That little ball of energy you call your toddler is so cute when they’re little. The mess on their face after eating spaghetti is adorable. The way they want to cuddle with you right after you’ve disciplined them just melts your heart. During these early years, you can lay a firm foundation for having a strong relationship with your child for years to come. Here are just a few fun and easy things you can do to help your child feel safe, happy, and secure with you—the love of their life.

1. Shower With Love.

Sounds like it could be exhausting. It’s not. My 2-year-old loves to stand on my feet as we walk from his room to the dinner table. My 4-year-old loves for me to blow real loud kisses on his cheek. Harvard researcher and founder of The Basics, Ronald Ferguson says the simplest way to show love to your child is through simple acts of affection. Be free and fun with your affection toward both your boys and your girls. Sing to your child in your loudest, most out-of-tune voice declaring your love for her. They’ll know you not only love them, but you like them. After all, it’s difficult to have a strong relationship with someone who you’re not sure likes you. 

2. Play, Play, Play. 

You don’t have to play all day. Stephanie M. Wagner, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor in the NYU Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests, “Spending a few minutes in a special time playing with your young child will help both of you feel good about each other.” Regularly spending some time in free, exciting, adventurous play can do the trick. They’re toddlers, so keep it simple. Throw, roll, or kick soft balls. Build stuff using blocks, couch cushions, boxes, or whatever’s handy. Pull out the washable paint and use paintbrushes or just use your hands to create a masterpiece. Play hide and seek. You’re showing them that having fun is a good thing. You’re satisfying their curiosity and you’re helping them to associate laughter, smiles, and fun with the parent/child relationship

3. Make Adventures Through Stories.

Reading and telling stories creates bonds and builds imagination. When storytelling with your toddler, sometimes use books with words, other times, pictures are plenty. Use your imagination to tell a story based on the pictures. And other times, no book is needed, sit them on your lap and make up a story. Have them guess what’s going to happen next. The places you’ll go together on the imagination train will have the two of you seated together on memory lane forever. It’s a great way to end the day or make dinner time with your toddler fly by. 

4. Create Family Traditions.

A tradition can simply be something your family does regularly. Taco Tuesdays. Friday night movie night. Saturday morning crazy breakfast. I mean fun time. Sunday trip to Grandma’s. October pumpkin patch visits. First day of summer water bash. Children like the consistency and predictability parents and traditions provide. Traditions will help your child feel a sense of belonging to the family unit as they look forward to the various customs you observe in your home. The holidays are good for traditions. However, the most memorable traditions are often ones you create as a family.

5. Make Music. Dance To The Music.

Children love to sing and for you to sing to them. ABCs. Nursery Rhymes. Age-appropriate songs on your playlist. And of course, songs you make up. Sing and dance in the bathtub, in the kitchen, while getting dressed, doing their hair, and while driving them around town. Eventually, you’ll hear your child singing after you lay them down to sleep, while they’re playing with toys, and funny enough, while they are handling their business in the bathroom. They’ll be using those vocal cords to fill the house with a joyful noise.

6. Talk On Their Level.

Toddlers can have some really fascinating thoughts and conversations about the world around them. Just remember they have the mind of a toddler and not an adult. Strong relationships generally have strong communication. Ask them questions about the cartoon they’re watching, the games they’re playing, the visits to family and friends’ homes, and the books you read together. While in the grocery store get their thoughts on food to buy. Ask them to point out their favorite colors to you in the store. For a toddler, talking is a new and fun addition to their life. By asking them questions and listening to what they have to say, you’re teaching them their thoughts and feelings matter. That may pay dividends as they progress through adolescence.

Making memories, creating bonds, having fun, and creating a safe and secure environment will help your child see you as the trusted, loving parent they can depend on. You’ll be cultivating many of the necessary skills for strong relationships including communication, friendliness, and dependability. Incorporating these six things into the natural flow of your life will pay dividends for years to come—for you and your child.

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