Let’s move beyond please and thank you and get practical. Here are the Magic Words for adults when speaking with toddlers.
- Can I get you started?
This is a non-threatening way to offer help. Toddlers by definition, bristle at “Let me help you,” so just skip that power-play. This works well with everything from putting on shoes to figuring out how to sit a particular way to sliding down a slide.
- You did it!
All a toddler wants is to know they CAN do something. Developmentally, they just want to be their own person so give them some ownership. Variations
– You’re doing it! (when they need encouragement, watch their faces light up!)
– Add a descriptive bonus word such as all by yourself, gently, loudly. (“You did it quickly” or “You touched the cat softly.”) No labels, no judgement words, just letting them own their actions.
- That was ____
Choose descriptive, empowering words such as big, strong, tricky. “That was patient.”
Choose non-specific words when you don’t know what to say.
“That was exciting” or “That was new” or “That was special/fancy/busy…”
- I heard ___ OR I saw ___
Let your child know a play-by-play to help develop self-awareness and increase vocabulary.
“I heard you sing up high.” “I saw you wash your hands.”
For more on how to be an effective sportscaster, read The Good Job Challenge.
The Not-So-Magic Words
You’re not wrong by any means to say these, nor will you damage your child (not possible). But these are less effective for the literal, concrete mind of a toddler:
- “Be careful”
A good expression to know and certainly say it, but toddlers need specifics. Careful is a wonderful word but it doesn’t tell a child exactly what TO do.
Try, “Please be gentle.” “Please touch softly.” “Please move your body slowly.”
- “Watch the ___” (i.e., Watch the table)
So you know that if you’re driving and “Watch the bike” you may just steer toward it, yikes! When a toddler hears “Watch the table”, they almost always hit it. Why? Because you told them to watch it!
Reserve “Stop” or “No” for these safety situations so. In all other situations, tell them what they ARE doing and what TO do:
“Your feet are walking very fast. Make your feet move slowly.” “ You’re close to the table. Move backwards.”
When you don’t know what else to say
Here are my favorite catch-all words:
(Sometimes that’s the best you can do.)
What are your “Magic Words” for your child?