| |

How and What to teach a two year old

This post may contain affiliate links from which I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for supporting my family

Exactly what you need to teach your two year old (that’s developmentally appropriate) and more importantly HOW to teach them so they start to grow into eager helpers.

Well, this is a wild age! These little ones are coming into their own and figuring out who they are. And when I say they are “coming into their own”, I mean they are yelling “NO” and trying to figure out how to do everything for themselves which takes 10 times longer and then they get mad and yell some more when they can’t figure it out. So what do you teach these wild two year olds??

Meeting their developmental needs with life skills

Proper development includes 3 areas: cognitive, social/emotional, and physical. Each of these three needs to be taught in an age-appropriate way. GOOD NEWS!!!! We can teach these valuable skills through daily routines and simple living.

Let’s check what their stage of development is first to make sure we are meeting those needs so we can guide them as they figure out what they can do and you try to stay sane.  

2 year old in the kitchen learning how to make juice
my 2 year old using the juicer by herself and feeling VERY proud of herself

Developmental Stage for two year olds

According to Dr. Erikson, two year olds are right in the middle of the early childhood phase (18months to 3yrs old)+. Their goal at this age is to develop autonomy*…you might have noticed amidst all the yelling “I can do it myself!”. Autonomy basically means that they are able to complete tasks independently.

For little ones this includes things that seem simple to us: walking, talking, communicating feelings, and understanding their body signals (thirsty, hungry, have to pee). We do these things without thought now, but for 2 year olds these things are still new! Some of these things they learn naturally, while other things need to be taught. If children in this stage do not learn autonomy and develop the ability to do things on their own, Erikson says they could develop shame. Yikes! Our wild souls need to stay free and wild!!!

The goal of this stage: give two year olds autonomy

The most important thing to do at this stage: build a foundation of self-esteem and resilience so they are open to learning new things. Giving them some control over themselves and their world helps build this foundation. They feel good about having control and feeling like capable little people. This sets them up for success later on too! Loving learning helps so much when it comes to school in a few years.

two year old standing on a stool helping in the kitchen

Don’t forget YOU as you teach THEM

Sounds easy right?? Joking! But, we CAN do it! Being fully engaged and present as we raise these wild little souls takes a lot of self-work and while it may be mentally exhausting, it is also so rewarding. Make sure you are finding ways to rest and recharge yourself. I have a post coming up about nourishing yourself as the parent so you can continue to give to your kids. Sign up for the fam mail to get the update!

So we know our two year olds are trying to be independent. What skills do we teach them and HOW do we teach them?

Let’s start with the HOW

Step One: Invite them in

Invite them to join you in real life. Cooking, cleaning, planning out loud. Start with this invitation. At this age, you, their primary caretaker, is the relationship they care about most. They will love joining you. You, their parents/caretakers are their main relationship. The relationship they crave at this stage. So bringing them into our lives and chores also builds a strong foundation for that relationship. You do real life together. I have a whole post on the benefits of doing real life, check it out here!

Step 2: Make the Space

Your two year old wants to spend time with you, they want to help you, they want to be valued by you. And even at two years old, they know when you are busy when you aren’t paying attention. You know how it is, the phone rings and all of a sudden everybody needs you. They usually start yelling, throwing or doing other things you don’t like because they KNOW that will work to draw your attention back to them, even if it’s in anger or irritation. They actually prefer you to be frustrated with them, but still focused on them vs for you to be focused elsewhere. So create the space for them and then invite them into your world. 

Step 3: Don’t force it

When I say invite I don’t mean force. This connects back to that autonomy piece. They can pick for themselves how big a participant they are at this age. My kids are always invited to help make breakfast with me, sometimes they are on their stools fully engaged with me at the counter, sometimes they will pull their blankets into the kitchen and cozy up around my feet (super convenient lol), or they might listen to an audiobook at the kitchen table. But, we are together, sharing the same space, there are no screens separating us, I am talking to them, and they see the tasks that need to be done and how to do them.

mother cooking breakfast while her kids cuddle at her feet
Today my kids opted not to help, instead, they made a cozy spot in the kitchen. That was how they choose to be involved.

