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Discovering Themselves

The toddler years are a time of massive self-discovery. They’ll learn the power of their voice. How to walk, run, play and problem-solve. To say “no” and ask “why”, alongside countless other questions that they’ll expect you to answer.

As parents, it’s our job to give our children a safe space to make these personal discoveries. This isn’t a time to “over-parent”. Sometimes they will need a lot of support. At others, it’s better that they figure things out on their own. Trying and failing is often the best way to learn. Of course, you know your child better than anyone, so it’s up to you to decide when to step in and when to stand back.

Build them up

While your toddler is going through this period of self-discovery, try to maintain a supportive and positive family environment. Toddlers are highly adept at picking up the mood in the room, and if they sense you are feeling stressed or anxious, it can be unsettling and knock their confidence. Instead, tell them regularly how proud you are of them. Let them overhear you saying nice things about them. And remind them that you are there for them, no matter what. Toddlers benefit considerably from reassurance, positive reinforcement and praise, so make these key parts of your daily parenting routine.

Supportive phrases to try

*I love you
* Thanks for telling me
* You can do it
* I’m always here for you
* Well done. You really stuck with that
* That’s so interesting
* I trust you
* You’re so clever
* You should be so proud of yourself
* You kept trying and it got easier
* I believe in you
* You can tell me anything
* Everyone makes mistakes
* Let’s figure it out together

Actively listen

Listen intently when your toddler wants to tell you something. As parents, when we’re always trying to do ten things at once, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “half-listening” when our child talks to us, saying “hold on” or “in a minute”. Toddlers really notice this, and it can lead to a range of different problems, including:

* becoming more needy and clingy, craving your attention.
* shouting excessively, as they feel like they aren’t being heard (so they up their volume).
* depending on one parent (the one who listens) for emotional support while shutting off the other.
* becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative.

Expand their horizons

Although toddlers can be very opinionated about what they like and dislike, at this young age, they really have no clue. Try to expose your child to as many different experiences as possible, from new tastes and new hobbies to different cultures, people and music.

Toddlers like familiar things, for example, wanting to eat the same meal, watch the same film or play the same game, day in, day out. This is not only boring for you but limiting for them. So, mix things up, involve them in your own interests and try something new together.

Body curiosity

Toddlers are naturally curious about their bodies (and yours too). So, don’t be shocked if you catch them poking, pulling or fiddling with their genitals (boys especially), or pointing, prodding and asking questions about yours. If they do, try not to laugh or make them feel ashamed. This is completely natural and harmless, driven by their own curiosity and not anything to worry about.
This article is an extract from “You The Daddy”, by Giles Alexander, which will be released on 9th May 2024, £14.99, and has been called “By far the best parenting book for dads-to-be” by Dadsnet. Giles is a leading dad blogger; you can find him at