Your 2-Year-Old


Your 2-year-old is not a baby anymore. He is confident, independent and on the move! There are exciting parenting opportunities for you to help your child thrive during this time. 

  • Reading books with pictures to your child will help build vocabulary and speed language development.
  • Arrange times for safe running and outdoor exploring.
  • Encourage imaginative play and sharing, but don’t be surprised if your 2-year-old isn’t interested in sharing his toys with you or anyone else.
  • Allow your child to play with boys and girls his age.
  • Child playing outside on toy truckLimit television viewing. The television is a poor substitute for spending time with you. When there are shows for his age, watch with your child and talk about what you are watching. Turn the TV off during meals!
  • If your child gets curious about body parts, use the correct terms for genitals (penis, testicles, vagina, labia) and answer questions as simply as possible. 
  • Your 2-year-old may have a blanket or favorite stuffed toy that he keeps with him most of the time. This is normal. Don’t make a big deal of it or try to shame him into giving it up. He will when he’s ready.
  • Keep family outings short and simple. Your 2-year old may have a short attention span, and lengthy activities can make him tired and fussy.
  • Allow your older children to have things they do not have to share with the 2-year-old.
  • If you are pregnant, ask your doctor the best way to talk to your 2-year-old about a new baby and what changes that will mean for the family.

Early learning

Language skills are front and center during your child’s second year. Even though your child may not speak until a little later, the things you do now to expand his vocabulary will make a world of difference when he does begin speaking. 

  • Teach new words every day. The more you talk to your toddler about all the things going on around you, the more words he will learn.
  • Expand your child’s language by adding descriptive words to what he says. If he says “kitty,” you can say “Yes, the kitty is little and soft.”
  • Pick books with subjects your child is interested in, such as animals, trains or a new baby.
  • When you’re reading or looking at picture books, ask your child “Where is?” and “What is?” questions such as “Where is the dog?” or “What is that?”
  • Add songs and rhymes into all of your routines.
  • Give your child crayons, chalk or other safe things he can scribble, draw or pretend to write with. Let your child imitate you as you write a letter or draw a picture.



Your 2-year-old should be able to:

  • Climb up steps alone, one step at a time holding the stair rail or a parent’s hand.
  • Jump off the floor with both feet.
  • Open doors.
  • Kick a ball.
  • Wash and dry his own hands.
  • Climb on furniture.
  • Use a spoon and cup well.
  • Ask frequent questions, such as “What is that?”
  • Enjoy imitating adults.
  • Select and use a toy correctly (feed a doll, hammer pegs in a cobbler’s bench).
  • Say approximately 50 or more words (but may go through short periods of mild speech problems like stuttering).

If you’re concerned, talk to your child’s doctor. 

As a parent, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks or acts, talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns. Don’t wait.

Eating right

Your 2-year-old may be a very picky little eater, and since he isn’t growing much during this period he may tend not to eat very much at all. DO NOT make mealtime a battle over food. Your child will only gain 3 or 4 pounds during this year. Your child should be able to name foods and tell you what he likes and doesn’t like. Let his appetite be your guide, and let him (within reason) choose what foods to eat. 

  • Your 2-year-old may want to eat the same thing day every day.
  • Don’t use bottles. 
  • Never use food as a reward (Don’t say, “Eat your dinner, and you will get dessert.”)
  • You may switch to 2% milk with your pediatrician’s approval.
  • Ask your child’s doctor if he needs to take vitamins. Continue to give fluoride supplements if the water is lacking in fluoride.
  • Make sure your child’s caregiver is following your instructions about meals and snacks.

Oral health

  • Ask your child’s doctor about when and how often to see the dentist.
  • Your 2-year-old may like to imitate a sibling or parent. Take this opportunity to teach good brushing habits. Get your child his own toothbrush, but only use a tiny amount of toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Second molars usually appear.


In general, most 2-year-olds still require an afternoon nap. Silly conflicts and frustrations happen when children (or parents) are overtired. So, do yourself a favor and continue afternoon naps as long as you can if they don’t interfere with your child sleeping at night.

  • Your child should sleep in his own bed. 
  • A 2-year-old’s bedtime is usually between 7 and 8 p.m. But you may experience problems such as your child refusing to go to bed, getting out of bed and wandering around the house at night, or night terrors and bad dreams. Don’t worry. This is normal. 
  • Stalling tactics such as, “I have to go potty” or “I want a drink of water,” are common at bed and nap time. Be kind, yet firm, in the limits you set, and calmly return your child to bed even if it takes hours for him to settle down and go to sleep.
  • Bedtime routines that include reading work well to help your 2-year-old go to sleep. 



Temper tantrums

Child in park with parent throwing tantrumTemper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting and breath holding. They are a normal part of development, usually occurring between the ages of 1 and 3 (especially age 2), and they tend to taper off as children become better able to express themselves. They are equally common in boys and girls. 

