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The Best Toddler Toys to Get Kids Through the Terrible Twos

We know that children learn through play, especially the youngest toddlers and preschoolers, who aren’t exactly picking up a book to study its contents. That fact might be making some parents and caregivers — and the folks who love them — feel extra pressure when it comes to buying toys for 2-year-olds. Will what you buy, or fail to buy, for a child this age destine them to success or failure? Is there some secret magical toy that will calm their terrible twos?

We turned to Dr. Jack Maypole, a pediatrician and educational advisory board member at The Goddard School for early childhood development, for some answers to those questions. (It’s the least we could do before enticing you with a gallery of beautiful shiny objects to purchase, right?) He is a big advocate of play, which doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be emptying our wallets to nurture tiny geniuses with the latest new toys.

“If you’re asking, ‘What do I get my 2-year-old boy or girl?’ My response is, tell me what your kid loves to do,” Maypole told SheKnows. “That’s going to be money better spent — just letting a kiddo enjoy themselves versus getting something for their enrichment.”

Kids grow and learn a whole lot from ages 2 to 3, both physically and emotionally, but they do so at many different rates from each other. Maypole said that some 15 percent of children this age might have a developmental delay. Even with those differences, he can sum up this year in terms of how a 2-year-old plays alone and with others:

“Play is a way in which kids are dress-rehearsing their social behaviors and their motor skills,” he said. “It’s really developing and finessing their gross- and fine-motor capacity for things they enjoy doing, or things that they might create a competency in, to be like the big kids. While that’s going on, there is this explosion of communication skills. They’re learning how to have a thought, articulate a thought, negotiate social encounters, and then move from parallel play to group play and start to do higher-order pretend play.”

When their communication skills have not caught up to their internal thoughts, they earn that “terrible twos” reputation. Toys can’t necessarily halt a tantrum, unfortunately, but they can help. Maypole says the first step in curbing a meltdown is to detect its cause — is the kid tired, frustrated by another child, overstimulated, or anxious? After they’ve calmed down is when you have a chance to use positive reinforcement and maybe a little distraction with toys.

“You can you can capitalize on a short attention span by showing up with something shiny,” he said.

Some of these shiny things might be just the ticket.

Our mission at SheKnows is to empower and inspire women, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

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