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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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School Readiness

0-12 Months12-2424-36

Two-year-olds are very capable people. They can run, jump, sing, play pretend, and solve complex problems—like how to get to the Halloween candy that Mom put up on the counter.  Many also want to do more of their own self-care—like brushing their hair or getting dressed on their own. This makes them feel strong, confident, and smart—key ingredients for later school success.


Click on the links below to learn more about the many ways that parents help their older toddlers learn to feel good about who they are, and to believe in themselves and their abilities:

Build your child’s self-esteem. Your reactions to your child send powerful messages about who he is and what his strengths and abilities are. When you give him lots of hugs and kisses, talk, sing, laugh and dance with him, you let him know he is loved and fun to be with.  These kinds of messages are the foundation of self-confidence.


Another everyday way to build your child’s sense of confidence and self-esteem is to find ways for your child to help out with family chores.  Children this age love to help out with “grown-up” tasks.  They feel great pride when they can show you how they feed pets or water plants.  Believing they are a valued and contributing member of the family builds children’s confidence and self-worth. 


What you can do:

  • Delight in your child’s discoveries as he explores.  This lets him know he is interesting, important and loved.

  • Give your child support in trying new things.  This tells him you believe he is smart and capable. 

  • Be specific about what tasks you want your child to help with. Please pick up your blocks, instead of, Let’s clean up the room.  Keep the task fairly small and within your child’s skills.  Manage your own expectations about how the task is completed.  If you ask your child to match socks, expect some mismatches.  If you ask your child to put the blocks away, you may still find some “strays.”  This is developmentally normal and just part of the learning process.

  • Recognize and be specific about what your child accomplished: You counted out all 4 napkins and put them on the table.  Good job.  Now we can eat. This emphasizes to your child what an important contribution he is making.  Learning to help out will also help him later when he is asked to perform many “jobs” around the classroom.

Help your child make sense of the world.  As your toddler grows, your role as a parent becomes one of “translator” or “explainer” for your child.  When you help him understand how the world around him works, you are helping him cope with life’s realities. This builds self-confidence.


It’s also important that you model self-confidence.  Your toddler looks to you to learn how to work through challenges and resolve conflicts.  When you believe in yourself, and talk with your child about your own process for overcoming challenges, you provide a powerful example of how to approach the world with confidence and optimism.


What you can do:

  • Help your child understand and cope with rules.  You don’t like nap time at school. But it’s a rule. Having naptime is important because children need time to rest. I know it’s hard to stay quiet for that whole time when you can’t sleep. Let’s see if we can talk with Ms. Marta about bringing in some small, quiet toys you can play with on your cot for the times you can’t sleep.  These kinds of explanations help children feel safe, secure and in control—all of which builds their self-confidence and ability to cope and problem-solve. 

  • Help your child understand complex situations.  As bright and verbal as 2-year-olds can be, there are many situations they face that can be quite confusing.  Helping them understand these experiences gives them confidence that they can handle them.  I know you are sad that Marco didn’t play with you at the park today.  He was already playing ball with another child.  But I know he still likes you and is your friend.  How about if we invite him over to play this weekend?

  • Show your child how you think through challenges: Hmmm, putting this toy together is kind of tough.  I am having a hard time.  But let me look at the directions again.  Can you pass me that part? Where do you think it goes? I think we can figure this out together!

Share your toddler’s excitement about her accomplishments.  “Watch this!”  “Come see my show!”  “Watch my trick!”  Toddlers love having an audience—and their favorite audience is you.  Being appreciated by the person who loves them most is critical for building self-confidence.  Believing that “I can do it” means that children have developed a positive view of themselves and their abilities. 


What you can do:

  • Take the time to watch and delight in your child’s accomplishments.  This shows you value her interests and builds her self-confidence as she sees herself as smart and capable (not to mention entertaining!). 

