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15-18 months: toddler development

15-18 months

Toddlers come in all shapes and sizes, but toddler development at 15-18 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 15-18 months: what’s happening

Behaviour, play and feelings
Your toddler is curious about everything and is keen to play, experiment and explore.

Play is very important for your child – it’s how she develops thinking, imagination and creativity. Your toddler might particularly enjoy games like finding hidden toys and pointing to body parts.

When it comes to emotions, your child has developed strong attachments to the people he loves. You’ll find your toddler gives you lots of cuddles and kisses. But he might also be very aware of himself and even embarrassed when he realises other people are looking at him. If he’s separated from you, he might get upset – separation anxiety is quite normal at this age.

When it comes to language development, your child might say a few words by 15 months. She’ll learn more and more words in the coming months and might start naming objects and actions.

Your child is starting to understand his own name, and simple commands like ‘Bring it to Mum’. And he almost certainly understands ‘mine’!

Your toddler might already be walking on her own. If not, she’ll probably take her first steps during the next few months. If your toddler has been walking for a while, she might soon start running, or even climbing the stairs or furniture.

Hand movements like scribbling, turning pages in a book, using a spoon, drinking from a cup or building a tower of blocks are much easier for your toddler now.

At this age, your child might also:

  • take off some of his clothes
  • seat himself in a small chair, or try to get into your chair
  • get something from another room when you ask him to
  • pick up very small objects – for example, pebbles or crumbs.

Helping toddler development at 15-18 months

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

  • Be there for your toddler: it means a lot to your child if you’re nearby while she plays and explores. If you’re around, it gives your child the confidence to explore new things on her own. This can help her to be independent and self-confident when she’s older.
  • Encourage social play: play is a great way for your child to make friends and learn how to be with other children. But don’t expect sharing and taking turns just yet – toddlers think that everything belongs to them.
  • 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 he’s doing.
  • 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’.
  • Give meaning to your child’s talking by listening and talking back to her. For example, you can copy what your child says – if she says ‘mama’, you say ‘mama’. This encourages two-way conversation and helps your child build communication skills. It also makes her feel valued and loved.
  • Read with your toddler: you can encourage your baby’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.
  • 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 15-18 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 15-18 months your toddler has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating
Your child:

  • has trouble seeing or hearing things
  • doesn’t say any single words
  • doesn’t follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’
  • doesn’t point, wave or use other gestures.

Behaviour and play
Your child:

  • doesn’t enjoy eye contact or cuddles with you
  • doesn’t pretend during play – for example, pretend to have a tea party or feed a doll.

Movements and motor skills
Your child:

  • isn’t walking by himself
  • uses one hand a lot more than the other (usually children don’t use one hand more than the other until closer to two years).

You should see a child health professional if you notice your child has lost skills she 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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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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