Basic characteristics: quick moving, exploratory, in-the-moment
Needs: Opportunities, sensory and kinesthetic experiences, lots of help exploring
Things to avoid: Delays, adult reasoning, hypotheticals
Having achieved a fair degree of competence in the arts of walking and talking, your two year old is now on the go, all day long. This is an exciting time for a young person, but one fraught with stress for parents. 2yos are no longer limited by immobility and are fascinated by the world and their ability to interact with it.
Its no wonder this age is usually considered a time of resistance in children. A parent typically is advised to set limits at this stage, as the young child dashes about, jumping, climbing, and touching everything she can. How is it possible to get through this stage without setting limits? By spending plenty of time actively involved with the child, learning her fascinations and triggers, and helping her achieve her goals promptly (and safely!).
2yos live very much in the moment, so avoiding delays can be important for maintaining parental sanity! There's no "in a minute" with a 2yo. Life is Right Now! Learning to say Yes to such a person is challenging. It's helpful if parents can let go of the idea that there are other things that Need to be done. The more time and attention one parent can spend helping the young child fill her needs promptly, the more easygoing and pleasant the experience of being 2 will be for the whole family.
Responding promptly to your 2yo is as vital as to the cry of an infant. This is a time for building trust, of creating a sense of the parent as an advocate and helper, of the best first resource in a child's life. A parent who say no frequently is a poor resource, from the child's perspective. A parent who drops what he is doing to find a way to help is a great resource - a person to trust and rely upon. What a marvelous gift to a young child.
Because 2yos are often very quick and inherently exploratory, its important for parents to be ready. Observe the tendencies of your child carefully! If she's a runner, look for moments when she could dash away. Arrange the environment to facilitate running safely - in the home and by making careful choices as to where to bring the child and when. A 2yo known for mad dashes is a poor choice to take to the grocery store Saturday morning - its much safer to go Sunday night when the store and parking lot are nearly empty.
Young children explore the world with all their senses. They love to touch, handle, taste and smell the world, as well as hearing and seeing it. Offer your little one many chances to do those things, but again, observe your child's tendencies. As your child grows, different parts of the brain will develop at different times, so a child who is licking the windows today may be rubbing different objects against her skin in a week.
As children move about their world, they run across things and situations that are unsafe. However, the degree of safety is most often relative, and its important for parents to come to think carefully about that. It does no good to cry "be careful!" at every turn - the warning is quickly tuned out. It does less good to say "no" at every turn. Worse than tuning out, the child looks for alternatives that may be even less safe - waiting until dad isn't looking, for example.
Children are fundamentally careful of themselves - they do not want to get hurt any more than adults do! In many physical feats, parents can better serve their young children by being close by, near enough to help if needed, but neither impeding nor over-assisting the child. If the child is verbal, parents can ask, directly "would you like some help?" with the understanding that "no" is an admissible answer. Adults can also look over challenging physical situations and look for ways to improve the safety of the activity without diminishing its enjoyability. For example, if a child likes to jump on furniture, parents may rearrange the furniture to create safe places for that to happen, and direct or assist the child there when the jumping mood strikes.
The worst thing a parent can do, in response to a young child's wishes is try to explain what "might" happen. Hypothetical situations are totally lost on young children. A single test on the part of the child is enough to prove, in her mind, that the parent is wrong. Too many such proofs, and the child learns that the parent is an unreliable source of information about the world.