Toddler development


Toddlers are children ages 1 - 3.


Cognitive (thought) development skills typical for toddlers include:

  • Early use of instruments or tools
  • Following visual (then later, invisible) displacement (moving from one place to another) of objects
  • Understanding that objects and people are there, even if you can't see them (object and people permanence)

Personal-social development in the toddler stage focuses on the child learning to adjust to society's demands, while trying to maintain independence and a sense of self.

These milestones are typical of children in the toddler stages. Some variation is normal. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about your child's development.


The following are signs of expected physical development in a toddler:

GROSS MOTOR SKILLS (use of large muscles in the legs and arms)

  • Stands alone well by 12 months
  • Walks well by 12 - 15 months (If a child is not walking by 18 months, he or she should be evaluated by a health care provider.)
  • Learns to walk backwards and up steps with help at about 16 - 18 months
  • Jumps in place by about 24 months
  • Rides a tricycle and stands briefly on one foot by about 36 months

FINE MOTOR SKILLS (use of small muscles in hands and fingers)

  • Makes tower of three cubes by around 15 months
  • Scribbles by 15 - 18 months
  • Can use spoon by 24 months
  • Can copy a circle by 36 months


  • Uses 2 - 3 words (other than Mama or Dada) at 12 - 15 months
  • Understands and follows simple commands (such as "bring to Mommy") at 14 - 16 months
  • Names pictures of items and animals at 18 - 24 months
  • Points to named body parts at 18 - 24 months
  • Begins to say his or her own name at 22 - 24 months
  • Combines 2 words at 16 to 24 months (There is a range of ages at which children are first able to combine words into sentences. Talk to your child's health care provider if the toddler cannot make sentences by 24 months.)
  • Knows gender and age by 36 months


  • Indicates some needs by pointing at 12 - 15 months
  • Looks for help when in trouble by 18 months
  • Helps to undress and put things away by 18 - 24 months
  • Listens to stories when shown pictures and can tell about recent experiences by 24 months
  • Can take part in pretend play and simple games by 24 - 36 months


Toddlers are always trying to be more independent. This creates safety concerns as well as discipline challenges. The child must be consistently taught the limits of appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.

When toddlers try out activities they haven't yet mastered, they can get frustrated and angry. Breath-holding, crying, screaming, and temper tantrums may often occur.

It is important for a child at this stage to:

  • Learn from experiences
  • Rely on boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors


Toddler safety is very important.

  • Parents need to be aware that the child can now walk, run, climb, jump, and explore. This new stage of movement makes child-proofing the home very important. Window guards, gates on stairways, cabinet locks, toilet seat locks, electric outlet covers, and other safety features are needed to keep the child safe.
  • Put the toddler in a safety restraint (toddler car seat) when riding in a car.
  • Do not leave a toddler unattended for even short periods of time. Remember, more accidents occur during the toddler years than at any other stage of childhood.
  • Make clear rules about not playing in streets or crossing without an adult.
  • Falls are a major cause of injury. Keep gates or doors to stairways closed, and use guards for all windows above the ground floor. Do not leave chairs or ladders in areas that are likely to tempt the toddler into climbing up to explore new heights. Use corner guards on furniture in areas where the toddler is likely to walk, play, or run.
  • Poisoning is a common cause of toddler illness and death. Keep all medicines in a locked cabinet. Keep all toxic household products (polishes, acids, cleaning solutions, chlorine bleach, lighter fluid, insecticides, or poisons) in a locked cabinet or closet. Many household and garden plants, such as toad stools, may cause serious illness or death if eaten. Ask your child's health care provider for a list of common poisonous plants.
  • If someone in the household owns a firearm, make sure it is unloaded and locked in a secure place.
  • Keep toddlers away from the kitchen with a safety gate, or place them in a playpen or high chair. This will eliminate the danger of burns from pulling hot foods off the stove or bumping into the hot oven door.
  • Do not let toddlers play in water alone. A toddler may drown, even in shallow water in a bathtub. Parent-child swimming lessons can be another safe and enjoyable way for toddlers to play in water. Never leave a child unattended near a pool, open toilet, or bathtub. Toddlers cannot learn how to swim and cannot be independent near any body of water.


  • The toddler years are for children to learn accepted rules of behavior. It is important for parents to be consistent both in modeling behavior (behaving the way you want your child to behave), and in pointing out inappropriate behavior in the child. Recognize and reward positive behavior. You can introduce time-outs for negative behavior, or for going beyond the limits you set for your child.
  • The toddler's favorite word may seem to be "NO!!!" It is important for parents not to fall into a pattern of negative behavior using yelling, spanking, and threats.
  • Teach children the proper names of body parts.
  • Stress the unique, individual qualities of the child.
  • Teach the concepts of please, thank you, and sharing with others.
  • Read to the child regularly. This will help develop verbal skills.
  • Toddlers thrive on regularity. Major changes in their routine are hard for them. Toddlers should have regular nap, bed, snack, and meal times.
  • Toddlers should not be allowed to eat many snacks throughout the day. Too many snacks can take away the desire to eat regular meals, which tend to offer more balanced nutrition.
  • Traveling with a toddler or having guests at the house can disrupt the child’s routine. This may make the child more irritable. In these situations, reassure the child and try to get back to a routine in a calm way.



Feigelman S. The second year. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 9.