2-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 2

Once your child turns 2, you'll probably see some big changes almost every month. They're likely gaining some independence as they begin to navigate their environment on their own. There's also a good chance they're showing interest in trying to do more things without your help.

Your 2-year-old's imagination is also starting to come to life! "For a child, play has a purpose in communicating and understanding their world as [they] perceive it," explains Suzanne Davis, a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist supervisor. "Play is essential for child development in that it supports socializing, learning, creative problem solving, and expressing thoughts and emotions when words are not available."

Your 2-year-old will love to show off their budding motor skills, creativity, social skills, and independence. You can expect your little one to make great strides between 2 and 3-years-old!

2 year old development milestones
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

2-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

At 2-years-old, there are some big changes happening verbally and cognitively. The biggest ones include the following.

Imagination and Pretend Play

Around age 2, you will begin to see your toddler creating imaginative games and combining activities together into a more complicated and intricate sequence rather than drifting from one toy or activity to another. These are signs that their mind is making more connections and beginning to understand relationships between different objects or ideas.

"Your child will naturally engage you to participate in their play and is inviting you to join in their world," explains Davis. "Toddlers enjoy pretend play, such as using a toy kitchen to cook or bake a delicious meal, using a toy vacuum to clean the floor, or using a toy doctor’s kit to give a shot to a stuffed animal."

This is also a time that your child will begin to explore and try to figure out how things work during playtime. It is important to offer as many opportunities as you can for exploration.

Your child will likely enjoy doing the same thing over and over again, like knocking a tower over. Repeating the same behavior helps your child learn—though you may be eager for them to move on from this phase.

Better Communication

While children develop at different rates, most toddlers master at least 50 spoken words by their second birthday. Boys' language skills may develop at a slower rate than girls. But before their third birthday, most 2-year-olds are able to put three-word sentences together.

Your toddler will also be able to follow simple two-step commands, such as, “Please pick up the toy and give it to me." They may also complete lines in familiar books when you are reading to them.

Improved Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Your baby's brain is rapidly developing at this age. Some of the new and exciting developments include:

  • Sorting shapes and colors
  • Finding things hidden under multiple layers
  • Building towers with four or more blocks
  • Developing a dominant hand

At this age, children learn mainly through their senses, through movement, and through trial and error. They are learning to take ideas in their head and try them out in the real world. Because of this, talking about ideas with them is so important! It helps them process information while showing that you respect what they are thinking about.

Language and Cognitive Checklist

  • Uses two-word sentences such as, "I go!"
  • Repeats words heard in conversations
  • Can find objects when you hide them
  • Points to objects or pictures when you name them

2-Year-Old Movement, Hand, and Finger Milestones

You may notice 2-year-olds are just beginning to have better control over their hand and finger movements, which leads to a lot of fun milestones!

Improved Fine Motor Skills

You may notice 2-year-olds are just beginning to have better control over their hand and finger movements, which are signs that they're building fine motor skills. Most 2-year-olds can stack at least four blocks and put round or square pegs into holes.

Your toddler's artwork is also drastically improving. Instead of chaotic (yet adorable) scribbling, they are more likely to draw more concentrated marks, including circles and lines that are horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved.

Running, Jumping, and Climbing

By 2-years-old, your child’s muscles begin to develop, which improves their climbing and running skills. Most 2-year-olds can climb over furniture, stand on their tiptoes, and run short distances. Your child will begin to walk more like an adult, be able to walk next to you without falling down, and should be able to navigate stairs with little assistance.

Throwing and Catching a Ball

Your little one loves trying to play catch now! By 2-years-old, toddlers are more capable of throwing a ball and trying to catch it with two hands. They may not be successful every time, but they are beginning to understand the concept of catching and throwing. Your budding soccer player is also learning how to kick a ball, so lots of outdoor time is a great way to help them master this new, fun skill!

Physical Milestones Checklist

  • Learning how to use zippers and snaps on clothing
  • May pull pants up and down
  • Tries to brush own hair or teeth
  • Carries or pulls toys behind them while walking

2-Year-Old Social and Emotional Milestones

There are a lot of big feelings in your 2-year-old's tiny body! Here are some of the main social and emotional behaviors at this age.

Learning to Express Themselves

It’s called the “terrible twos” for a reason! This age often marks the beginning of temper tantrums. That’s to be expected as little ones are learning how to express themselves when they are frustrated, upset, tired, or hungry.

Because 2-year-olds lack the verbal skills to say, “I’m mad,” or “I’m feeling lonely,” they can’t tell anyone how they’re feeling. So they’re more likely to show it. Don’t be surprised when your child drops to the ground and starts screaming. It’s part of typical toddler development.

"When very young children experience anger and frustration, they will react in their behaviors (e.g., tantrums, defiance, etc.) because their brain is still developing and they have not yet learned self-regulation to manage and respond to their ‘big’ emotions," explains Davis. "Generally, big emotions feel very overwhelming and scary for a child where the child seeks connection and attachment (e.g., needing a hug or being held) by the parent as a means to feel more in control."

The bottom line? Try your best to help them process and work through emotions with patience, love, and empathy. It's not easy being 2!

Gradual Interest in Other Kids

Most 2-year-olds are "egocentric" by nature, meaning they can't yet fathom that people may have their own thoughts or concerns outside of them. They think the world revolves around them and their needs at all times.

So, don't be surprised if your toddler isn't ready to play with other children in a traditional, give-and-take manner. Instead, they might prefer to play alongside other kids, as opposed to with them.

But, even in this phase, they'll love being around others. And being around others is a great opportunity for your child to learn about social interactions.

Imitates Behaviors

Between 2 and 3-years-old, your little one learns to imitate the behaviors of both children and adults. Not only do they mimic actions, but they repeat words they hear, often in the same tone. (So it's important to censor grown-up language around them!)

At this age, toddlers will imitate parents, older siblings, and those they see on TV. Not only do they do this to learn, but they also want to feel "included." If the mimicked behavior seems inappropriate, don't worry! They are unable to judge whether their behaviors are appropriate—and that's where you come in to guide them.

Other Milestones for Your 2-Year-Old

Now that your child has reached full-on toddlerhood, here is what else you might notice.

Eating and Snacking

Your 2-year-old is likely getting into more of a solid eating routine, with three meals a day plus one or two snacks. The AAP recommends your toddler eat from each of the following food groups per day:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Rice, potatoes, flour products, and cereals
  • Poultry, fish, eggs, and other meats
  • Cheese, milk, and additional dairy products

At this age, many kids start to become picky about the foods they eat—and it's totally common, according to Christine Randazzo Kirschner, MS, RDN, CDN and April Panitz, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietician nutritionists and co-founders of Amenta Nutrition in New York. Their counseling and consulting firm specializes in pediatric nutrition, especially picky eating, mealtime stress, special diets, weight management, and digestive health.

"Toddler years may be the pickiest time for your children—food rejection is common at this age," explains Kirschner. "We often hear from parents that their child has stopped eating a food that they previously accepted or that they keep asking for the same foods every day. Don’t stress about it! Erratic food intake and shifts in preferences are completely normal."

She adds that children at this age are still figuring out their own independence, which can lead them to be more demanding in an attempt to gain more control.

How to Deal With Snacking

It's no secret that toddlers love snacks! While it's easy to worry about their snacking habits, Kirschner and Panitz invite parents to change their mindset. "Since a child’s belly is too small to rely on only three meals a day to reach their daily energy and nutrient requirements, snack time is necessary," says Kirschner.

She explains that you should think of snacks as "mini-meals," which should consist of two to three food groups. "For example, serve a half a piece of whole-wheat bread with almond butter and sliced banana on top or a low-fat yogurt with strawberries and crackers on the side," she says.

Kirschner and Panitz add that snacks are a great way to fill nutrient gaps that may have been lost at meals, along with the opportunity to get some fiber into your child’s diet.

Most importantly, snacks should focus on whole foods instead of ultra-processed, convenient foods that may contain large amounts of salt, saturated fats, and added sugars. While these foods are okay in moderation, it's important to include whole food options along with them.

More Consistent Sleep Schedule

Most toddlers are able to sleep for the majority of the night (at least 11 hours). If not, check to make sure that your infant has a good bedtime routine and has developed the proper sleep associations. They may start waking again at times of stress, illness, or after learning a new task (like walking).

Your toddler may still need two naps during the day or may only take one longer nap. A consistent napping schedule will make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep.

Once your child can climb out of their own crib (and you have already lowered the mattress and made other modifications), it is time to move your child into a toddler bed. If your child is three feet tall, you may want to move them to a toddler bed even if they aren't climbing out of their crib yet. The usual age for moving out of a crib is about 18 months to three years.

Moving From the High Chair to the Dinner Table

This age is a great opportunity to transition your little one from a high chair to the dinner table! Their newfound independence may motivate them to be more of a "big kid" and grab their own place at the table.

