Spending time on your child’s level is wonderful. But it’s an even better experience for both of you when you can truly embrace the joy and freedom of playtime. Here are 7 tips for how to play with a toddler.

 

Playing with your child is a win-win: You both benefit. Play is how you help your child develop in many ways, from language skills and motor skills to social skills and emotional growth. Play tightens the bond between the two of you. And toddler play is a simple, endless source of fun and joy.

For all its plusses, knowing how to play with a toddler doesn’t always come naturally to grown-ups, however. It’s as if, with our busy lives, we’ve forgotten how to live in the moment and enjoy ourselves. Even parents who love to play might not realize how to make the most of this time for a toddler. But with a few smart tips, you can focus on what matters:

Give playing with your child your undivided attention. Sure, sometimes you need your child to play without you. But providing your full one-on-one attention to your toddler signals that you value her. When you play, put down the phone or laptop; turn off the TV. Take a break from multitasking to engage fully in playtime.

Put fun first. Most toddler play at this age should just be about the pleasure of the experience. Resist turning every interaction into a learning opportunity, say, by quizzing about colors or giving lectures. Much of what toddlers learn happens naturally as you talk, engage, answer questions, and simply do things together.

Tune in to your child. Even before your toddler can speak well, her facial expressions, gestures, and sounds will make it clear if she’s receptive and having a good time or not. Listen to all these signals. Kids connect and take in more when they feel responded to and secure.

Learn how to play with a toddler from your child. You might suggest the activity or toy but then see what your child does with it. There’s rarely a right way to play. Let her show you a new way.

Ask questions. Another way to avoid taking over while still keeping your toddler engaged is to ask, rather than tell: “What will happen next?” “Where did it go?” “What did the bear say?”

Bring patience to play time. Toddlers love to do things “again, again!” Repetition is how they learn new ideas and master new skills. You may tire of a game long before your toddler does but stick with it.

Just flow with it. It’s OK—no, it’s great—to be a little silly when you play with your toddler: Blow bubbles, roll on the grass, dance. When you’re having fun, you can be sure that your toddler is, too.