There is so much to love about toddlers. No one can rock plaids and prints at the same time quite like a toddler. And that whole “we know what we want and we’re not afraid to let you know it” thing is almost too much (just try cutting a sandwich into rectangles rather than triangles to find out). Plus, toddlers never take “no” for an answer. Yep, we love them to the moon and back a million times over, and we’re not afraid to show it.

But beyond expressing our infinite appreciation for their unique take on, well…everything, what are some other important things to say to a toddler? Whether you want to build them up, set limits, or encourage their independence, make sure these phrases are part of your parenting vocabulary.

“Of course you can help!”

Want to know a really cool thing about toddlers? They are hard-wired to help. Really. And we should encourage them. While your first instinct might be to say “no thanks” to an eager beaver because you know it’ll only add time to simple household tasks, saying “yes” to a helping hand pays dividends in the long run. How? Because kids who are given the opportunity to help alongside a parent or caregiver continue to help voluntarily (yep) throughout childhood and into adulthood, according to studies.

So the next time your little shadow asks to help unload the dishwasher, don’t think about all those fragile glasses up top or the fact you’ve got ten other things to do waiting in the wings. Work alongside them to get the job done, and you’ll have a willing helper for a long time to come. Who knows, maybe you can even shelve the Clean Up song for good. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Tell me more about…”

There’s a reason people tuned in to watch Oprah back in the day. The way she drew people out and got to the heart of the matter so easily was the definition of must-see TV. The next time your toddler shows you their artwork or starts dishing on the daycare drama, make like Oprah and ask them to tell you more. Whether it’s about that green blob on their painting or the fact that they are definitely not ever again eating Pirate’s Booty at snack time, following up their offering with a simple “tell me more about…” will lead to explanations that might surprise you. Plus, taking the time to listen and ask questions builds trust and reassures your little one you’ll be there when they need you.

“Want to try that again?”

Everyone makes mistakes. Toddlers make more than most. That’s the way it should be as they learn to navigate the world. But rather than stepping in and taking over or wagging a finger at their mishaps, lean back and give them a chance to do it again–even better.

The versatility of this phrase is endless. It can be cast as a gentle reminder or as authentic encouragement. Use it when your toddler makes a bad choice as a way to let them correct course. Or in those times when they forget their manners or can’t quite figure out what number comes after 14 (why is 15 always so tricky?). The best part of this one: it shows kids that practice improves performance, a total life skill.

“What’s your plan?”

While all parents want our kids to reach for new heights, sometimes it’s terrifying to watch them do it in real life, especially at the playground where climbing domes, big slides, and rope structures pose challenges we’re not sure they’re ready for yet. But they wouldn’t be toddlers if they didn’t try to bite off more than they could chew. The next time your adventurous kid takes on a task you’re not sure they’re ready for, check their plan. If they climb up the dome, how will they get down? If they’re at the top of the big slide can they back out if they need to?

Related: 6 Better Phrases to Say Instead of ‘Be Careful’ When Kids Are Taking Risks

Encouraging executive functioning is at the heart of the phrase—helping kids think ahead and make a plan. Not only are you encouraging this ever-important developmental stage, but you’re also modeling risk-taking in a thoughtful way—always a win for this age group.

“Let me know if you need help.”

They don’t call them “threenagers” for nothing. Independence is every toddler’s ethos. It’s what drives them to push their own stroller rather than sit in it. Pair that with the abundance of new skills they’re trying to master, like zipping up a coat or figuring out which shoe goes on which foot, and you’ve got a lot of wait time on your hands as they figure things out. Pull this one out when they’re working on those life skills, and resist that urge to do it for them, especially if they’ve insisted that they can do it themselves. They may take you up on it. They may not. But at least they know you’re there when they need you, while still willing to give them the space they need to learn.

“Of course I want to watch you!”

If the resounding choruses of “Ma, watch me!” and “Hey, dad, look at this!” have you thinking not again, we’re right there with you. Toddlers give Hugh Jackman a run for the money when it comes to being the greatest showman. And although dinner needs to get made, dishes need to be washed, and— although we wish it would—the lawn isn’t going to mow itself, it’s important to take time to watch the (questionably) amazing things your toddler can do. The next time they want you to get a load of their ability to hop on one foot or complete a 180 in the middle of the kitchen (they’re still working on that 360), put down the dish, take a break from stirring, and say, “sure thing, kiddo!” Not only will it boost their confidence, but it’ll also help them feel seen, the way we all want to feel seen.


As parents we may avoid this one, especially when a meltdown is the last thing we want to be dealing with. But there’s a reason “No, David” is so relatable—it has to be said. No need to overdo it, but when it comes to important things to say to a toddler, “no” is a biggie. It sets limits and provides the structure that all kids need to thrive. It’s weird to think of “no” as a reassuring phrase for kids, but when it really comes down to it, it is.

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