Toddlers get frustrated when they can’t master a task or express themselves. Tantrums are their way of venting. If you don’t take tantrums personally, you’ll handle them much better.

Toddlers also want a sense of independence and control over their environment. They want to do things themselves (even when it may be beyond them), and they want what they want right NOW! When they can’t do it or can’t have it, the stage is set for a tantrum.

Preventing tantrums 

Make sure your child understands what you want him to do and can actually do it.

  • Keep it friendly. Use a friendly tone of voice when you ask your toddler to do something. Say “please” and “thank you,” as in, “Please stand still while I brush your hair.” Don’t yell.
  • Don’t overreact when your toddler says no, just calmly repeat your request and only say no when it matters.
  • Don’t make deals. Bribery sends the message that everything is negotiable. It’s not.
  • Offer choices, but make sure either choice works for you. “Would you like to wear this shirt or this shirt?” “Would you like to take a bath now or in 10 minutes?” “Apple or orange juice?”
  • Child misbehavingAvoid situations that may trigger tantrums. Children are more likely to act out when they’re tired, hungry, sick, or in an unfamiliar setting, so think ahead.
  • Make life fun. Your child will be more likely to do what you want if you make an activity fun.
  • Stick to your daily routine as much as possible so your child knows what to expect.
  • Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach.
  • Set the stage for success. Offer toys and games for his age.
  • Talk to your child. Remind him to use words to express his feelings.

If your child has a tantrum, REMAIN CALM and try to distract him. Ignore minor displays of anger, such as crying, but if your child hits, kicks or screams for a prolonged period, remove him from the situation. Hold your child or give him time alone to cool down.

Enforcing consequences

Don’t yell and scream, just enforce consequences.

Natural consequences. These are the times when you let the situation play out so your child sees what happens when he does not behave (as long as he’s not in danger). For example, when your child throws his snack, he won’t have a snack to eat and may get hungry later.

Logical consequences. These are the times when you will need to create a consequence and follow through. For example, tell him if he doesn’t pick up his toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Keep the consequence near in time and relevant to the bad behavior.

Withholding privileges. This is when you tell your child that if he does not cooperate, he must give something up he likes. Your challenge is to follow through on your promise.

  • Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
  • Choose something your child values that is related to the misbehavior.
  • Withhold privileges right away. If your child misbehaves in the morning, don’t tell him he can’t watch TV that night. Too much time has passed since he acted out.


This works well when a specific rule has been broken. It works best for children from 2 to 5 years of age but can be used throughout childhood. Follow these steps to make a time-out work.

Decide ahead of time which two or three behaviors will cause you to implement time-out. Explain this to your child.

  • Choose a time-out spot that is boring with no distractions. Bathrooms can be dangerous, and bedrooms may become playgrounds. The goal is to get the child to calm down and think about what he has done.
  • Child going to time-outGive your child one warning (unless the offense is aggression). If it happens again, send him to the time-out spot right away. Tell him what he did wrong (in just a few words and with as little emotion as possible). If your child will not go to the spot on his own, pick him up and carry him there. If he will not stay, hold him there gently but firmly. Then, without eye contact, say, “I am holding you here because you have to have a time-out.” Don’t discuss or argue. 
  • It should only take a couple of time-outs before he learns to cooperate or sit quietly rather than be held there.
  • Set a time limit. One minute for each year of your child’s age is a good one. Once your child can sit quietly, set a timer so that he will know when the time-out is over. If fussing starts, restart the timer. Wait until your child is quiet before you set the timer again.

Resume activity. When the time is up, tell him you love him and help him return to play. NO APOLOGIES, NO DISCUSSION. Time has been served.

Why spanking is NOT the best choice

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking. Although most Americans were spanked as children, we now know that it has several important side effects.

  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
  • Parents may regret their actions later.
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles that may harm the child.

Research has shown that children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. It is clear that spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re frustrated or want to maintain control. It’s also unlikely a child can see the difference between getting spanked by a parent and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Potty training

You cannot train children to control urine and bowel movements before they are developmentally able to. In fact, by overtraining, you may delay the process and set the stage for real problems later on.

  • If your child has a bowel movement at the same time every day, sit him on a little potty chair and tell him what to expect. 
  • If your child’s bowel movements occur at irregular times during the day, watch for a sign (like grunting or squatting) that he has to go. Then pick up your child and put him on the potty. If nothing happens in a few minutes or if your child is scared in any way, take him off the potty.

Young boy potty trainingYour child wants to control his bladder and bowel movements to please you. So praise your child when he makes it to the potty in time. When your child has an “accident,” stay calm and don’t punish; this can delay success. And don’t begin toilet training during a stressful family time. 

