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.
23 Ways You Can Create Stronger Connections With Your Toddler
- Read Books Together: Choose age-appropriate books and read aloud.
- Play Pretend Games: Encourage imaginative play with dolls, action figures, or imaginary scenarios.
- Create Art: Use crayons, paints, or playdough for creative expression.
- Sing Songs: Sing nursery rhymes or simple songs together.
- Go on Nature Walks: Explore the outdoors and talk about nature.
- Build with Blocks: Use building blocks to create structures.
- Play Simple Board Games: Choose games suitable for their age.
- Have a Dance Party: Put on music and dance together.
- Do Puzzles: Work on simple jigsaw puzzles.
- Cook Together: Involve them in simple cooking tasks.
- Visit a Zoo or Aquarium: Teach them about different animals.
- Have a Picnic: Enjoy a meal outdoors in a park or backyard.
- Play with Puppets: Put on a simple puppet show.
- Do a Treasure Hunt: Hide objects for them to find.
- Engage in Water Play: Use buckets, cups, and water for play.
- Visit a Playground: Let them play on swings and slides.
- Tell Stories: Make up stories or tell classic tales.
- Play Catch: Toss a soft ball back and forth.
- Explore Sensory Bins: Fill bins with rice, beans, or sand for sensory exploration.
- Teach Basic Gardening: Plant seeds or water plants together.
- Make Music: Use simple instruments or homemade shakers.
- Play Simon Says: A great way to teach body parts and following instructions.
- Blow Bubbles: Have fun chasing and popping bubbles.
- Make a Fort: Use blankets and pillows to build a fort.
- Have a Tea Party: Set up a pretend tea party with stuffed animals.
- Do Finger Painting: Let them express themselves with paint and fingers.
- Play Hide and Seek: A classic game that never gets old.
- Visit a Library: Attend storytime or pick out books.
- Play Dress Up: Encourage dressing up in costumes.
- Do a Simple Science Experiment: Like mixing baking soda and vinegar.
- Play in the Sand: Build castles or dig in a sandbox.
- Take a Bike Ride: With a toddler seat or a tricycle.
- Go Bird Watching: Teach them about different birds.
- Do Yoga Together: Simple poses can be fun and healthy.
- Play with Playdough: Mold and shape together.
- Create a Scrapbook: Collect memories with photos and drawings.
- Do a Puzzle Hunt: Hide puzzle pieces for them to find and assemble.
- Bake Cookies: Let them help with mixing and decorating.
- Make Shadow Puppets: Use a flashlight and your hands.
- Play Hopscotch: Draw a hopscotch grid and teach them how to play.
- Visit a Farm: Learn about animals and farm life.
- Have a Movie Night: Watch a child-friendly movie together.
- Make a Bird Feeder: Create a simple feeder and watch the birds come.
- Play in the Rain: Jump in puddles and enjoy wet weather.
- Do Face Painting: Paint simple designs on each other’s faces.
- Go to a Children’s Museum: Explore interactive exhibits.
- Make a Time Capsule: Fill a box with current favorites and bury it.
- Play with Toy Cars/Trains: Create roads and tracks.
- Attend a Toddler Music Class: Many communities offer these.
- Plant a Tree: Teach them about growth and nature.
- Create a Sensory Walk: Lay out different textures for them to walk on.
- Make Homemade Playdough: Experiment with different colors and textures.
- Go on a Bug Hunt: Explore the garden looking for insects.
- Build a Cardboard Castle: Use large boxes to make a playhouse.
- Play with Magnets: Use alphabet or shape magnets on a fridge or board.
- Have a Color Day: Choose a color and find items of that color all day.
- Make a Collage: Use old magazines, glue, and paper to create art.
- Play with Balloons: Bat them back and forth without letting them touch the ground.
- Do a Nature Scavenger Hunt: Make a list of things to find outside.
- Have a Pillow Fight: A fun and safe way to get some energy out.
- Create a Memory Game: Use cards or pictures and play a matching game.
- Go Stargazing: Look at the stars and talk about the night sky.
- Play with Flashlights: Make shadows or just explore in the dark.
- Teach Basic Cooking Skills: Like spreading butter or peeling bananas.
- Make a Family Tree: Teach them about their family members.
- Do Leaf Rubbings: Place a leaf under paper and rub with crayon.
- Play Indoor Bowling: Set up water bottles and roll a ball to knock them down.
- Visit a Fire Station: Many have programs for young children.
- Make a Bug House: Use sticks and leaves to create a home for insects.
- Have a Backyard Camping Night: Set up a tent and sleep outside.
