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My girlfriend, who I just recently got together with, has a daughter who will soon turn three. I would like to be a good stepfather to the girl, but I have very little experience of toddlers, and don't really know how to win their trust or how to play with then. Obviously I will also be talking to my girlfriend about this and asking for her advice, but I'd also appreciate any other thoughts. How does one "become friends" with a toddler?

Things that I've thought of so far:

  • just hang around and give the child time to get used to me being there
  • watch how other adults play with her and take hints from that
  • just try to generally project a friendly attitude and let her cuteness and adorableness (as well as the cuteness of seeing her play together with her mother, the two of them are really adorable to watch together) make me feel happy; children can generally sense when someone likes them
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Don't overthink it, just do it.

(Nearly) every parent is inexperienced with toddlers the first time they have one around, learning on the job is standard. To help with this, toddlers can and will express their needs and wants, usually very loudly.

The one area that you do need to get right is rules and discipline. Talk to your girlfriend, copy her regimen and try to always back each other up, or you will have a child ruthlessly playing the two of you against each other.

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    As only prospective stepdad, he should probably not start diciplining the child without the mother's consent. Maybe once all three are comfortable with his role as stepdad can he start doing his share of that, but I definitely would stay far from it while he is only getting to know the daughter. – hkBst Sep 5 '16 at 16:18
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    @hkBst yet being aware of the current ruleset is important and yes, OP should stick to it. Like if the mother has established a "we eat only at the dinner table" rule or similar, OP should a) follow it himself and b) feed the girl on the table... – Stephie Sep 5 '16 at 20:24
  • @hkBst I disagree. Not about the consent part obviously, but the waiting part. For a 3 year old, a person that acts like a parent is much more readily accepted as a parent. – Cyrus Sep 6 '16 at 20:36
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    I think you're off on the wrong foot if your thinking is "act like a parent" first. No. The girlfriend IS the only parent (excluding ex-) at first. The key for you and toddler is play, play, play. (And what do you mean you don't know how to play.) Only after the toddler sees you're going to be around for the long term does joining in the "parenting" begin (with girlfriend always giving the lead). If you can't play second fiddle like that at least until you are a full couple and have (re)negotiated it with her, I think you are headed for trouble. – Jeff Y Sep 6 '16 at 21:14
  • Yeah, not stressing about it too much seems to have been the right answer. I've been hanging out for a few days with her around now, and we spontaneously did things like passing a ball to each other, and soon she started wanting to show and tell me things. Looks like this is going just fine by itself. :) – Kaj_Sotala Sep 7 '16 at 12:42
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Children that age like to be read to, some also like to do puzzles, simple games (including memory). Some kids also really like to be tickled or scared ("I'm a monster and I'm going to eat you, grrr."). Finally, once you are comfortable with each other, you can throw her in the air (watch out for low ceilings, hanging lamps or low doorways) or swing her around in circles.

These are all things my own 3-year old daughter really likes...

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