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12-15 months: toddler development

12-15 months

Toddlers come in all shapes and sizes, but toddler development at 12-15 months typically has a few things in common. Here’s what your toddler might be doing, how you can help and when to see a child health professional.

Toddler development at 12-15 months: what’s happening

Behaviour, play and feelings
Your toddler is a busy little person. He’s spending a lot of his time working out what different things do, and what he can do with them. He’ll build small towers of blocks and knock them down, scribble with a pen or crayon, and drop pegs into a basket.

This is an important time for your toddler socially and emotionally.

After 14 months, your child might often show signs of separation anxiety. But she’ll also begin to show empathy – for example, she might look sad or get upset when she sees someone else crying. Empathy is about understanding how others might be feeling, and it’s an important part of forming relationships with people.

Communicating and talking
At this age, your child’s language development matures. His babbling starts to include real words. Your child might even name familiar objects – for example, a ball. But it’s not all words just yet – he’ll still grunt, nod and point to let you know what he wants. He might even point to people and things he knows when you ask him.

Movement
Your toddler might stand up without needing help from you or the furniture in these months, and will probably start to walk on her own. As she gets better at walking, she might climb stairs or even the furniture.

Moving helps your child build muscle strength for more complex movements like standing, walking and running. If you’re around while your child explores, it helps him feel safe and builds his self-confidence.

If your child isn’t walking on her own yet, try not to worry too much. Some children won’t walk without help until 15-18 months.

At this age your child might also:

  • hug you
  • point to his body parts or a favourite toy when you name them
  • drink from a cup – probably with some spills! – and use a spoon
  • follow simple instructions – for example, when you say to your child, ‘Please give me the block’, he won’t need you to show him what to do
  • try to help when you’re putting on his clothes, often by holding out his arms for sleeves or putting his foot up for shoes
  • hold a crayon and possibly scribble with it after you show him how
  • start to pretend when he plays – for example, he might pretend to drink from a cup.

Helping toddler development at 12-15 months

Here are a few simple things you can do to help your toddler’s development at this age:

  • Give your child lots of hugs, cuddles and kisses: empathy and positive attention are good for your child’s emotional development. But don’t expect your toddler to show empathy to you all the time. She’s still learning how her emotions work, and how to get along with others.
  • Playing is an important way for your child to find out how things work, so make time for both indoor and outdoor play. Open-ended toys are great for play – try blocks, pegs, cups of water, ice-cream containers and cardboard boxes. Your child will also still love playing games with you, like pat-a-cake or peekaboo.
  • Talk with your toddler: naming and talking about everyday things – body parts, toys and household items like spoons or chairs – helps develop your child’s language skills. At this age, you can teach your child that a ‘chair’ can be a ‘big chair’, ‘red chair’ or even a ‘big red chair’.
  • Build your child’s talking and communication skills by listening and talking back to him. You can copy what your child says – for example, if he says ‘mama’, you say ‘mama’. This encourages two-way conversation and also makes your child feel valued and loved.
  • Read with your toddler: you can encourage your child’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.
  • Encourage everyday skills like using a spoon, drinking from a cup and taking off a hat. These skills involve both small and big muscle movements, as well as your toddler’s ability to think about what she’s doing.
  • Encourage moving: this helps your child build muscle strength, which is important for more complex movements like walking and running. Making your home safe can help your active toddler move about without getting hurt.

Parenting a toddler at 12-15 months

Every day you and your toddler will learn a little more about each other. As your toddler grows and develops, you’ll learn more about what he needs and how you can meet these needs.

In fact, as a parent, you’re always learning. Every parent makes mistakes and learns through experience. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know and ask questions – often the ‘dumb’ questions are the best kind!

Your own physical and mental health is an important part of being a parent. But with all the focus on looking after a child, lots of parents forget or run out of time to look after themselves. Looking after yourself will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to be a parent.

Sometimes you might feel frustrated or upset. But if you feel overwhelmed, put your child in a safe place – for example, a cot – or ask someone else to hold her for a while. Take some time out until you feel calmer. You could also try going to another room to breathe deeply or calling a family member or friend to talk things through.

Never shake a toddler. It can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage.

It’s OK to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your toddler, call your local Parentline. Our coping toolkit  has practical ideas to help you relax and feel calmer.

When to be concerned about toddler development

See your child and family health nurse or GP if you have any concerns or notice that at 12-15 months your toddler has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating
Your child:

  • isn’t making eye contact with you, isn’t following moving objects with his eyes or has an eye that is turned in or out most of the time
  • isn’t interested in sounds
  • doesn’t respond to his name when called
  • isn’t babbling or using single words
  • isn’t trying to let you know what he wants
  • isn’t using gestures like waving or pointing.

Behaviour, play and feelings
Your child:

  • doesn’t seem to understand you
  • isn’t showing her emotions and feelings.

Movement and motor skills
Your child:

  • can’t stand even when by holding on to you or the furniture
  • uses one hand a lot more than the other.

You should see a child health professional if you notice that your child has lost skills he had before.

You should also see your child and family health nurse or GP if you notice the signs of postnatal depression in women or postnatal depression in men in yourself or your partner. Symptoms of postnatal depression include feeling sad and crying for no obvious reason, feeling irritable, having difficulty coping and feeling very anxious.

Children grow and develop at different speeds. If you’re worried about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot. But if you still feel that something isn’t quite right, see your child and family health nurse or GP.

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Last updated or reviewed
22-08-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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