Toddler Developmental Milestones by Age

Mother holding arms out while toddler walks, holding onto a toy
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The phrase developmental milestones refers to a set of skills and particular behaviors that can be identified in babies and young children as they grow.

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 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, your pediatrician will expect most children to acquire developmental skills within a window around certain ages and stages.

While there’s no reason for parents to be overly pre-occupied with their toddler hitting developmental milestones at an exact age, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned.

Identification of developmental delays can offer an opportunity to provide your child with early interventions—services like physical, speech, or other therapies—that can help a child gain critical skills and "catch up" to his 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

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 certain people, often Mom and Dad, and act shy or nervous with strangers as well as cry when Mom and Dad 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 toddlers at 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 which, unfortunately for Mom and Dad, 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

Social and Emotional Development: Mommy and Daddy are likely still a toddler’s favorites at this age—and your child is probably showing a lot of affection toward the people who care for them. That also means your toddler continues to be clingy. “Stranger danger” 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 and by 18 months they might know up to a dozen words or more. In addition, by a year and a half, 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 a year and a half. For example, you may see your toddler pretend to feed a baby doll. They will also try to imitate Mom and Dad doing chores, 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-months-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

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 who are learning how to express themselves when they are frustrated, upset, tired, or hungry.

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. In fact, 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 toys 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

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. Moreover, your child is now forming their own relationships with peers (you’ll probably hear all about friends at school or daycare) 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 carrying on conversations. Your toddler is also able to understand and follow more complicated directions with three or more steps (if they feels like being agreeable), and beginning to understand more complicated language concepts like inside, on, below, etc.

Cognitive Development: Playing at three 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 peddling a bike. Your child is also able to draw pictures, which may only be scribbles at this point, but will likely be able to tell you a story about what he's drawing.

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