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18-24 months: toddler development

18-24 months

Toddlers come in all shapes and sizes, but toddler development at 18-24 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 18-24 months: what’s happening

Feelings 
At this age, your toddler starts to experience new emotions like anger and frustration, guilt, shame, possessiveness and excitement. These ‘big’ emotions can be hard to deal with for your toddler, and you might see some temper tantrums as a result.

Although your child’s separation anxiety peaks around 18 months, by two years it should start to settle down.

Your child is also beginning to think about how she feels, and might link her feelings with words – for example, she might tell you she’s ‘sad’. She might show affection by giving you a kiss or hugging a doll, which is also part of developing empathy.

Everyday skills 
Around this time, your child is keen to do more things for himself.

For example, your child is learning to eat by herself using a spoon and cup, and maybe even a fork – there might even be fewer spills than before!

Your child might try to help when he’s getting dressed and undressed. At this age, it’s easier for him to take off socks, shoes and clothes without buttons.

Generally, your child might show signs that she’s ready for toilet training from two years on. But it’s not unusual for some children to show signs of being ready earlier, at around 18 months.

Playing and learning 
Play is important because it’s how your child learns.

At this age, your child will start imagining and creating through pretend play – for example, pretending to drink from a cup. As he grows older, pretend play gets more complex, and you might find him doing things like sweeping the floor with a tree branch. He’ll enjoy spending time with his brothers and sisters and other children, even if he doesn’t play directly with them.

Talking 
Your child enjoys talking, and her words might even have up-and-down tones, just like an adult’s. You’ll most likely hear a mix of ‘babble’ and real words.

At 18 months, your child is learning words all the time – usually 1-2 words a week, or maybe even one word a day. He might name and point at familiar objects, people and body parts – for example, ears, nose or toes. He might also make animal sounds like ‘moo’, or say the same sound or word over and over.

Your toddler knows her name and the idea of ‘mine’. She’s getting better at understanding simple sentences and instructions like ‘Bring it to Mum’ or ‘Let’s go for a walk’. You’ll be able to understand more of what she says to you.

By two years, your toddler might be able to say ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘me’, and use sentences with 2-3 words – for example, ‘Mummy car’ or ‘me do it’.

Moving 
Your toddler will walk on his own by 18 months and begin to run. He’ll walk up and down stairs or climb furniture with your help. Throwing and kicking a ball, scribbling with pencils or crayons, and building small towers of blocks might be some of his favourite things.

It’s a good idea to look at how you can make your home safe for your active child to move around in.

At this age, your child might also:

  • ask for ‘more’ and say ‘no’ when asked to do something
  • copy you – for example, she might help you sweep the floor
  • sit herself in a small chair
  • walk around carrying larger objects
  • use one hand more than the other by two years.
When your child learns a new skill, celebrate his achievements with lots of praise and positive attention. It’s also a good idea to help and encourage him to keep doing the things he has learned, even if he finds them hard.

Helping toddler development at 18-24 months

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

  • Be there for your toddler: being nearby while she plays and explores gives your child the confidence to try new things on her own. This can help her to be independent and self-confident when she’s older.
  • Give your child the chance to play with others: 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 – it’s normal for toddlers to 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. If your toddler says ‘Mama milk’, you might reply by saying ‘You want Mum to get you some milk?’ 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 child’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.

Parenting a toddler at 18-24 months

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 something and ask questions or get help.

With all the focus on looking after a child, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically and mentally 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 like a cot, or ask someone else to hold him for a while. It’s OK to 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 the demands of caring for 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 at 18 months

See your child and family health nurse or GP if you have any concerns or notice that your 18-month-old 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 point, wave or use other gestures
  • doesn’t follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’.

Behaviour and play
Your child doesn’t enjoy eye contact or cuddles with you or isn’t showing her feelings.

Movement and motor skills
Your child:

  • isn’t walking on his own
  • 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).

When to be concerned about toddler development at 2 years

See your child and family health nurse or GP if you notice your two-year-old has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating
Your child:

  • has trouble seeing or hearing things
  • isn’t using two words together – for example, ‘red car’
  • can’t follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’.

Behaviour and play
Your child:

  • isn’t showing her feelings
  • doesn’t come to you for affection or comfort
  • doesn’t copy actions or words – for example, when singing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’
  • doesn’t pretend during play – for example, doesn’t pretend to talk on the phone.

Movement and motor skills
Your child:

  • can’t walk up and down stairs, even if holding on to you or a rail
  • can’t run
  • finds it hard to handle small objects – for example, a pencil or crayon
  • isn’t scribbling.

You should see a child health professional if you notice your child is losing skills he had before.

You should also see your child and family health nurse or GP if you or your partner experiences the signs of postnatal depression in women or postnatal depression in men. 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
16-11-2017

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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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