Thobeka Phanyeko
4 minute read
11 Jun 2020
12:30 pm

What should your 2-3 year old be able to do

Thobeka Phanyeko

Child development is on top of the list for may parents, so what should your toddler be able to do on their own?


Your toddler is growing rapidly and you’re in awe of her constant push for independence, but you’re also unsure of when to take a step back and when to jump in. Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Dr. Ian Opperman recommends allowing your child to explore his environment within limits and under supervision.

Physical skills

From around the age of two, your tot is in her exploration phase and is aware that she is separate from you. Dr. Opperman explains that attachment is the first phase of healthy development and has been linked to a child’s success in future relationships, and “the second phase that needs to be mastered is exploration. Your toddler has to learn to safely move away from the parental figure to explore and make meaning of his world,” he says.

ALSO SEE: Ages and stages of separation anxiety

Gross motor skills

  • Walk unaided
  • Run fast without bumping into things
  • Jump on both feet
  • Use a pushbike with confidence
  • Catch balls and other objects with both hands against the body
  • Kick a ball

Fine motor skills

  • Feed himself
  • Dress himself
  • Brush his own teeth
  • Hold a crayon/pen
  • Build a puzzle
  • Scribbling to develop creativity
  • Pour contents into a container

Also read: Preparing your toddler for a new baby’s arrival

Social and emotional development

Your little one is also able to play alongside others, but not with them. She’s likely to have trouble sharing as she hasn’t yet grasped the concept. She may also grow impatient if she struggles with a task like building a puzzle, because she still has to learn to regulate her emotions.

Dr. Opperman suggests building problem-solving skills by letting your toddler make her own decisions, encouraging her to keep trying and never giving up.

Also read: 6 annoying toddler habits that are actually beneficial to their development

Language development

Encourage your tot to talk. Even though she doesn’t have the ability to fully express herself, she is able to use basic words.  In her book Ultimate Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting Guide, pregnancy and baby care expert, Sister Lilian says there is a spurt in language development around this time, so your toddler may use about 50 words and form three-word sentences.

Researcher and developmental specialist Dr Melodie de Jager explains how suckling develops the mouth; rolling, sitting, crawling and thumb separation boost the language centres of the brain; relaxed calves and rhythmic breathing keep the survival brain at ease and boost the development of the language brain. “If your two-year-old doesn’t hear language, she will not speak. If she hears many languages on television, she will learn to speak, but not at as well as when she is exposed to one language at a time, from a real person,” she says.

Talk to your child and listen attentively as she tries to respond, “From time to time, she needs Mom and Dad’s undivided and up-close attention; she needs to see your faces so she can mimic your mouth movements, eye movements and voice,” she adds.

Dr. de Jager’s tips on language development:

  • Your toddler only knows what she has been exposed to, and the clever nerve cells called mirror neurons help her to mimic, so take note and be selective about your two-year old’s role models when it comes to language.
  • No mixing – If you and your partner speak different languages, each parent should speak only a chosen language.
  • If your child only hears English at day care and only hears the mother tongue(s) at home, there is no problem. Her brain will create a home language file and a day care language file.

Using cutlery and pouring

  • It’s always a good idea to offer your child materials that are proportionate to her little body.
  • A side plate serves well as a dinner plate.
  • A 60ml glass for drinking water and an espresso cup for water liquids.
  • Using cutlery should be modelled.  Sit together for meals so your child can see what to do.
  • Expect mistakes, breaks, and accidents, but persevere.
  • Provide opportunities for your little one to explore the mechanics of pouring.

Brushing her teeth 

  • Children need support in brushing their teeth.  A poem or song can be sung while you have a turn to brush and then your child can have a turn.
  • Ask a dentist for advice if you’re unsure.
  • Demonstrate brushing your own teeth.

Dressing herself

  • Provide clothing that is easy to get on and off. Elasticated waist bands, easy slip on and off T-shirts, etc
  • Let your child pick her own clothes.

Expert tips

  • A two-year-old needs less entertainment and more freedom to explore.
  • A few firm boundaries keep things stable, while a lot of freedom to move, touch, smell, taste and make noise develops a young child’s body, emotions and thinking.

Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment. 
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