An Overview of Toddlers

toddler painting

 

Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Are the twos really that terrible? The toddler stage can be a trying one for parents, but also fun and rewarding—your child is continuing to develop emotionally, cognitively, and socially, making them curious and eager to explore, and, at times, prone to testing boundaries.

The toddler stage is named for the term “toddling,” the way children move when they first learn to walk. It is also commonly referred to as the “terrible twos." However, most parents and experts actually consider the toddler stage to span roughly from ages one to three—a wide range in terms of child development.

You can expect your child’s progression from infancy through the toddler years and into the preschool years to include plenty of transitions. And, while the leaps may not be as obvious as crawling to walking, your child will still be changing (and moving) at a rapid pace.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to keep up with your little one:

Developmental Milestones

As a parent, it’s important to remember that children develop at their own pace—there's no need to become too caught up in exact ages and stages. And your pediatrician is a great resource if you have specific questions about your child.

While there is a range of what is considered “normal” development during the toddler years, there are common gross motor, fine motor, language, social, and emotional skills that parents can expect to see children develop during these toddler years.

Understanding what is happening developmentally can help you support your child's new skills and manage the inevitable ups and downs of those transitions.

During these two years, your little one will go from taking a few tentative steps to running, jumping, and moving with increased coordination. They'll start out using a handful of words and end up with a broad vocabulary (and talking up a storm) and go from being able to focus for three minutes or less to having an increased attention span that opens the door to all kinds of new toddler activities.

Activities

For toddlers, play is work. The simple act of playing helps toddlers further develop motor skills, learn important concepts like colors and numbers, and sharpen skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and more.

A busy toddler is always on the go and keeping them interested and focused can be difficult. As your toddler’s attention span increases and their behavior becomes more predictable and manageable, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to try new activities.

Different activities, both individual and group, are also a great way to help your toddler learn new skills, add structure to your toddler’s day, promote gross and fine motor skills, and support cognitive development.

Toddlers are naturally curious, which makes this stage a perfect time for some parent and child classes. From soccer to yoga, foreign language to art, and music to movement, there’s a class for every toddler.

If organized activities aren’t your thing (or aren’t offered in your area), there’s plenty you can do with your child at home and around your neighborhood. It’s important to incorporate plenty of play as well as physical exercise into your young child’s day.

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, toddlers should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day as well as an additional hour or more of unstructured physical activity.

These activities don’t have to be complicated—spending time at the park or simply taking your toddler out for a walk around the neighborhood are good options.

Nutrition & Mealtimes

Now that your child can eat all the same foods you can (with some exceptions), it’s time to start focusing on feeding them a well-balanced, healthy diet. The toddler stage is a perfect time to introduce your child to new foods, create healthy habits, and help them learn how to feed themselves.

Unfortunately, while some toddlers are adventurous at mealtimes, it’s not uncommon for toddlers to be picky eaters or go through a picky phase. It’s important to ensure that your toddler is getting enough nutrients, but there’s no need to panic if they don't like to eat some foods. Keep in mind that while your toddler may be refusing dinner, they are probably still getting plenty of calories.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that a good guideline for toddler portion sizes is that they should equal about a quarter of an adult portion size.

Allowing your toddler more independence during mealtime may also help ease mealtime meltdowns and food refusals. Toddlers learn by mimicking their parents—and meals are no different.

Sleep

While many toddlers are sleeping through the night, sleep issues are not uncommon and some young children still experience night waking. Lack of sleep can lead to toddler tantrums and general crankiness. Keep in mind that your toddler still needs up to 15 hours of sleep a day, so it's helpful to stick to a routine that includes plenty of naps and an early bedtime.

The toddler stage also typically includes the transition from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a big kid bed, though parents shouldn't feel pressured to make the switch at a certain age. If your child is still comfortable in a crib, there's not usually a reason to move them until they are older.

Potty Training

Potty training is a huge milestone for toddlers and, while it's a challenge for parents, most parents are looking forward to life post-diapers. Toddlers typically are ready to start potty training between ages two and three. Signs of readiness include keeping a diaper dry for a few hours at a time, the ability to put on and off clothing, and an interest in using the toilet.

Pushing a child to potty train too soon can backfire. Plenty of potty training methods promise results, but these techniques won’t work unless your child is ready. There are specific developmental milestones that your child should reach before you tackle potty training and you should also consider whether or not your toddler is actually interested in the potty yet.

Once you've determined that your child is ready to ditch the diapers, make sure you've armed yourself with the right gear to get the job done.

Discipline

Toddlers are notorious for testing boundaries with their parents.

Disciplining toddlers can be very frustrating for parents because toddlers cannot always fully communicate why they misbehave or fully understand what they are doing wrong.

And, because toddlers are still learning how to interact with others, they require discipline that helps teach them socially appropriate behavior.

Keep in mind that a toddler may have a tantrum or misbehave because of a number of factors, including exhaustion, hunger, frustration, a change in routine, or a major transition. Parents need to be mindful of why a toddler is having a tantrum, not just focus on discipline.

2 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.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Create a potty training plan for your child.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child?.

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.