9 Ways Toddlers Show Their Love

Toddlers have their own love language, and it's often directed at parents and caregivers. Here are some surprising ways your little one might demonstrate their love for you.

Father lifting toddler daughter in the air
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01 of 10

The Love Language of Toddlers

Mom and dad with happy baby
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Even if they can't make themselves understood verbally, toddlers can express a wide range of feelings through their behavior and actions. They'll learn how to communicate in more complex ways as they grow, but until then, you'll need to pay close attention. Reading nonverbal cues will let you know when your little one is expressing their love for you. Here are just a few ways toddlers might show their affection—but remember that every kid is different.

02 of 10

Delaying Plans

toddler points finger at something

It seems like whenever you're in a hurry to get somewhere, your toddler suddenly dawdles around. Toddlers live in the moment and lack a sense of time. At that moment, they are with you, and nothing could be better than that. "Separation is the main task of toddlerhood," says Patricia H. Shimm, author of Parenting Your Toddler: The Experts Guide to the Tough and Tender Years. Toddlers would rather be with their parents than anyone else, so getting out the door on time can be a challenge. The bottom line is, they love being with you; they savor their time with you and will prolong it in any way they can.

03 of 10

Challenging You to Chase Them

toddler running through grass

Running away with glee and exuberance is a toddler's way of celebrating their newfound independence, but only if they have the firm confidence that you will follow. By playing the run-and-chase game, they're showing they have autonomy over their actions and they firmly believe you will be there to catch them.

"Toddlers have to trust that you will be there for them before they can venture out in the world. The more they venture out, the more they need to know you are there for them," says Laura Bennett-Murphy, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Mother-Child Project at Westminster College. Running away is actually a way of showing just how much they love you. They have the freedom to run because they have a secure home base (you!), the most important person in the world.

04 of 10

Bringing Loveys Everywhere

Girl hugging stuffed animal
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Some toddlers have a stuffed animal or blanket that goes wherever they go. Others take different objects each time they leave the house. These transitional objects (or loveys) represent you and your love, especially in your absence. Shimm explains that these objects help your toddler feel safe, as if they're carrying a little piece of their parents with them. If you think about it, loveys aren't actually that strange—some grown-ups even carry photos of loved ones and other sentimental trinkets!

05 of 10

Making a Mess with Food

toddler eating
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It may seem your toddler spends more time touching, mashing, squishing, and jabbing food than ingesting it. When they raise their hands high with a big smile, you have to move quickly or else the mushy mess is on you. Your toddler sees food as a place to explore and experiment.

"For toddlers, life is about possibilities and curiosity, and food is one place they can be curious and try different things. They love to show you what they've discovered," says Dr. Bennett-Murphy. In other words, those yogurt-covered hands are actually their way of delighting in discoveries together.

06 of 10

Cuddling and Snuggling

An image of a mother hugging her daughter.
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When you simply can't deal with one more temper tantrum, your toddler plops themselves down on your lap, snuggles closely, and leans on your shoulder, looking up at you with a sparkle in their eye and a sweet smile. "As much as toddlers are doing many things to show their independence, they also need to refuel in the comfort of [your] arms," says Dr. Bennett-Murphy. When your toddler cuddles with you, they're showing they know you're always there to provide comfort. This is an active way of saying "I love you!"

07 of 10

Being Happy to See You

Beautiful toddler sitting on the floor playing with vintage phone at kindergarten

Have you ever walked through the door to be greeted by a toddler racing into your arms with a shriek that could be heard blocks away? All that screeching is sheer delight at seeing you return home! "Toddlers build trust every time the parent says they're leaving and later come back. It's why you can never sneak out," says Shimm. The emotional core of toddlerhood is learning to trust that the adults in their lives will always return. These screams of elevated joy are just another reminder of their love for you.

08 of 10


child doesn't want to share

Toddlers rarely share, except on special occasions, and only with their most trusted loved ones. Your toddler may take several licks of a bright red, heart-shaped lollipop, their face radiating with joy. As the gooey lollipop drips down their hand, they turn to you and reach out to present you with the lollipop. By giving you their most prized possession at the moment—sticky and half-licked—they are being selfless by sharing what they love. Your toddler assumes that what makes them happy will make you happy, too, so this gooey mess is actually an act of love.

09 of 10

Making Arts and Crafts

Little Girl Drawing

Toddlers love putting crayons to paper and mixing random marks, dots, and colors as much as experimenting with paint or glue. When a toddler hands you the scribbled masterpiece, gluey mess on paper, or other craft they have made, they're sharing their creative happiness and success with their parents.

They express their love for you through making something special from the heart. You are always on your toddler's mind; creating drawings or other crafts for you shows just how much they think about you. Even if the final product consists only of glue on paper, the message is, "I love you."

10 of 10

Repeating Routines and Rituals

Dad with kids at bedtime
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Toddlers like routine, consistency, and rituals: reading the same book every night, wearing the same shirt every day, putting stuffed animals in the same order nightly. "[Toddlers] will ask for the same book every night because they love you, and they love the routine that you are part of. If you are out one night, the routine represents you," says Shimm. Predictable routines feel safe and reassuring to them and give them a sense of security—the same way that you always provide those same feelings of security, safety, and, of course, love.

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