2 Years

Caring for Your 2-Year-Old

Communication and Social Development

  • Show your child how to use words. Help your child find words to describe his or her feelings (“Are you hungry?” or “You look sleepy”), and label items (“This is a spoon” or “Look at your pretty hair”).
  • At this age, toddlers like to feel they have some control, but too many choices can be overwhelming. Try offering two parent-approved choices when available, for instance “Do you want the blue shirt or the red shirt?” or “Would you like an apple or a banana?”
  • Toddlers benefit from interaction with same-age peers. Play dates or play groups can help your child master social skills.
  • If a new sibling is on the way, prepare your toddler for the baby’s arrival. Discuss this with your child’s doctor.

Language Development

  • 2-year-olds know several words, and are beginning to string two words together into short sentences. The more words your baby hears, the faster he or she will learn.
  • Talk to your toddler and prioritize face-to-face interaction.
  • Books that tell stories about things your child likes and search and find books are becoming more interesting at this age. Your child will like to choose a book to read and frequently will want to read the same book again and again. Point to words as well as pictures and talk about how the pictures relate to the story. Continue to use books as part of your daily routine.
  • Be aware of language, as your child will likely repeat what you and others say.
  • Limit screen time (TV, tablets, phones) to two hours or less each day. Be careful about the programs and advertising your child sees. Watch with them and talk about what they are seeing.
  • Instead of television, encourage your child’s creative imagination with drawing and playing.

Nutrition

  • At this age, skim, 1 percent or 2 percent milk is appropriate for your child.
  • Encourage (but never force) your toddler to eat three meals a day, plus two snacks (usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon). Do not give soda, tea, coffee or flavored drinks, and limit juice – even 100 percent juice has too much sugar for your toddler.
  • Offer age-appropriate healthy food choices at mealtimes. Allow your child to choose what and how much of these foods to eat.
  • Encourage regular mealtimes for your child, preferably together with the family.

Elimination

  • Regular, easy-to-pass stools at least once daily are normal at this age.
  • Some 2-year-olds are ready for potty training. Readiness signs include keeping the diaper dry for two hours, knowing if the diaper is wet or dry, letting you know a bowel movement is coming, having the motor skills to pull the pants down/up, and showing an interest in the potty. At this age, unpressured exposure to the potty is appropriate.

Routines and Discipline

  • Toddlers are curious about their environment, and want to touch and explore almost everything. Instead of yelling “no” if what they are touching is inappropriate, try redirecting their attention to a safer item.
  • Never slap or hit children; it will teach them to hit others.
  • Praise your child for behaving well.
  • Set reasonable and consistent limits. When using discipline, the priority is to teach and protect your child, not to punish.
  • Help children change activities with simple phrases like “You have five more minutes and then we will have to go home.”
  • Do not expect a 2-year-old to share. At this age, the child’s behavior is based on his or her own needs. Teach your child not to bite, hit or hurt others.
  • The length of time a child spends in time-out should be one minute for every year old, so for a 2-year-old, that’s two minutes.
  • If your toddler has a temper tantrum, ensure the area is safe and try not to give the behavior too much attention. If tantrums last more than 20 minutes or happen more than three times a day, discuss it with your doctor.
  • Predictable routines help your child feel safe. Try to make your toddler’s bedtime around the same time every night, perhaps with a calm bath and a book.
  • Most 2-year-olds take one mid-day nap.

Oral Health

  • To best care for your toddler’s teeth, ensure that there is fluoride in the water he or she is drinking.
  • Use a toothbrush with a “pea-sized” amount of toothpaste to clean your child’s teeth twice a day. Your toddler can visit a dentist as early as 12 months of age.
  • Bottles and pacifiers should no longer be used.

Safety

  • Toddlers are safest when sleeping in their own space. Be sure that the railing on the crib or bed provides a safe barrier against falls.
  • Do not leave your toddler unattended in a bathtub, car or yard.
  • Keep the living environment (including the car) smoke-free. Keep small items (choking hazards) and hot liquids (burn risks) away from the toddler.
  • Chemicals (like lawn and cleaning supplies) and medications can be tempting for little ones to explore. Be sure these are locked away, out of reach from your toddler’s curious hands. For poison emergencies, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Keep matches, cigarettes and lighters locked safely away. Keep your child away from space heaters, fireplaces and fans, as these can be dangerous.
  • If you have a gun in your home, be sure the ammunition is kept separately from the weapon and that both are safely locked away.
  • 2-year-olds get around the house on their own. Be sure that you have safety guards on windows, especially on the second floor or higher. Make certain doors that lead outside are locked.
  • Keep the handles of pots from hanging over the side/ edge of the stove. From the vantage point of a toddler below, these can be tempting to grab.
  • Toddlers put just about everything in their mouths. Batteries (especially “button” type) and magnets pose great danger to children if swallowed. Keep these items out of your baby’s reach. Smaller toys that belong to older siblings (Barbie® shoes, Legos®) can pose a choking risk to toddlers.
  • Ensure your home has working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • 2-year-olds can sit in a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness.

This document contains general parenting information based on American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and is not meant to replace the expert advice of your pediatrician.

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