  • Focus on your child’s efforts and feelings about her accomplishment (versus yours.)  Focus on your child’s efforts. For example: You are pushing the pedals so hard to make the tricycle go! Wow, you are so strong. Look, it’s moving—little by little.  This sends a very different message to your child than saying, Mommy is so proud of you!  First, it lets your child know that you are proud of her efforts.  She learns that she doesn’t have to succeed to be loved and valued by you. And, focusing on persistence and effort motivates children to learn new skills because it makes them feel good about themselves, not because they desire praise from others.  This is called “internal motivation” and it is a powerful force in later school achievement. 

Join in your child’s pretend play.  In your child’s third year, you will see him engaging in pretend play more and more. These games—acting out stories, taking on roles or characters—help your child feel confident that he is fun, interesting and has good ideas. 


In addition, children act out their thoughts and feelings through the stories they create during pretend play.  A toddler may pick up a purse, put on a coat, and pretend she is the mommy going off to work. This helps her cope with feelings around separation.  Another toddler who has a new brother or sister may play out a story with action figures or stuffed animals where one of the characters has to go away, return to the hospital, etc.  Working out their feelings in this safe way can give children confidence to handle the new—and sometimes—challenging situations they encounter as they grow.


What you can do:

  • Join in your child’s pretend play.  Let him be the “director.”  Take on whatever role you’re assigned, whether it is a T-Rex or princess, and have fun together. This lets your child know you value his ideas and see him as a leader which builds self-confidence.

  • Use pretend play to help your child work through difficult feelings and experiences.  You can help your child express feelings he is struggling with when you join in his play.  Take on the role of one of the characters in the story your child is creating.  Make statements and ask questions about the feelings and situations your child acts out. For example, Bear seems really angry.  What is he mad about? Or, I wonder if Clifford is scared to play with the other doggies.  What can we do to help him? 

Help your child be a good problem-solver.  Support your child’s efforts to work out problems—whether it is resolving a conflict with a friend or trying to get a mitten on. But don’t jump in right away to solve it.  These are chances for your child to feel successful. Guide and support her in accomplishing the task, but don’t do for her what she has the skills to accomplish herself with some effort.


Your child’s times of greatest frustration are, in fact, golden opportunities for her to develop feelings of confidence, competence and mastery. She’ll learn that she can depend on you to encourage her, but that she can find the solution.  Of course, if your child has tried and clearly can’t accomplish what she wants to do—like open a doorknob with mittens on—offer a little assistance. Provide just enough support to get her over the “hump”, and then step back again and let her take the next step toward the solution.

What you can do:

  • Empathize with her frustration.  You are working so hard to get your mittens on!  It takes time to figure it out.

  • Ask her if she knows what may be causing the problem.

  • Offer your observations--for example, that she has forgotten to poke her thumb into the thumb space of the mitten.

  • Ask if she has any ideas about how to get it on correctly.

  • Ask if she wants suggestions-- How about putting your thumb in first and then your hand?

  • Provide the support she needs to be successful-- for example, helping her position her fingers to get them in correctly.

Let your child know it’s smart to ask for help.  It’s important for children to know that everyone needs help sometimes, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Knowing when you need help and asking for it is actually a sign of strength and builds self-confidence.  The help children receive from others allows them to work through new challenges. You were having a hard time using the blocks to make a staircase for your house. You asked daddy for help and we figured out how to do it.  Now you have a beautiful staircase for your little people to climb.


What you can do:

  • When you see your child struggling, ask what kind of help he wants.  Getting shoes on can be so hard! Sometimes opening up the laces can make it easier. Would you like me to help you loosen them?

  • Let your child see that you sometimes need help, too.  Ask others for help when you need it.  It makes your child feel especially good when you ask him for help: Can you take on of the grocery bags in the house? Mommy’s hands are full..  


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The most important thing about the activities you do with your baby is that they're fun for both of you.  But sometimes these activities can also help babies learn new things.  Are there any games or songs that your baby loves and that also nurture his growing self confidence?  Please share them with us!  We'd love to post a few of our vistitors' ideas on the site.


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