Toddlers : Development
Updated: Feb 5
All children develop at their own rate, generally in the same sequence but at completely different times. Many things influence a child’s development – genes, environment, temperament, relationships, nutrition, health and physical activity. Some of these things you can control such as diet and environment, others you cannot.
Below are some of the major physical, social/emotional and language milestones most children will face during their toddler years.
Physical Development & Motor Skills
Your toddler is now well and truly on the move. Most toddlers may be pulling themselves into a standing position at around 12 months, bending to pick items from the floor, and may begin pushing themselves away from supports and standing alone for a short time.
During their first and second year your toddler will be learning how to maintain their balance and building their hand/eye/foot coordination. You may notice your toddler practicing their finer motor skills such as trying to pick up tiny things with their fingers. Though generally they will feel more comfortable handling more manageable things such as oversized crayons or pencils, and at this age toddlers are usually ambidextrous without showing much preference for left or right handedness.
By two years you may see a marked improvement in your toddler’s dexterity, as they learn to drink from a cup, use cutlery and feed themselves finger foods and snacks. They may also be turning pages on their own, clapping their hands and building towers and stacks of things.
By 2 years of age toddlers may be assisting with washing and dressing themselves, by putting their feet in their shoes and arms in their shirts as well as brushing their teeth – but you may want to supervise and check their progress. Your toddler may be staying dry longer and urinating less and their bowel movements will be coming at more regular times. Its important to emphasise the importance of cleanliness and sanitation and toddlers should be washing their own hands, with some help from you. Between the ages of 2 and 3 years your toddler may be ready for toilet training.
From around 2 years your toddler may be becoming more active, learning to crawl, roll, walk, jump and climb. Their finer motor skills are continuing to develop, enabling your toddler to turn doorknobs and unscrew lids. They may be improving their eating techniques and their use of utensils may become more accurate and less awkward.
Sensory play is popular with toddlers such as squishing playdoh and playing with textural items. Toddlers may be expanding their creative play, scribbling and painting in large strokes but beginning to attempt drawings in finer details. Around this age toddlers may be scribbling and painting in large strokes but may begin to draw in finer detail.
Toddlers may be falling less often between the ages of 2 and 3 years as they learn to lead with one foot in front of the other, and move with more coordination. Climbing may start to interest your toddler but they will need supervision and may need help getting down as their hand/foot placement and balance develops.
By 3 years many toddlers will be sitting in a chair independently, walking up and down stairs using a railing or support, and balancing on things. Some toddlers walk on their tiptoes a lot during this age, some children do this as a form of balance practice, others do it just for fun. If your toddler is consistently walking on their toes you may wish to seek professional advice to eliminate any paediatric or developmental issues.
Social & Emotional
From the age of 1 your toddler us learning to understand their feelings but is still a few years away from fully comprehending their emotions and having the mechanisms to cope with them. Frustration can mean your toddler is may be physically lashing out as a reaction to conflict, either by crying, screaming, biting or kicking.
Toddlers are constantly testing their independence and can swing from clinging to you to defiantly refusing your help or involvement. They will have developed close attachments to you, caregivers and/or their siblings. These attachments help your toddler feel safe and secure and able to freely explore the world and develop at their own pace.
Their sense of self is becoming apparent, by their use of words such as “I” “me” and “mine”. This brings a sense of self consciousness too, and you may notice your toddler becoming embarrassed or shy in certain situations. As their awareness of other’s develops, by the age of two your toddler may check the faces of those around them to gauge their feelings. During this age toddlers will often look to their carer for a sign to indicate appropriate reactions or behaviours. Your toddler will grow increasingly aware of feelings sad as sadness, anger, fear and affection. The way your family handles emotions will leave a lasting impression on your toddler and modelling calm and logical reasoning will help equip them with the coping mechanisms for these feelings.
Socially your toddler may be enjoying new relationships and while they are aware of other children they generally prefer to play alongside them instead of with them. You may notice your toddler trying to initiate new friendships with other toddlers – though the friendships is often not returned! Empathy is developing in certain ways, it is common for a toddler to cry alongside another child who is crying, as is giggling when other children or adults are laughing.
By their third year toddlers are generally trying to keep their emotions under control and still tend to act out emotionally or physically, but with support from you your child will learn to resolve their issues and be able to self soothe and calm themselves down. By the age of 3 toddlers will begin to recognise certain feelings when the emotions are labelled and explained to them. This helps toddlers recognise those feelings themselves, and they may begin to remember how to cope with them. Comforters can be popular for children of this age, such as a blank or teddy.
By 3 years your toddler may develop a deeper sense of trust in their relationships and will show preference for certain people, toys or items and you may find they have “favourites”. They may continue to play alongside other children but may occasionally share and interact. Depending on their exposure to other children they may start to develop close bonds and may miss those people when they aren’t with them. Toddlers in their third year generally become better at sharing, turn taking, teamwork and compromise – all necessary skills for their upcoming preschool years. Their empathy is steadily growing and they may actively attempt to resolve an issue for someone who is upset or when a conflict arises.
Your Toddler will be developing their communication skills at a rapid rate. During their first and second years, toddlers will begin to understand what you are saying, and you will start to understand what they are saying to you!
1-2 Years - What to Expect:
Increase in vocabulary – most toddlers have about 3 words around their 1st birthday and end with around 300 words by the time they turn 2
Toddlers may know the names of things such as tummy, toes, bus, cup etc. Things which your toddler always uses or sees will be more commonly recognisable at this age
Around 15 months your toddler may be pointing at things and asking you to name them
Their pronunciation is improving, though toddlers generally say things differently to adults.
Toddlers at around 15-18 months may refer to themselves by their name, followed in a few months by the use of “I” “me” and “mine” as they develop their sense of self
May start to recognise often-used phrases such as “wave bye-bye” or “give me a kiss”
By 2 years, may be able to point to things when you ask questions such as “where’s the truck” or similar prompting questions
May be asking questions, lots of questions. “What’s that?” and “Why” are common questions, and they may answer your basic questions
By this age strangers may still have trouble understanding what your toddler is saying most of the time
2-3 Years – What to Expect:
Between these ages your toddlers vocabulary will generally double.
Strangers will begin to understand most of what they are saying.
By 2 your toddler may by using two word sentences and can generally say around 500 words and understand hundreds more.
Use of nouns, verbs, pronouns and location words and will begin to understand the difference between “mine” and “yours”.
By 3 tears, toddlers may be using 3 word sentences and sentence structure and pronunciation is improving.
Your toddler may be able to understand detailed instructions as long as they involve things they already understand.
May ask for help and understand routines and what is expected of them to varying degrees.
By 3 years toddlers will be starting to understand taking turns in conversation and mimicking your pronunciation and the emphasis you place on certain words.
May begin to accompany playtime with talking, by imitating voices of dolls or toys, or giving explanations or instruction.
Toddlers tend to test their voices – by varying volume and pitch.
Love to play with language, through rhymes, song, and listening to stories being read aloud.
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 13). Child development: the first five years. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/development/understanding-development/development-first-five-years
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 13). Relationships and child development. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/development/understanding-development/relationships-development