The toddler years – from the first birthday to age three – are an incredible journey of growth and development. Alf Nicholson, RCSI Professor of Paediatrics at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, and Toddlebox development expert, outlines the amazing changes you’ll see in your toddler’s mobility, speech, feeding and personality.
FOUR CATEGORIES OF DEVELOPMENTAL SKILLS
- Posture and movement. This includes sitting, walking, running, climbing and kicking a ball.
- Fine motor skills and vision. This includes hand skills including drawing shapes and puzzles. At age two a child should copy a line. At three, a circle. At four, a cross. At five, a square and a triangle.
- Speech and language. This includes language and non-verbal communication.
- Social behaviour and play. This includes feeding, toileting, dressing and social relationships.
POSTURE AND MOVEMENT
Motor abilities have a weak association with cognitive development. Walking can be delayed if your child is cautious, or has hypermobile joints.
Unless they are a bottom shuffler, toddlers should be walking by 18 months. But being a late walker does not imply that a child will struggle at school.
The typical 12-month-old toddler will demonstrate certain physical and mental skills. These skills are called developmental milestones.
Developmental Milestones: what’s happening at 12 months?
Your baby advances from an infant to a toddler, which is a big milestone. They are becoming more independent and begin to express themselves more vocally. This is a very active time for them.
At 11-12 months, your toddler may:
- Begin to crawl and stand while holding the furniture.
- Not drool as much.
- Stop putting toys and other objects in his or her mouth.
At 13-18 months (1-1½ years), your toddler may:
- Walk without support and use their arms stretched out for balance.
- Carry their favourite toy while walking.
- Fall down while getting used to walking.
- Attempt to crawl the stairs and come down backwards.
- Hold a crayon and begin to scribble.
- Start show a preference for writing with either their right or left hand.
- Throw toys and whatever you give them to the floor and watch how they land.
- Enjoy putting things into boxes, jars and containers and then taking them out again.
- Enjoy looking at simple picture books and hearing nursery rhymes.
At 19-24 months (1½-2 years), your toddler may:
- Be extremely active and can run safely, stopping and starting without difficulty.
- Enjoy climbing up on the couch, tables or chairs.
- Climb the stairs with help and come back by sitting on their bottoms and bumping down each step.
- Push or pull toys like trains and cars along the floor.
- Bend down to pick up toys that fall to the ground.
- Hold small objects more firmly in one hand when trying to draw.
- Follow you around the house imitating your actions and try to help out with cleaning and other things to do around the house.
- Love books, especially pictures and will turn pages one at a time.
Developmental Milestones: what’s happening between two and three?
At age two-to-three, toddlers are curious and energetic. They want to run around and explore.
At 2-3 years your toddler may:
- Bend over easily without falling over.
- Kick a ball frontward.
- Ride a tricycle using pedals.
- Turn the handle of a door to open it.
- Stack 9-10 blocks using both their hands.
FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
The normal developmental pattern is that a toddler will:
- Have mastered the ‘pincer grasp’ and is fascinated by small objects.
- Release objects with open hands or with pressure (at 10-11 months), and can stack one cube on top of another (at 13 months).
SPEECH, LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
From the moment we are born, we are all communicating. However, our skills all develop differently. Remember: nobody knows your toddler and their rate of development better than you! These are some general guidelines you can use for your toddler’s speech and language skills. If you have any concerns about your toddler’s development, your doctor or public health nurse can help.
At 9-12 months your toddler may:
- Use the word ‘no’ often (most parents would agree with this!).
- Recognise their name when they hear it.
- Move their head from side-to-side.
- Use their own made-up sounds to sing along to a nursery rhyme.
- Show that they recognise an animal: for example by saying ‘woof’ or ‘bow wow’ and pointing when they see a dog.
At 12-15 months your toddler may:
- Recognise other family names such as parents and siblings.
- Know what you mean and respond when you give a one-step instruction: for example, ‘do not touch’ or ‘pick up the block’.
- Let you know they want something by showing it to you and babbling.
At 15-18 months your toddler may:
- Sing to themselves while they are resting or relaxing.
- Have anything from six to 20 words that you can understand.
- Be able to understand many more words than they can say.
- Repeat any new words they learn.
- Put some words together.
