We’ve all faced those excruciating moments when flights are delayed, doctor’s waits are long, and a favorite restaurant is too busy to bring food to your hungry tots in a timely fashion. Waiting is an inevitable part of parenting, and Zensible Mama founder Maricris Guadagna knows it can lead to some momentous meltdowns.

“Bored children translates to restless, grumpy little individuals, which easily escalates to misbehavior, screaming, crying, and all-time plain annoying,” she says. “When they do, it’s disruptive and stressful and just ruins even your well-thought-out plans for the day.” Thankfully you can avoid the aggravation with some of her top tips for entertaining kids while they wait.

  • Embrace technology. Guadagna says her iPad, Kindle, and smartphone are her “top go-to boredom busters” for keeping her daughter entertained. “I have specific games, music, and apps geared towards her interests, which keeps her entertained until we are ready,” she explains. The high volume of free and nearly free apps and e-books available makes it easy to keep your devices stocked with fresh items to ensure boredom doesn’t set in. Reserving use of these gadgets for waiting times also keeps the novelty factor alive.
  • Get creative. A slim notebook can come to life during a lengthy wait as a journal for wannabe authors or a sketchbook for budding artists, and it takes up little space in a purse. Many restaurants will also offer coloring books and pencils to amuse young diners while they wait, even if these goodies aren’t displayed somewhere you can see them, so don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Play old-school paper games. That notepad can also come in handy for classic paper games. Tic-tac-toe is easy for children of any age to master, while Hangman is ideal for school-age kids. It’s also a great way for kids to practice their spelling!
  • Play cards. A deck of cards is one of the most portable game centers you’ll find. Teach your child what Solitaire was like before it became a computer game, or start up a few rounds of Snap or Go Fish. Even very young children can enjoy sorting games with cards or identify the letters and numbers on them.
  • Offer some snacks. A hungry child is a grumpy child. Keeping a few snacks in your purse for unexpected waits is a great way to improve your child’s state of mind and pass the time. Dried fruits, granola bars, and packaged popcorn are filling and will stay fresh for ages.
  • Catch up on homework. Tackling homework might not be a fun way to spend time waiting, but Guadagna says it keeps her daughter “busy and quiet.” Catching up on homework in a fairly boring environment, like a doctor’s waiting room, can also help your child focus as he doesn’t have access to the fun distractions of home.
  • Have a sing-along. This is a great idea for long car trips because you needn’t worry about disturbing anyone else. Put on one of your child’s favorite albums and sing along. The louder you sing, the better! Before you know it, you’ll be at your destination.
  • Make use of your environment. An airport or doctor’s surgery might not sound like thrilling surrounds for children, but Guadagna insists you’ve just got to look at them the right way. “If you’re stuck at the airport due to a delayed flight, walk around and check the shops or watch planes taking off and landing,” she says. “At a doctor’s clinic, especially those with no in-house entertainment corners for kids, play I Spy, preferably, quietly.”
  • Play word games. Test your child’s memory with I’m Going on a Picnic, where players must recall an ever-growing list of picnic essentials. Kids of all ages enjoy the challenge of guessing a person, place, or thing with 20 Questions. Two Truths and One Lie is another great guessing game that might reveal some surprising facts. These games are especially useful for unexpected waits as you don’t need any equipment to play.
  • Have a “Treasure Hunt.” The magazines at hair salons and doctor’s clinics might be there to entertain adults, but with a little creativity they can be fun for kids too. Guadagna explains a great waiting game she calls Treasure Hunt. “You flip through the pages and have your children find a certain item or image that you saw,” she explains. “Hints are of course required.”

“Nothing beats being prepared at possibilities of long wait, expected or not, either during travel, doctor’s appointments or even while grocery shopping,” says Guadagna. With a well-stocked handbag and a positive attitude, it’s easy to avoid kiddie chaos while you wait.