Tips on HOW to teach 2 year olds

The biggest tip: DO NOT RUSH

2 year olds can NOT be rushed, it just will not happen. Make sure you take the time, take a breath and go at their pace. (obviously, this is an ideal world, and when we are teaching life skills at home, sometimes you do just have to get out the door. But, whenever possible at home, make the time)

Tips for creating space

well, good news I have a whole article on this! (check it out here). But, also to make this less overwhelming, you don’t have to invite them into every aspect of everything. They are too young for that anyways. If you feel overwhelmed, pick 1-2 things like emptying the dishwasher and putting away laundry. You don’t have to immediately start doing everything all the time. You also need time to adjust, take all the deep breaths you need and really ground yourself. Otherwise, your time together will just feel frustrating.

Ok so that is HOW to teach them, now WHAT do we teach 2 year olds

I recommend focusing on a few basics (listed below) and then seeing what skills flow naturally from here. I don’t recommend a specific list. At this age, it will be very child and family specific. Reading any list online inevitably leads to guilt or worry that our kids aren’t doing enough, or we as their parents aren’t teaching them enough. Let’s stop the parent guilt right now. At this young age, there is no specific list of skills they need to know. Again, focus on these simple things. Once they have a foundation to learn and feel like they are valued in the family we add in some “chores”.

Teach them these foundations:

  1. They are a helpful member of the family
    • You do this by including them and praising them during real family life. Its not just about play time. For example, they can help put toys away in the correct buckets or their pjs in the laundry basket.
  2. They can understand and listen to  their own body
    • Give them the power to listen to their bodies. They pick how much they eat, talk to them about the things their bodies need to be strong. Ask them what their bodies are feeling, ask them what they think their bodies need. As an example: hey you look upset right now, when I feel upset sometimes its my body telling me I am tired or hungry. Is your body telling you anything? Do you want to try a snack or a rest?
    • From previous articles, you might remember that my son has some unique challenges. At two years old, when I saw his ques and knew he was feeling overstimulated, we all took a water break (before he became escalated). I would initiate the break as a way to hit the pause button in an activity that was getting too elevating/stimulating for him. At 4 years old, now he feels when his body is elevated and says, “Mommy I need a water break.” He recognizes his own body ques. Giant goal met!!!!
    • This will be a tough concept to start. But keep going, they will get it I promise! Plus it feels pretty empowering for them (and gives them some autonomy over their own little selves…bonus!)
  3. They can try new things at their own pace
    • Let them be curious about things. This might sound simple, but often we attempt to encourage curiosity but pushing or forcing new things. This builds resistance and fear vs our goal of encouraging learning and trying new things. So let them try new things but go slow, follow their lead. If they want to stand in the doorway and just observe a new space let them do it. Don’t feel you have to talk the whole time, simply be on their level and be present. Ask if they have questions then wait quietly. Your presence will help them feel safe, and your time waiting with them will let them adjust. These two things lead to confidence in trying new things.
mother and son in matching aprons
my son at 2 years old very excited about our matching aprons, ready to do ALL the kitchen things

don’t forget to pause

You may notice that some of this is just us as parents getting out of their way. Not rushing them, but pausing, listening to them, and encouraging them to listen to themselves as well. It feels simple, but it might be the hardest part of parenting! I think we innately want to help them figure out everything, and we want to make sure they feel safe and comfortable all the time just to relieve our own anxiety.

So to pause ourselves, let them decide and feel their own feelings. Let them decide what they are thinking before we interrupt and demand to know every thought that has popped into their little heads (guilty of that over here). We need to let go of our own worries and encourage them to listen to their own bodies. This is a huge life skill. Starting now will help them throughout their entire life. Not exaggerating.

How is this wild stage going for you??

if you are encouraging your own kids to listen to their bodies, you HAVE to tell me what funny things your kids have said! My daughter will often rub her belly and say “my body is telling me…” and it’s always the most hilarious things!

If you missed it, I am doing a whole series on chores. Starting here with what to teach 2 year olds, but continuing on with ages 3, 4 and 5. Sign up below if you want the chores series emailed right to you!

Helper stools

Fun kid socks

Family Aprons

Fun kids socks


*McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 03). Erik erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html

+Orenstein GA, Lewis L. (2022 Nov 7). Eriksons stages of psychosocial development. StatPearls Publishing; Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556096/

Post Disclaimer

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article should be construed as medical advice.  Consult you health care provider for your individual nutritional and medical needs.  The opinions are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of any professional group or other individual

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *