Your 2-Year-Old's Motor, Cognitive, Verbal, and Social Skills

By two years of age, your little one is in the midst of transitioning from "baby" to "child." That means she's making significant leaps in development. It may also mean some bumpy times as you both learn to settle into a new dynamic.

There is a wide range of normal at this age, but there are some common milestones children usually reach around age two in the areas of:

  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Intellectual or cognitive skills
  • Verbal skills
  • Social and Emotional Skills

Gross Motor Skills

One word may sum up your child at this point: active. Your one-year-old was often on the go, but limited physical strength and balance probably kept him from going too far too fast. That's no longer a problem. In fact, your toddler may be so eager to keep his body moving that it's harder to get him to sit still or focus on one thing for very long. That's normal at this age.

Your child's ability to control arm and leg movements shows he is developing gross motor skills. At age two, this means he may be able to:

  • Climb well (including up and down on furniture)
  • Walk up and down stairs (holding on for support)
  • Kick a ball
  • Stand on tiptoes
  • Carry large toy or several toys while walking
  • Run short distances

Highlight: You won't need to organize activities for your child at this age. Two-year-olds are experts at turning any environment into a playground. That's another reason, though, why you need to be vigilant about child-proofing.

Fine Motor Skills


Two-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. Among the tasks your toddler will begin to master, the ability to:

  • Cover or uncover boxes and other containers
  • Stack four or more blocks
  • Mold play dough
  • Put round and square pegs into holes
  • Turn rotating handles (like on a jack-in-the-box toy)
  • Scribble or paint
  • Use one hand more frequently than another

Highlight: Fine motor skills help your child gain more independence at the dinner table. She'll begin to be able to drink from a cup and use a spoon. She can also pick up bite-sized pieces of food and feed herself. But while your child can sit at the table like a bigger kid, she still can't chew and swallow like one. Two-year-olds could easily gulp food, especially if they're playing or laughing while they eat. It's important to continue to serve foods that are pre-cut or not too thick, and avoid food that could easily get caught in your child's throat, such as spoonfuls of peanut butter, whole grapes, unsliced hot dogs, and hard candy (including lollipops).

Intellectual or Cognitive Skills

Around age two, 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 his mind is making more connections and beginning to understand relationships between different objects or ideas. Some of the milestones your child might reach by age two include the ability to:

  • Find hidden objects
  • Imitate others
  • Involve others in her play activities
  • Operate mechanical toys
  • Identify a few body parts on herself or a doll

Highlight: Your two-year-old is now able to follow simple instructions. So you can tell her, "Put your toy in the box." While it may seem easier and faster to do things yourself, it's very important to begin to foster her independence and teach her to take care of certain things herself. Setting up the play area and organizing clothing in a way that will allow her to clean up her things herself will give her a great feeling of accomplishment and will eventually enable you to delegate a few chores as well.

Verbal Skills

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, and many children don't speak much at all during their second year, but in general, you can expect your child to begin to master the ability to:

  • Use "I" and "you" appropriately
  • Know the name of familiar body parts, animals, and objects and laugh when you misname them (such as calling a cow an bunny)
  • Enjoy looking at one book over and over
  • Completes lines in familiar books
  • Name people in the family
  • Speak in two- to four-word sentences
  • Repeat overheard words

Highlight: While there are many entertaining shows out there for young children, the AAP recommends keeping screen time for 2-year-olds to only one hour a day of high-quality programming. Shows like Sesame Street can provide educational opportunities for young children as long as parents co-view in order to help your young child understand the show and apply its lessons in everyday life. 

Social Skills

Experts sometimes refer to children this young as "egocentric" or self-centered. That sounds rather negative, but in reality, your child just can't yet fathom that people may have their own thoughts or concerns apart from him. At this age, then, your toddler still may not be ready to play with other children in a traditional, give-and-take manner. Instead, he'll engage in what's called parallel play (playing alongside others). But, even in this phase, he’ll love being around others. The more interaction with you and other children he has, the more you may see him able to:

  • Copy others, especially adults and older children
  • Become more independent (which may mean he becomes more defiant when challenged or told what to do)
  • Understand more and more that he is separate from others
  • Begin to interact with other children in games such as chase
  • Comfort a distressed friend or parent
  • Take turns when playing with others
  • Understand when he does something that parents approve or disapprove of

Highlight: It's not unusual for two-year-olds to act shy around others, especially strangers. While this is a period when parents want to encourage independence and social interaction, it's important for you to respect your child's natural rhythm. Give him the time he needs to feel comfortable with a situation and ease him into new environments by preparing him beforehand and being calm. In instances, when your child doesn't want to be left with a sitter, use techniques for managing separation anxiety.

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