"At the age of 2, children should be eating the same foods as the rest of the family. This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables," says Kirschner. "However, it’s important to remember that while they should be eating the same foods as you, their small tummies require smaller portions. A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of each food per year of age (i.e., 2 tablespoons for 2-years-old)." 

How to Help Your 2-Year-Old Learn and Grow

Your 2-year-old has a new talent for keeping you on your toes all day! They are becoming more interactive with the world around them and are looking to you for guidance, consistency, exploration, and fun.

Throughout the day, remember to talk to your child often. Point out what you’re doing as you're cooking or performing household tasks. Keep things simple but avoid using too much baby talk.

Keep in mind that your child learns a lot through play and you don’t need to turn every activity into an opportunity to identify shapes or colors. Instead, let your child explore and play on their own terms.

Davis adds that playtime is also a chance to help your toddler work out their feelings and emotions. "Play is symbolic and schematic as a means to ‘play out’ rather than ‘talk out’ situations and stressors," she says.

Toddlers are notorious for resisting new foods, but fear not! This phase will pass, and in the meantime, all you can do is keep offering new options.

"Keep exposing your child to new and familiar foods by offering them a variety," says Kirschner. "They may need eight to 15 exposures to a new food before they become familiar with it and even more to begin liking it. If they are eating what the rest of the family is having, this is likely to happen organically. Plus it reduces the parent’s stress and workload by making one meal for the whole family!"

Additional Parenting Tips

If your 2-year-old comes down with the flu or a cold, you can try the following:

  • A cool-mist humidifier
  • Saline nose drops or sprays keep nasal passages moist and help avoid stuffiness
  • Nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever
  • Avoid cold and flu medicine in children under 6-years-old
  • Always contact your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's illness

How to Keep Your 2-Year-Old Safe

Now that your toddler is able to run around with ease, it's important to keep your eyes peeled for any potential dangers. Here are some of the biggest safety tips to keep in mind for 2-year-olds.

Car Seat Safety

While it's tempting to turn your child from rear-facing to forward-facing in their car seat, research shows that they are five times less likely to avoid serious injury or death if they remain rear-facing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants ride rear-facing as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height limit allowed by their car seat manufacturer. Typically, this allows you to keep them rear-facing for two years or longer. Many convertible car seats can keep your child rear-facing up to 40 or 50 pounds.

Falls and Burns

Your 2-year-old has mastered climbing, which means there's an increased risk of falls. They can fall off playground equipment, down the stairs, off a bike, out of windows, or anything that they choose to climb on. It's important to keep a close eye on your little explorer and put up baby gates where needed to avoid dangerous situations.

You should also be incredibly careful while in the kitchen with your toddler. They can get severely burned from the stove, oven, hot liquids, grease, and hot foods. Always be extra cautious when cooking or baking.

Water Safety

It is crucial to never leave your child unattended around water. Unfortunately, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children 1 to 4-years-old, and 69 percent of all of these drownings occur during non-swim times. Toddlers are incredibly curious, and the biggest threat at this age is having them wander off to swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, natural bodies of water, and other types of water around the home.

The best actions to take are to add fences around your swimming pool, remove other water hazards from the backyard (such as birdbaths or fountains), prevent your child from wandering outside (using safety gates, door locks, or doorknob covers), empty any water containers after use, and always use life jackets when in the water.

When to Be Concerned

There are some things that could signal potential developmental issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talk to your child’s doctor if your child:

  • Doesn’t walk steadily
  • Doesn’t copy actions and words
  • Doesn’t follow simple instructions
  • Loses skills they once had
  • Doesn’t know what to do with common objects, like a phone, fork, spoon, or brush
  • Doesn’t say two-word phrases like, “more milk”

Remember, all children develop at slightly different rates! If you are concerned, the best thing you can do is reach out to your pediatrician for reassurance.

A Word From Verywell

Being 2 comes with its challenges, but it's also an exciting time for both you and your child. They are starting to better understand the world around them, and it's fun to watch their newfound curiosity and imagination come alive. They are turning into their own little person!

Some days may be tougher than others, but no matter what, remember—they will fly by. Relish in the exciting moments, enjoy the snuggles when their big emotions take control, and soak in all the fun that comes with toddlerhood. Eventually, those "terrible twos" won't seem so terrible!

Originally written by Amy Morin
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13 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Adapted from the Your Child newsletter and series of articles from keepkidshealthy.com and are used with the permission of Keep Kids Healthy, LLC.