to his “bat cave” to get him in bed at night, it totally worked!

  9. Great list! I’ll never remember all your suggestions but the reminder to be more playful and pictorial with descriptions is perfect. I wish I had to encourage my kids to get out of bed and not the other way around. They tell it like it is… ‘come on Mummy, get up, GET UP!!!!’

    Both my kiddos love brushing their own teeth but don’t like to let me do it, which I like to do at least every few days!! I usually tell them I have to chase out the little tooth invader bugs or that they have ‘cheesy’ teeth! Afterwards I get real quiet and ‘listen’ to their clean teeth and make lots of fuss about how they are singing with delight at being so clean! They love this one.

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