We know that children learn through play, especially the youngest toddlers and preschoolers, who aren’t exactly picking up a book to study its contents. That fact might be making some parents and caregivers — and the folks who love them — feel extra pressure when it comes to buying toys for 2-year-olds. Will what you buy, or fail to buy, for a child this age destine them to success or failure? Is there some secret magical toy that will calm their terrible twos?
We turned to Dr. Jack Maypole, a pediatrician and educational advisory board member at The Goddard School for early childhood development, for some answers to those questions. (It’s the least we could do before enticing you with a gallery of beautiful shiny objects to purchase, right?) He is a big advocate of play, which doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be emptying our wallets to nurture tiny geniuses with the latest new toys.
“If you’re asking, ‘What do I get my 2-year-old boy or girl?’ My response is, tell me what your kid loves to do,” Maypole told SheKnows. “That’s going to be money better spent — just letting a kiddo enjoy themselves versus getting something for their enrichment.”
Kids grow and learn a whole lot from ages 2 to 3, both physically and emotionally, but they do so at many different rates from each other. Maypole said that some 15 percent of children this age might have a developmental delay. Even with those differences, he can sum up this year in terms of how a 2-year-old plays alone and with others:
“Play is a way in which kids are dress-rehearsing their social behaviors and their motor skills,” he said. “It’s really developing and finessing their gross- and fine-motor capacity for things they enjoy doing, or things that they might create a competency in, to be like the big kids. While that’s going on, there is this explosion of communication skills. They’re learning how to have a thought, articulate a thought, negotiate social encounters, and then move from parallel play to group play and start to do higher-order pretend play.”
When their communication skills have not caught up to their internal thoughts, they earn that “terrible twos” reputation. Toys can’t necessarily halt a tantrum, unfortunately, but they can help. Maypole says the first step in curbing a meltdown is to detect its cause — is the kid tired, frustrated by another child, overstimulated, or anxious? After they’ve calmed down is when you have a chance to use positive reinforcement and maybe a little distraction with toys.
“You can you can capitalize on a short attention span by showing up with something shiny,” he said.
Some of these shiny things might be just the ticket.
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