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Helping your toddler feel connected

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Wellbeing & Mental Health Wellbeing for wee ones

Chasing after a toddler can be exhausting. Having to deal with the ups and downs of life while looking after a little person with endless energy isn’t easy. You might be concerned that you’re so busy running around after them that you might be missing things they need from you. Try not to worry.

By focusing on a few simple things you can make your wee one feel safe, loved, and connected to. This helps your relationship flourish and provides what they need for their minds to develop and for them to grow into confident and happy kids.

In this short video, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk explains how you can help your baby or infant feel safe, connected and cared for so they grow up to be resilient. They don’t need expensive toys, they just need you!

How to make your toddler feel safe, connected, and cared for

Finding the time to engage with your toddler can feel difficult at the best of times. It might be doubly difficult if you're working, have other children in the house, or are just up to your eyes in every day jobs. But there are lots of ways you can fit in time with them throughout the day. Here are some ideas to try.

More ways to have fun with your wee one and help their development

Visit Look, Say, Sing, Play on the NSPCC website for more things you and your toddler can do together. It has lots of tips and activities that help you connect to them and support their development. All the interactions you share help you bond and help their mind grow. The Butterfly Baby Club’s guide to bonding through play has lots of ideas for games that can help your toddler feel secure and loved.

NSPCC logo

NSPCC logo

You can find songs and rhymes to suit different moods or times of day in the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug Library, as well as ideas for how to use them with babies, toddlers and 3-5 year olds. Or you could download Bookbug's songs and rhymes app so you’ll always have songs on demand on your phone!

Serve and return

Taking the time to respond to your toddler is a crucial way of building your bond together and teaching them how to communicate. See what they’re interested in and talk to them about it, giving them time to respond. Then copy what they say and add to it, and so on.

This is called “serve and return'' and it’s a powerful way to build language and help them develop the ability to handle their emotions. This can be as simple as taking an interest in what they are doing, like the toys they are playing with and listening to what they have to say. This is important for their development and it’s time together that you can both treasure.

What the professionals say

“We all love to feel listened to and understood! With serve and return, your baby is saying to you: I compare what you say to what I expected to hear, and this helps me learn how to communicate and how to manage feelings. But it goes deeper – I feel connected to you and safe, and this sets the patterns for how I cope in future when things go wrong (and it’ll make me easier to handle now!)”

James McTaggart Early Years Educational Psychologist

Story time

Another great way to connect is reading stories together. Let your child choose the story and take them slowly through it. Don’t be shy about doing funny voices or actions together! Make it a part of a bedtime routine as it helps your child feel really connected before you part for the night.

Be prepared to have to read the same story over and over each day - your child won’t be bored with it, even if you are. The reason that young children love to repeat things is that it feels predictable and familiar to their brain, and the experience becomes part of how they experience their world.

What the professionals say

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. That is such a relief for parents to hear! In fact, our children don’t even need perfect parents. Young children learn a lot from moments of difficulty, including when they are unhappy with you! The most important thing about those tough moments is that you ‘make up’ at the end of them. You let your little one know that you heard their discomfort. Scientists call this the ‘Rupture-Repair Cycle’. Ruptures are okay as long as there is always a repair afterward. Trust is built in those moments of repair.”

Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, Developmental Psychologist and Research Scientist


“A crying baby or a toddler with a tantrum is not a spoilt child. It is someone with feelings too strong to manage themselves. If we help them solve their problem, they will gradually become more able to solve it themselves.”

James Mctaggart, Early Years Educational Psychologist

Last updated: 17 Aug, 2023