Toddler Developmental Milestones by Age

Mother holding arms out while toddler walks, holding onto a toy
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Developmental milestones are a set of skills and behaviors that can be identified in babies and young children as they grow. If a child is meeting these milestones, their growth and development is likely on target.

Developmental milestones generally fall into four categories:

  • Physical: Movement and the use of large and small muscle groups (gross motor and fine motor skills, respectively)
  • Social and emotional: How a child identifies and responds to their own and others' feelings
  • Cognitive: A child’s ability to learn new skills and understand increasingly abstract concepts
  • Communication: Language acquisition, verbal skills, and the ability to understand spoken language

It is important to remember that young children develop at their own unique pace and that there is a range of what is considered normal development. However, pediatricians expect most children to acquire developmental skills within a certain window.

While there’s no reason to be overly preoccupied with whether your toddler is hitting developmental milestones at an exact age, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned.

If your child does have any developmental delays, identifying them offers an opportunity to provide early interventions—services like physical, speech, or other therapies—that can help them gain critical skills and catch up to their peers prior to beginning school.

Here’s a small sample of what milestones parents can expect at various stages of toddler development.

12 Months Old

One-year-olds have come so far by the time they reach their first birthday. You are likely to see big changes in all of these areas of development.

Social and Emotional Development

At one year, your young toddler will begin to show more signs of social and emotional awareness. Your child may suddenly start to be clingy with their primary caregivers, and act shy or nervous with strangers as well as cry when their caregivers leave. Your toddler should also begin to be delighted by playing simple games like patty cake or peek-a-boo.

Language Development

Your young toddler likely still won’t know how to say more than a handful of words—including "mama" and "dada"—but should understand far more and be able to follow simple instructions.

Cognitive Development

It’s well known that babies this age can be mischievous—it’s all a part of normal development. You’ll find that your toddler will explore toys in new ways, throwing them or banging them to figure out how they work.

You may also notice that out of sight no longer equals out of mind. Unfortunately, this means no more simply hiding an item when you want your toddler to forget about it.

Movement and Physical Development

Some toddlers are walking by 12 months, but not all, so don't worry if your child isn't yet. At one year, most toddlers should be sitting up on their own, pulling up to stand, and cruising (walking with the help of furniture to keep their balance).

18 Months Old

Midway through your child's second year, you may notice more new skills emerging.

Social and Emotional Development

Their parents are likely still a toddler’s favorite people at this age—and they probably show a lot of affection toward the people who care for them. That also means your toddler continues to be clingy. Separation anxiety is completely normal and developmentally appropriate at this age. Finally, expect your toddler to be able to point out things they want or that interest them.

Language and Communication Development

Your child’s vocabulary should be expanding, By 18 months they might know up to a dozen words or more. In addition, by this age, your child might be speaking in simple two-word sentences. Your toddler should also able to follow simple directions, like “pick up the crayons.”

Cognitive Development

Make-believe and pretend, while not fully developed yet, will begin to show up in your toddler’s play at around 18 months old. For example, you may see your toddler pretend to feed a baby doll. They will also try to imitate the chores they see their parents doing, like sweeping.

Movement and Physical Development

At 18 months old, toddlers are on the move, all the time. Your toddler should be walking on their own, and may even be running and going down stairs. They will also be able to help dress themselves. And 18-month-olds will begin trying to feed themselves with a spoon and should be drinking from a regular cup (with the occasional spill).

2 Years Old

By their second birthday, you'll see changes like these in your busy toddler.

Social and Emotional Development

Your toddler is continuing to become more social and independent. While they still won’t interact with other kids while playing, your child probably gets excited when other kids—of any age—are around.

Two years old also marks the beginning of tantrums for most kids when they are upset, tired, or hungry. Toddlers are still learning how to express themselves and easily become frustrated when they can't explain what they need or are feeling.

Language and Communication Development

Your 2-year-old is now speaking in longer sentences—up to four words in some cases. That's not surprising considering they know up to 50 words and are likely learning new ones every single day.

You may need to start being careful of what you say, because your toddler will likely repeat you at inopportune times—which can make for some embarrassing situations.

Cognitive Development

Your toddler’s play is continuing to become more creative—you might see them making up stories or games to play. They're also sorting items by shape and color and following more complicated directions that include two steps like, “Pick up your blocks and put them in the basket."

Movement and Physical Development

Running, climbing, throwing, kicking—your 2-year-old’s gross motor skills are on display on a regular basis. You can also expect your toddler to be able to hold a pencil or crayon and copy lines and circles.

3 Years Old

As your child approaches preschool age, they pick up lots of new skills and abilities.

Social and Emotional Development

Younger toddlers don’t really play together—they engage in something called “parallel play,” which basically means that they are playing near each other, but not actually interacting with one another. This all changes at 3 years old, as kids start playing together.

Your child is now forming their own relationships with peers (you’ll probably hear all about friends at preschool or daycare). They and learning how to navigate sharing, cooperation, and other socially acceptable behaviors.

Language and Communication Development

By this point, there’s a good chance you’ve lost count of the number of words your toddler says—and with good reason; your toddler's vocabulary is probably a couple of hundred words, and they happily carry on conversations.

Your toddler is also able to understand and follow more complicated directions with three or more steps (if they feel like being agreeable), and beginning to understand more complicated language concepts like inside, on, below, etc.

Cognitive Development

Playing at age 3 becomes far more creative—your child can do small puzzles, figure out how to make toys work on their own, play make-believe, build structures with blocks, and more. You'll continue to see tantrums at this age, which often erupt as a response to a toddler not getting their way.

Movement and Physical Development

Your child has come a long way from toddling, the shaky walk that defines the beginning of the toddler stage. As your child is on the cusp of aging out of toddlerhood, they are running longer distances, climbing, and maybe even pedaling a bike.

Your child is also able to draw pictures. These may only be scribbles at this point, but they will likely be able to tell you a story about what they are drawing.

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By Louisa Fitzgerald
 Louisa Fitzgerald is a writer, digital content strategist, blogger, and recovering marketing professional. Her articles focus mainly on content about parenting and healthcare.