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How to play with your child from 2-3 years

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This is part 6 of our Play at Any Stage series with Fisher-Price. See other age groups, from birth to 24 months, here.

They may be known as the terrible twos and threenage years, but your child’s development at this age is pretty incredible. 

At this age, your toddler’s emotions are expanding into more complex ones, like anger, which can be hard for both parents and kids to process. Don’t be surprised if tantrums increase too! “There is so much processing in their little heads, they’re taking the language that they’ve been learning for the past two years and they’re learning how to get it out,” says Lauren Celenza, child development specialist and researcher at the Fisher-Price Play Lab. “Most often their brain is working so much faster than their mouth can process it and so that is so frustrating for them.”

Another common behaviour is wanting more independence. For example, your toddler might want to feed themselves and get themselves dressed and undressed. “You might hear ‘my turn’, ‘I do, I do’ – that’s another big thing for toddlers,” says Lauren. “They want to do it themselves, they want to dress themselves, they want to choose their clothes, they want to do all things.” While this can make simple daily tasks take twice as long, it’s very important to let them feel like they have some control over their day. 

Here are some tips for playing with your child at 2 or 3 years:

Playing with your toddler

Play is still a key tool for your toddler’s learning. Now, your child might be interested in pretend play. “They will cognitively start to really engage in storytelling and role play,” says Lauren. “They want to play out what they see, so like if you make coffee every day, they might start pretending to make coffee every day in their kitchen or their play area.” This type of play gives children the opportunity to practise all kinds of skills while feeling safe in their own home. It also encourages and develops their imagination, social and emotional development, and communication skills to name a few!

Physically, your toddler will probably be walking but now the fine motor skills really start to develop. They might show an interest in stacking blocks, holding a crayon as well as running, jumping, hopping and climbing.

At about 18 months, your toddler’s language skills are also firing! In fact, toddler’s learn about 1-2 new words a week if given the chance. Keep up the chatter, reading and singing to help them along the way. 

Your toddler may also be interested in playing with other children, just don’t expect them to be okay with sharing yet!

Milestones to look out for

While you shouldn’t compare your child to others, here are some milestones to keep an eye for around this age.

  • Social and emotional milestones: expresses a range of moods from joy to frustration and even jealousy.
  • Physical milestones: stacks blocks, holds a crayon and is on the move, walking and running. 
  • Cognitive milestones: sits through a story, enjoys role play and has a vocabulary of 50 – 200 words. 

Play ideas, games and toys for 2- or 3-year-old

  • Play dress up: start a dress up box and get the whole family involved in playing dress ups. 
  • Hide and seek with toys: hide a toy in the house and help them find it. You can give them clues and offer guidance. 
  • Simon says: start this game asking your child to follow very simple instructions and gradually work your way up to more complex ones. Don’t be afraid to throw in some silly actions too!
  • Little People® Sit with Me School Bus: Place Bus Driver Emily™ in the driver’s seat to hear fun songs and sounds, and then roll the bus along to hit the road! 
  • Doll play: hand your child a doll and encourage them to talk to it and feed it as if they were a real child. It helps if you model this kind of play first. 
  • Sort colours: choose your medium – whether it’s blocks, paper or craft supplies, you can start sorting objects into groups according to colour. 
  • Laugh & Learn® Light-up Learning Vacuum: Lots of learning and early role play is in store as they push this toy vacuum along to activate lights, songs, sounds, and phrases.
  • Dance party: who doesn’t love a good boogie! Not only is it fun, but dancing is also a great way to let out some of that pent up energy.
  • Everyday tasks: give your toddler simple daily tasks such as lining up the toys on their bed or putting their plate in the sink after lunch. They love structure and routine so will really enjoy this, especially if you offer lots of praise!

Speak with your GP or child and family health nurse if you’re concerned about baby development.

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