Two year old’s are different. They are too big to carry around and talk at, but too little to hit a ball with a stick. Games don’t work because they can’t understand the rules: they have more fun throwing game pieces in the air or sorting them into like colors or shapes, than they would moving them around a board.
Before you hang out with a two year old it is useful to understand their world view.
In a two year old’s mind, they are the center of the universe with the whole world revolving around them, for their amusement alone. They are just beginning to see themselves as separate people, and just starting to enjoy the company of other children. Everything that happens has to be caused by something they did, because what else is there? They are not terribly clear on what is reality and what is fantasy.
This world view is part of the reason they don’t understand when things do not go their way, or when people leave or die.
Developmentally, a two year old is beginning to think. They can form concepts in their minds. Where before they learned by touching, seeing, and manipulating objects, now they can form images in their brains and work through scenarios to solve problems. They begin to understand cause and effect.
As part of this thinking thing, they sometimes try out independence and defiance.
Separation anxiety also shows up here because they can now understand that when you walk away you are going somewhere else, away from them, with no surety that you will ever come back.
Physical skills are, of course, a big part of play. A two year old should be walking well and beginning to run. They should be able to carry a toy or pull one behind them. They can kick a ball, although not well. They like to pour things out of containers, and can build towers of about 4 blocks.
Language development is also important in play. A two year old can usually point to things you name, repeat words after you, and speak in simple phrases. He or she can follow simple instructions (not game rules).
So, given this brain, how to play with them?
First, get down at their level and look them in the eye. Listen to them. Then prepare to be drug around by a finger and told what to do, because a two year old likes to be in charge. She will be most interested in toys that challenge her or teach her something new, as long as they are not beyond her abilities. He will want to imitate his grown-ups or his older siblings. They will want to act out action sequences: first put the baby doll in the chair, then feed it, then it’s time for a bath. They like to sort things by shape and color. And last, they want to be told how wonderful they are when they figure something out.
Every bit of play is a learning opportunity and a chance to develop their self confidence.
One warning: a two year old has a very shaky understanding of cause and effect, and does not yet learn from experience. He or she will do again that action that hurt them the first time–which explains why they keep putting things up their noses. They have yet to learn self control, and have little experience with anger. They need constant supervision because they are physically capable of doing some very scary things, and not mentally capable of understanding injury and death.
So hold out that finger, and prepare to be drug around and dictated to. Enjoy being invited into the center of their universe. You’ll miss it when they are 13 and want to pretend you do not exist.