Your child may be ready to potty train when he wakes up from a nap with a dry diaper. Other signs are when he:

  • Has a bowel movement at the same time each day.
  • Says “pee” or “poop.” 
  • Tugs at his diaper, squats or makes a face.
  • Is able to take off his clothes. 
  • Is uncomfortable in dirty diapers and wants them changed.

It often takes three to six months for a child to:

  • Recognize when he has to go to the potty.
  • Goes to the bathroom.
  • Pulls down his pants, pees or poops in the potty.
  • Dresses himself again.

Accidents or refusing to use the potty is normal.

It helps to offer a reward for using the potty. 

  • Involve your child in changing himself when he wets or soils his diaper (and later his underwear). 
  • Talk about how great it will be when he starts wearing underwear and even have a ceremony where he throws away the last diaper. 

If your child is having a hard time learning to use the potty, develop a regular daily routine of sitting on the potty for five or ten minutes every few hours and:

  • Avoid physical punishment for not using the potty, even with an older child. 
  • Make it clear how very happy and proud you will be when your child uses the potty.

Transition to a bed

Make sure your child is ready. It takes a certain level of development to understand that the bed has imaginary boundaries that a child must learn to stay within. Although some children make the switch to a regular-sized bed earlier than others, the ideal time is around 3 years old. Your child’s size (too big for the crib), activity level (climbing out of the crib) and progress toward potty training (he needs to get out of bed to use the potty) may drive your decision to make the transition. 

You also may be expecting another baby. If this is the case, make the switch at least six to eight weeks before your due date so your toddler can be settled into his new bed before the new baby arrives. Just don’t make your toddler feel like he is being replaced. 


Toddler sleeping in bedTwo-year-olds have a lot of adjustments to deal with: potty training, preschool, pressures to “grow up” and possibly even a new brother or sister. Some children, especially first-born children, are very attached to the security their cribs represent and resist the new bed. Later-born children may be in a hurry to leave “the baby bed” for a “big-kid” bed. If you start the transition and find it is too much for your toddler, you always can bring the crib back, lower the mattress as much as you can and try again later. Just don’t make it seem like punishment.

To ease the transition:

  • Put your toddler’s new bed in the same place the crib used to be. 
  • Use a familiar blanket or top sheet, even if they are too small.
  • Put up a guardrail to prevent your toddler from falling out of bed, or get a bed designed specifically for toddlers (some look like cars, trains or flowers) with built-in guardrails.
  • Get your toddler excited about a “big-kid” bed. Let him pick out his own sheets or throw a “big bed” party.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Words that describe ADHD (fidgety, distractible, impulsive, dramatic, defiant, super energetic, loud and stubborn) also describe a normal 2-year-old. So don’t run to a specialist if your child is a whirlwind. In fact, most experts won’t even consider diagnosing a child with ADHD until at least 5 years of age because toddlers’ brains are developing so quickly that today’s problem behaviors are really just part of a passing phase.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

There’s a lot of buzz about autism spectrum disorders these days, and it has many concerned parents looking for more information. That’s especially true when a child isn’t reaching milestones for his age – those for communication and social skills in particular. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to five related developmental disorders: Autism, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett syndrome and “pervasive developmental disorder” (PDD).

If you see your child consistently lagging behind other children his age, watch for these “red flags,” and talk to your child’s doctor right away about having your child screened for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Red flags 

  • Doesn’t respond to his name
  • Is slow to develop language skills
  • Doesn’t point or wave “bye-bye”
  • Used to say a few words or babble, but now doesn’t
  • Throws intense or violent tantrums
  • Seems to tune people out
  • Is not interested in other children
  • Doesn’t smile back at others
  • Resists changes in routine
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Doesn’t pretend or play “make-believe”

Early detection is critical

Although there is no cure, early detection can make a huge difference in the life of a child with ASD. Medication and therapy can successfully limit symptoms and help children function well in the world.

Child playing with counting toy


Exercise and activity

Your child is now learning to blend real-life experiences into pretend play. This isn’t just fun; it builds important skills and nurtures his imagination. This is also one of the ways children figure out the world around them. You can encourage this type of play by:

  • Helping your child create imaginative games and new ways to use toys (wooden spoons can be airplanes and Lego pieces can be people).
  • Giving your child time to play by himself. Playing alone gives a child a chance to process and understand what he has been learning all day.
  • Listening carefully when your child tells you about wild adventures.


Your child’s safety begins with you 

Post the toll-free Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) by every phone. Program the number in your cell phone, and be sure that caregivers and babysitters know this number. In an emergency, this number will connect you with help if your child drinks or eats something dangerous like cleaning supplies. A poison expert in your area is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can find ways to protect your child at

  • In the past, children were given syrup of ipecac to make them vomit if they swallowed poison. Experts now say you should NEVER make a child vomit. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, flush it down the toilet.

If you haven’t downloaded the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s child safety checklist do it now. Go to and scroll to the bottom of the page. 

  • Have a fire escape plan and practice it with your family.


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