Your 18-Month Old Toddler's Growth and Development

Baby girl eating blueberries,
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Your toddler is now 18 months old, and you need to know what to expect at this stage. Learn more about nutrition, growth, safety, and more for your toddler.

Toddler Nutrition

Your toddler's diet will begin to resemble that of the rest of the family, with three meals and two snacks each day. You should limit milk and dairy products to about 16 to 24 ounces each day and juice to 4 to 6 ounces each day and offer a variety of foods to encourage good eating habits later.

To prevent feeding problems, teach your child to feed himself as early as possible, provide him with healthy choices and allow experimentation. Mealtimes should be enjoyable and pleasant and not a source of struggle. Besides not allowing your child to drink too much milk or juice so that he isn't hungry for solids, also avoid forcing your child to eat when he isn't hungry, or forcing him to eat foods that he doesn't want.

While you should provide three well-balanced meals each day, it is important to keep in mind that most toddlers will only eat one or two full meals each day. If your child has had a good breakfast and lunch, then it is okay that he doesn't want to eat much at dinner.

Milk and Beverages

You may now give your baby homogenized whole cow's milk, although if you are continuing to breastfeed your toddler at least two or three times a day, then he likely doesn't need cow's milk yet.

However, if you are switching from breast milk or infant formula to milk, do not use 2 percent, low-fat, or skim milk until your child is 2 years old. Now is a good time to give up the bottle and transition to a sippy cup if you haven't already.

To avoid having to supplement with fluoride, use fluoridated tap water. If you are using bottled or filtered water only, then your child may need fluoride supplements (check with the manufacturer for your water's fluoride levels).

The Picky Eater

Your child may now start to refuse to eat some foods, become a very picky eater or even go on binges where he will only want to eat a certain food. An important way that children learn to be independent is by establishing independence about feeding. Even though your child may not be eating as well rounded a diet as you would like, as long as your child is growing normally and has a normal energy level, there is probably little to worry about. Remember that this is a period in his development where he is not growing very fast and doesn't need a lot of calories.

Also, most children do not eat a balanced diet each and every day, but over the course of a week or so, their diet will usually be well balanced. You can consider giving your child a daily vitamin if you think he is not eating well, although most children don't need them.

Feeding Problems to Avoid

Other ways to prevent feeding problems are to not use food as a bribe or reward for desired behaviors. Avoid punishing your child for not eating well. Limit mealtime conversation to positive and pleasant topics. Avoid discussing or commenting on your child's poor eating habits while at the table. Limit eating and drinking to the table or high chair. Limit snacks to two nutritious snacks each day.

Feeding practices to avoid are giving large amounts of sweet desserts, soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, sugarcoated cereals, chips or candy, as they have little nutritional value. Also avoid giving foods that your child can choke on, such as raw carrots, peanuts, whole grapes, tough meats, popcorn, chewing gum or hard candy.

Growth, Development, and Play

At this age, you can expect your child to walk backward, walk up steps with his handheld, kick a ball, say 10 to 25 words, name three body parts, turn pages of a book and stack two blocks together. Over the next few months, your child will learn new words, start to throw a ball overhand, and use two-word combinations.

He may begin to play with other children, but it will be "parallel play." Children at this age are very self-centered and may play alongside each other, but it will be some time before they actually start playing together. Your child will probably not want to share his things, and he may be very possessive. It is important to closely supervise children that are playing together at this age and reassure them that the other child will not keep his toys. Keep a few of his favorite items separate and not available for sharing so that he feels he has some control over things.

This is also a time that your child will begin to explore and try and figure out how things work and will enjoy playtime. It is important to give lots of praise and many opportunities for exploration. If using a pacifier, it is a good time to start restricting its use (or give it up altogether) to only when your baby is in his crib, so that his interest in it will decrease.

