11 Genius Ideas to Keep Kids Busy While They’re Stuck Waiting

11 Genius Ideas to Keep Kids Busy While They’re Stuck Waiting

If the thought of waiting anywhere for any reason with your kid causes you to break out in a cold sweat, we feel you. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the doctor’s office, sitting around for an oil change, or seated at a restaurant with a hangry group, keeping kids from melting down can be challenging. But there’s power in being prepared. Even if you haven’t planned too far ahead, or have an unexpected wait, you can count on these waiting games to keep everyone happy…at least for a little while.

1. Alphabet Game

Who says families can only play this popular game on road trips? Adapt this one to your environment, be it a restaurant or the waiting room at the DMV and get searching. Play it the traditional way, where you start with A and end with Z or mix it up a bit. Play where the letters have to come at the beginning of the word, or have kids compete in a speed trial. You could even play it backwards if older kids need a challenge.

2. What’s Missing?

Put the ultimate parent accessory—the diaper bag—to work when you use it for this waiting game that works well in spaces that have a place you can display items from it, like a table or chair. Take out any number of items, lay them out for your kiddo, and give your little detective a few minutes to study them. Then when their eyes are closed, take one away. It’s their job to figure out what’s missing when they open their eyes.

3. Race Ya

Got phone? Then you’ve got all you need to take the kids to the races while they’re waiting. You set the task, they see how fast they can get it done. How many jumping jacks can kids do in 30 seconds? How many times can they turn around? If you’ve got some space, let them run from point A to point B, keeping track of splits. You can even adapt this game for a calmer experience, a good choice for those moments when they’re stuck waiting in a quiet spot like the DMV or the doctor’s office. Pick a category, like Animals or Fruits and see how many they can name in 30 seconds. Endless possibilities make this an easy go-to for kids of any age.

Related: 24 Car Games to Play on Your Next Road Trip

4. Chopsticks

To play this waiting game, kids need to know how to do basic addition. If they can add up to five, they’re set go. Two players or more players can start this tapping game no matter where you’re waiting (in line, at a restaurant, even when you’ve got twenty numbers in front of you at the DMV). Although it’s not too complicated to play, it takes a few rounds to really figure it out and develop your strategy. This illustrated explanation should get your and your mathematicians started.

5. HeadsUp

If you’ve ever stood in line at an amusement park, you’ve probably seen families playing this one. Download the HeadsUp app to your phone and you’ve got a crowd pleaser you can pull out anywhere. With plenty of family-friendly categories to choose from, it’s like playing Headbandz without the blue bands. Sure, you’ll look extra cool holding your phone up to your head, but whatever it takes to keep the kids entertained in long lines, right?

6. Chain Game

A different take on the i alphabet game (a.k.a. the license plate game), this game is easy enough even toddlers can play. Pick a category like Sports or Foods. From there the progression is easy. Players have to come up with a word that fits that category that starts with the last letter of the previous word. So if “swimming” starts off the game, it could be followed by “golf” which then becomes “frisbee.”

a child plays with a yellow toy car and a blue one while waiting, waiting games
Sandy Millar via Unsplash

7. Play with Cars

Never underestimate the power of an unexpected toy car, especially when it’s a remedy to waiting around with kids. We love this idea of bringing it to the doctor’s office and playing while you wait in the room, from the Busy Toddler. But we’re also willing to bet you can use this one in lots of places. Put the cars through their paces while mom is trying something on in a dressing room or when you’ve got to sit for an oil change.

8. Photo Challenge

Pull out your phone and get scrolling. It’s all you need to help distract the kids, no matter where you’re waiting. How you play is up to you—the possibilities are endless. Let kids take photos of categories you choose (like “take a picture of something red” or “take a picture of a plant”) and then report back to you. Or you can challenge them to scroll through and find specific photos. They can find a photo of their favorite food, their pet, or even a grandparent. If you’ve got more than one kiddo, you can easily turn this game into a head-t0-head competition. And if all else fails, remember, nothing entertains kids more than taking pictures of their own silly faces.

Related: 10 Amazing Airplane Games for Kids

9. Fortunately/Unfortunately

This storytelling game is experiencing a resurgence, but it’s been around for a while. You start with one scenario (make it a fortunate one) and then the person you’re playing with follows it up with a downturn (the unfortunate part of the story). Then you alternate between players to see how long you can keep the story going. Here’s an example to get you started: Fortunately, I got a new pair of shoes. Unfortunately, they weren’t the right size. Fortunately, they fit little brother. The sillier the better.

10. Simon Says

There’s a reason this game has stood the test of time. Kids love it. So why not break it out the next time you’ve got a wait ahead. The only question is—who’s going to play Simon? You or the kids? Remember to pace to the youngest player so everyone can have fun. Then see if you can trip ‘em up with the old “Simon says touch your nose, touch your toes” quick combo.

11. Pack Something Special

While you don’t need Mary Poppins’ magical bag to keep the kids entertained while you wait, it doesn’t hurt to have a few stand-bys on hand for those unexpected moments you’re stuck somewhere. A spare bottle of bubbles is always a hit, just ask any parent who’s ever bought a musical bubble wand at Disney. And you can’t go wrong with a simple writing board (think: Boogie Board or something similar) that’s as easy to erase as it is to pack. If you don’t have one, coloring pages work wonders. Don’t forget game staples like tic-tac-toe, dots and boxes (you can even play it on your phone), or a simple card games that can easily fit in your diaper bag or purse.

Related: 15 Cool Coloring Pages & Worksheets for Kids

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