Playing with Your Toddler: Rules of the Game

There are a number of valuable roles you can play that will help your toddler get the most out of his play.
Table of contents

Playing with Your Toddler: Rules of the Game

During your child's second year, you will remain his favorite plaything. He will enjoy jumping on you, climbing all over you, and having you toss him up in the air (please catch him, too). He will love dancing with you, chasing you, and having you chase him. He will listen intently as you talk and sing and he will delight in trying to make you smile and laugh.

Set aside special times to play with your child, but even aside from these playtimes, try to make everything you do with your child fun. While you change your child's diaper, sing a silly song or give him a toy to play with. When you dress your child, play a quick game of peek-a-boo as you pull a shirt over his head. When you cook dinner, let your toddler serenade you with selections from his pots-and-pans percussion band. When you do the laundry, play a little basketball, letting him throw and slam-dunk clothes into the washing machine.

Try not to worry too much about how much your child is learning through his play. All your attempts to teach your child at this age should have an element of fun in them. But not all fun needs to have an element of teaching. Your toddler will learn something—that water is wet, that blocks don't roll, that balls drop down, that balloons float up, and that bubbles waft up and then sink down—whether or not you make a conscious effort to teach him something. That's what toddlers do.

Trust your toddler to learn through play. Give him the time and freedom he needs to explore toys and playthings on his own. Sit on your hands if you have to. But try not to disrupt your child's experimentation with a new plaything by showing him how to do it. You're an adult. Of course you know the "right" way to play with that toy or game. Yes, you could probably fit that puzzle piece into the hole faster than your toddler. But your child has distinctly non-adult ways to play with it, too. So unless your child asks for your help, back off and let him steer the direction of his own play.

This does not mean you should leave your child entirely to his own devices. You can play a number of valuable roles that will help your toddler get the most out of his play:

  • Cheerleader Applaud your child every time he achieves his goal or masters a new skill.
  • Playmate Your toddler can't play certain games without a partner. You can roll the ball back to him or play "chase me," for example.
  • Research Assistant Bring your young scientist the things he needs for his experiments.
  • Expert Answer your child's questions about what he's playing with or show him how to do something if he asks.
  • Psychologist Help your child deal with the frustration of wanting to do more than he's physically capable of doing. Talk to him, encourage him, comfort him, and offer your help if he wants it.

Pay attention to how your toddler is playing and what he is doing with a toy. For the most part, let your child's own instincts guide him in how and what to play. If you do see another way he could play or if you think of something that might also be fun, offer your guidance only as a suggestion. Then let your child decide whether he's interested in taking you up on it. After all, your notions about how to play are neither more important nor more valid than your toddler's ideas.