Positive Parenting Tips: Toddlers (2–3 years old)

Key points

  • As a parent you give your children a good start in life—you nurture, protect, and guide them.
  • Learn about developmental milestones, including emotional and social development, for toddlers from 2 to 3 years old.
  • There are many things you can do to help your child stay safe and healthy.
A toddler girl with pigtails holding an apple

Developmental milestones

Skills such as taking turns, playing make believe, and kicking a ball, are called developmental milestones. Most children achieve these milestones by a certain age. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (like jumping, running, or balancing).

The “terrible twos” is a term used to describe this stage as toddlers begin to assert their independence. However, this can be an exciting time as toddlers undergo huge changes in their thinking, learning, social, and emotional abilities. These changes help them explore their new world and make sense of it. At this stage, toddlers should be able to follow simple instructions and sort objects by shape and color. Additionally, they should be able to imitate the actions of adults and playmates, and express a wide range of emotions.

Positive parenting tips

son on his fathers shoulders with trees around
Play parade or follow the leader with your toddler.

Following are some of the things you, as a parent, can do to help your toddler during this time:

  • Set up a special time to read books with your toddler.
  • Encourage your child to take part in pretend play.
  • Help your child to explore things around them by taking them on a walk or wagon ride.
  • Encourage your child to tell you their name and age.
  • Teach your child simple songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, or other cultural childhood rhymes.
  • Give your child attention and praise when they follow instructions and show positive behavior and limit attention for defiant behavior like tantrums. Teach your child acceptable ways to show that they are upset.

Child safety first

As your child is moving around more, they will come across more dangers as well. Dangerous situations can happen quickly, so keep a close eye on your child. Here are a few tips to help keep your growing toddler safe:

  • Encourage your toddler to sit when eating and to chew their food thoroughly to prevent choking.
  • Check toys often for loose or broken parts.
  • Encourage your toddler not to put pencils or crayons in their mouth when coloring or drawing.
  • Do NOT hold hot drinks while your child is sitting on your lap. Sudden movements can cause a spill and might result in your child being burned.
  • Make sure that your child sits in the back seat and is buckled up properly in a car seat with a harness.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children.

Do NOT leave your toddler near or around water (for example, bathtubs, pools, ponds, lakes, whirlpools, or the ocean) without someone watching them. Ensure backyard pools are fenced off.

Healthy bodies

Here are a few tips to help keep your growing toddler healthy:

  • Talk with staff at your child care provider to see if they serve healthier foods and drinks, and if they limit television and other screen time.
  • Your toddler might change what food they like from day to day. It's normal behavior, and it's best not to make an issue of it. Encourage them to try new foods by offering them small bites to taste.
  • Encourage free play as much as possible. It helps your toddler stay active and strong and helps him develop motor skills.
  • Make sure your child gets the recommended amount of sleep each night: 11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) for toddlers 2-3 years old.

Screen Time and Toddlers‎

Keep television sets out of your child's bedroom. Set limits for screen time for your child to no more than 1 hour per day of quality programming at home, school, or afterschool care and develop a media use plan for your family. Learn more:

For more information

CDC's "Learn the Signs. Act Early." Program has more details on how to track your child's developmental milestones, and what to do if you're concerned about your child's development.

CDC's Parent Information (Children 0–3 years) has information to help you learn how to give your child a healthy start in life.

CDC's Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers has ways you can help build a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship with your child.

CDC's Breastfeeding Information has answers to frequently asked questions about breastfeeding.

CDC's Information on Infant and Toddler Nutrition has tips for parents to help children maintain a healthy weight.

CDC's Protect the Ones You Love has information on how you can protect your child from drowning and other common causes of injury.

CDC's Information on Vaccinations View the immunization schedule for infants and children and find out if your child's vaccinations are up to date.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides information on health and nutrition, My Plate for Infants and My Plate for Toddlers.

AAP's Healthy Children website provides information on feeding, nutrition, and fitness for all developmental stages from infancy to young adulthood.

Just in Time Parenting (JITP) has quality, research-based information to families at the time it can be most useful.

Healthy Kids Healthy Future has information on physical activity for young children and ways to keep them moving.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has information on safety recalls and safety tips for children riding in motor vehicles, walking, biking, playing outside, waiting at school bus stops, and more.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Visit to learn how to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and safe sleep environments.

World Health Organization Information on Infant Nutrition has information to promote proper feeding for infants and young children.