- Make Fruit Popsicles: Freeze juice or pureed fruit in popsicle molds.
- Play with Shape Sorters: Helps with recognition and motor skills.
- Create a Fairy Garden: Use plants, stones, and small decorations.
- Play “I Spy”: A great game for developing observation skills.
- Make a Rain Gauge: Track how much rain falls.
- Do a Texture Hunt: Find things that are soft, rough, smooth, etc.
- Play with a Parachute: Use a bedsheet and make it go up and down.
- Make a Wind Chime: Use old spoons, shells, or beads.
- Visit an Orchard: Pick fruits like apples or berries.
- Create a Mini Obstacle Course: Use pillows, boxes, and chairs.
- Have a Sock Puppet Show: Make puppets and put on a show.
- Play “Red Light, Green Light”: A game that teaches control and listening.
- Visit a Petting Zoo: Learn about and pet different animals.
- Play with Water Beads: Great for sensory play.
- Learn Basic Sign Language: Teach them simple signs.
- Make a Kite: And then go fly it on a windy day.
- Play with Toy Animals: Make animal sounds and movements.
- Visit a Science Center: Many have exhibits for young children.
- Play “Simon Does”: A twist on Simon Says where they lead.
- Do a Puppet Craft: Make puppets from paper bags or socks.
- Have a Mini Sports Day: Set up simple athletic activities.
- Make a Time Capsule: Include current favorites and open it in the future.
- Do Ice Painting: Freeze colored water and paint as it melts.
- Play “Hot and Cold”: Hide an object and guide them to find it.
- Visit an Art Gallery: Many have programs or tours for children.
- Make a Birdhouse: Build and decorate a simple birdhouse.
- Do a Balancing Game: Walk along lines or balance on one foot.
- Have a Costume Day: Dress up in different costumes all day.
- Make Paper Airplanes: Fold them and see whose flies farthest.
- Visit a Historical Site: Learn about history in a hands-on way.
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.
Why It’s Important To Interact With Your Toddler in Meaningful Ways
nteracting with your toddler is essential for their development and building strong bonds. Here are the best ways to engage with young children and promote their language, social, and motor skills:
- Language Development: Encourage your toddler’s language skills by talking to them often. Respond enthusiastically when they try to communicate, even if it’s their first word. Older siblings can also play a role in language development by engaging in conversation and reading picture books together.
- Independent and Parallel Play: While your child plays independently, use this time to introduce new things and teach basic concepts like body parts. For younger children, parallel play is a good idea where they play alongside other children without direct interaction. This helps them observe and learn from their peers.
- Social Interaction: Family members and stuffed animals can be excellent companions for your toddler. Engage in fun activities like playing with their favorite toys, introducing new words, and imitating their sounds. If your child has special needs, consider seeking guidance from a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist.
- Types of Play: Understand the stages of play and provide opportunities for different types of play, such as problem-solving activities, physical play, and imaginative play. Encourage your child to explore and try new things while providing a safe environment.
- Role Models and Board Games: Older children can serve as positive role models for your toddler. Engage the whole family in activities like board games, which promote social skills, turn-taking, and problem-solving. Remember to maintain a physical connection through eye contact, hugs, and cuddles.
- Physical Activity: Incorporate gross motor skills and physical play by singing silly songs, letting your toddler run around, and exploring different positions. This helps develop coordination and supports their overall physical development.
- Communication and Interaction: Use sign language alongside spoken words to enhance communication. Make a conscious effort to have face-to-face conversations, especially during mealtimes or play activities. This promotes emotional connection and language development.
- Age-Appropriate Play: Choose age-appropriate games and activities based on your child’s developmental stage. Avoid excessive screen time, opting for simple toys, plastic bottles, or cardboard boxes instead. Dr. Myers, a child psychologist, recommends finger games and activities that are safe and free from sharp edges.
- Cognitive and Emotional Skills: Engage your toddler in simple words and encourage their cognitive skills through early childhood activities. Foster emotional skills by praising good behavior and providing positive reinforcement.
Remember, each child is unique, and it’s important to adapt these tips to their individual needs and interests. Interacting with your toddler in a variety of ways, such as during a trip to the grocery store or during tummy time with a soft ball, creates a rich learning environment. Enjoy this special time with your little one and celebrate their growth and development.
More Like This
- 51 Awesome Sensory Play Ideas For Kids
- Guide To The 6 Stages Of Play (by Mildred Parten)
- The 4 New Ways Kids Can Play With Water
- The Benefits Of Letting Kids Play At Playgrounds
- Independent Play Ideas For Preschoolers