You probably don’t need much convincing that toddlers are amazing. They are funny, crazy, adorable little people who make our lives so much more interesting and enjoyable.
But as you know only too well, in most ways they aren’t quite regular kids. Even though the toddler stage is a lot of fun, it can also seem like a challenging time for parents. Your little one probably won’t say very many words yet or show any real interest in interacting with you.
However, this doesn’t mean that your toddler is not interested in spending time with you or talking to you in their own way about what interests them at the moment.
It just means that they don’t have the vocabulary to do it – yet.
But how can you interact with your toddler in meaningful ways?
What does meaningful interaction mean?
Meaningful interaction means creating an environment in which your toddler can feel safe and secure enough to let his or her guard down, in which your child feels supported and comfortable enough to open up to you.
This means that you need to be responsive to your toddler’s cues and be able to read and interpret them – even if they aren’t really verbal yet. It means being in the moment and focusing on your toddler and how they are feeling.
It means staying positive, particularly if you find that your toddler is easily distracted or upset. Meaningful interaction is about making your toddler feel heard and understood, about letting them know that you care and want to be a part of their world.
Talk to your toddler about what interests them.
Your toddler probably isn’t interested in talking about you or what you did at work every day. Toddlers aren’t really interested in grown-up things yet, so you need to try to find out what they are interested in.
If you find that your toddler is really into cars and trucks right now, talk to them about them. If they really like looking at animals, let them know that you understand their interest. If your toddler has a certain toy that they always go back to, try to find a way to connect with that.
Maybe you could create a story that goes along with the toy, or you could ask them questions about it and listen.
Watch and listen for moments to interact.
Sometimes you’ll have to be quick, as toddlers usually aren’t interested in interacting for long stretches of time. Listen for times when your toddler is making their own noises – humming or making weird noises with their mouths.
They might be making up a song or trying to imitate sounds they’ve heard. These are great moments to let your toddler know that you understand and that you’re interested. Talk to them and praise them for their efforts. If your toddler is playing with toys, use those toys to interact, or interact with them in a creative way.
If your toddler has building blocks or some other toy that you can use to make a creative construction, ask for their help. If your toddler is playing with trucks, you could try putting a toy car on the floor and asking them to pick it up for you.
Help your toddler feel understood.
Toddlers need to feel understood in order to really let their guard down and enjoy spending time with you.
If your toddler is making strange noises or you hear them saying something that doesn’t make much sense, don’t just laugh and ignore them. Try to find out what they mean. If your toddler is making up songs, try to guess what they’re singing about.
If they are trying to imitate sounds, ask them what they are trying to say. Sometimes toddlers will make up their own words, and these are important because they let you know how your toddler is feeling and what they want. If your toddler says something that you don’t understand, try to clarify their meaning.
You could say something like, “What do you mean, you want a drink?” or “You want to get out of your seat?”
Help your toddler build vocabulary.
If your toddler is interested in you and what you’re doing, you can try to find ways to help them learn. Try to make sure that when you’re interacting with your toddler, they have your full attention.
If your toddler is asking you a question, make sure that you answer them. If you’re playing with your toddler, try to involve their senses as much as possible. Touch and feel things with them, and provide visual stimulation with books or toys.
Create a physical environment that helps interactions.
If your toddler is spending a lot of time in the car or their stroller, try to find ways to interact with them when you’re in those places. Your toddler might not be interested in talking to you, but they might enjoy looking at books with you or letting you read them a story.
They might enjoy being read to, and this provides a great opportunity to help them build their vocabulary and connect with you at the same time. As you can see, interacting with your toddler doesn’t have to be difficult.
They might not be interested in talking to you, but they do want to be engaged and feel like they’re part of the family. With a few small changes to your routine, you can make sure that your little one feels like they are being included and important.