- Answer in kind: if they are used to you saying ‘thank you’ to them, this is when you might hear it back!
By about 18-24 months, your toddler may:
- Say their own name.
- Have stockpiled as many as 50 phrases: for example, ‘Teddy gone’ or ‘more juice’.
- Understand a lot of what you say.
- Make a big effort to reply when you speak to them.
- Often repeat back the last word they heard you say.
- Be able to ask for food or a drink.
- Sing along with nursery rhymes or rhyming songs.
By 2-3 years your toddler may:
- Be able to use ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘you’ a lot, even if they don’t always get it right.
- Say their name, their age and whether they are a boy or a girl.
- Tell you about something that happened earlier in the day.
- Have an expanded vocabulary of up to 200 words.
- Be able to understand far more words than they can say.
- Be able to make themselves understood by you, but not by strangers.
- Put short sentences together: for example, ‘Mummy go work?’ or ‘more juice me’.
- When asked, point out easy-to-understand objects.
- Understand the meaning of the words ‘on’, ‘in’ or ‘under’.
- Be able to count to 10 (if taught).
- Understand the meaning of the amounts one, two, three.
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR TODDLER’S DEVELOPING….
Give them time to chat: Make time for a conversation every day. Ask them about their day and don’t rush the answers.
Keep listening: listen when they reply. They are having a conversation with you!
Associate words and meanings: when you do this, they learn what to expect. Rhyme games are useful for this.
Keep it simple: use simple language and instructions.
Use the power of books: it’s never too early to encourage good reading habits. Call out individual letters in words and ask them to repeat them.
Go to their level: when you’re talking to them, crouch down and look at them.
Be attentive: They deserve your full attention.
Grow confidence: when they have your full attention they know how important they are to you. This helps them feel more confident in their world.
Keep talking: tell you’re toddler what you’re doing and why: for example ‘now we’re going to put our coats on and go to the shops to get bread.’
SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR AND PLAY
Your own behaviour is key here.
The way you respond to your toddler directly affects how they respond to you.
Evidence shows that early relationships and parental care have a very important part in brain development. (For more information on the importance of relationships and development, read Your Toddler’s Busy Brain). Your child needs to feel safe, secure and nurtured in order to develop. As they grow, they develop a sense of their own separateness from you. There is plenty you can do to support them and help them develop in a confident and secure way.
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR TODDLER’S DEVELOPING….
… SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
Get the basics right: Your toddler needs to be warm, safe and well cared for. They need healthy meals and enough liquids. They need plenty of rest.
Be encouraging: Find opportunities to encourage good behaviour and reward it with affection.
Praise their efforts: Recognise their attempts to something.
Praise in public: Praise their good behaviour in front of other people. They enjoy seeing that you are proud of them!
Keep it simple: Give them simple instructions so that they don’t get confused.
Set limits: Set boundaries. Explain to your toddler clearly and simply what they are and regularly remind them. Stick to them. (For tips on dealing with your toddler in public, check out Joanna Fortune’s article Surviving the Supermarket and Top Toddler Tips by Sinead McGrath).
Have a routine: Toddler love routine. If something is changing, tell them what and why.
Explain consequences: Tell them what will happen as a result of their choices: for example, ‘if you don’t put your shoes on, you can’t go outside’.
Teach them and trust them: teach them the behaviour you want them to show and let them know that you trust them to behave well.
Respect them as the individuals they are: Treat them with dignity. If you need to apologise to them, then do. They deserve it, just as adults do.
It’s not just what you say that counts: Emotions come through in the tone of our voices and by our expressions. Toddlers are as in tune with this as adults. When they smile, smile back. If they’re hurt or sad, show that you understand and want to help by adapting your tone and expression to suit.
Show the (unconditional) love: Cuddle them, kiss them. Show them that you love them without expecting anything in return. Everything you do, from eye contact to touch and speech shows them how you feel.
Give them options: Let them make some choices about what they do and what you do with them: for example, which toy to play with or book to read, whether to draw or to play a game.
Be clear: Make your points clearly and with examples of the good behaviour you are trying to foster: for example, ‘thank you for picking the toy up and giving it to me when I asked you.’
Keep it interesting: Help them explore their world. Toddlers are naturally curious and interested in what’s going on around them.