Sleeping and Naps

Most toddlers take at least one naps (length of naps are usually very variable between different children, but naps are usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours long) during the day at this age and are able to sleep all night (for 11 to 12 hours). If not, check to make sure that your toddler has a good bedtime routine and has developed the proper sleep associations.

Once your child can climb out of his crib (and you have already lowered the mattress and removed the bumper pads), it is time to move him into a toddler bed. If your child is three feet tall, you may want to move him to a toddler bed even if he isn't climbing out of his crib yet. The usual age for moving out of a crib is about eighteen months to two years.

Safety for Your 18-Month-Old

Accidents are the leading cause of death for children. Most of these deaths could easily be prevented, and it is therefore very important to keep your child's safety in mind at all times. Here are some tips to keep your toddler safe:

  • According to the latest car seat guidelines, you should use a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat, and place it in the back seat until your baby is two years old or outgrows the rear-facing weight or height limits, and never place your baby in the front seat of a car with a passenger side airbag.
  • Unfortunately, there have been more incidents of kids left in hot cars, and you need to take precautions.
  • Make sure his crib is safe: have no more than 2 3/8 inches between the bars; the mattress should be firm and fit snugly within the crib; place it away from windows and drafts; avoid placing fluffy blankets, stuffed animals, or pillows in the crib as they can cause smothering.
  • Make sure that used or hand-me-down equipment, such as car seats, strollers, and cribs, etc., haven't been recalled for safety reasons. Call the manufacturer or the Consumer Product Safety Commission for an up-to-date list of recalled products.
  • To prevent choking, never leave small objects or plastic bags in your baby's reach.
  • Correctly use a harness when he is seated in a high chair.
  • Avoid exposing your child to too much sun (use sunscreen).
  • Prevent falls by not leaving your baby alone on a bed or changing table.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Practice food safety: wash fruits and vegetables, do not eat undercooked meats or poultry or drink unpasteurized milk or juices.
  • If you must have a gun in the house keep it and the bullets in a separate locked place.
  • Practice water safety: Teach your child to swim, do not let your child play around any water (lake, pool, ocean, etc.) without adult supervision (even if he is a good swimmer), always wear a life preserver or safety vest when on a boat, and childproof the pool by enclosing it in a fence with a self-closing, self latching door.
  • Be aware of the risk of dog bites and closely supervise children when in the presence of animals. Toddlers can act in ways a dog considers to be scary and even a small dog might deliver a defensive or aggressive bite.
  • Clean his teeth with a soft toothbrush and a smear of a fluoride toothpaste (to prevent fluorosis) until he learns to spit out the toothpaste.

    Child Proof Your Home

    Toddlers are mobile and explore their environment. You'll need to ensure that you have taken precautions in your home and at locations such as grandparents' homes where your toddler may visit.

    • Set the temperature of your hot water heater to 120 F.
    • Use gates on stairs cover on electrical outlets and latches on cabinets.
    • Keep household cleaners, chemicals and medicines completely out of reach and always store them in their original container.
    • Know the Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222).
    • Do not carry hot liquids or food near your child.
    • Do not allow your child near stoves, heaters or other hot appliances (especially curling irons).
    • When cooking, use the back burners and turn pot handles inward.
    • To prevent drowning, empty all water from bathtubs and pails, keep the door to the bathroom closed and never leave your child alone near any container of water.
    • Keep a list of emergency numbers near the phone and entered as contacts on your mobile phone.
    • Lock rooms that are not childproof.

    Common Health Problems

    • Constipation: a very common and frustrating problem in children. It is usually defined as the passage of hard and painful stools or going four or more days without a bowel movement. Constipation is most commonly caused by a diet that is low in fiber but can also be caused by drinking too much milk (more than 16 to 24 ounces per day), not drinking enough water or waiting too long to go to the bathroom. Initial treatment is increasing the number of fluids he drinks and increasing the amount of fiber and bran in his diet. It is usually also helpful to decrease the amount of constipating foods in his diet, including cow's milk, yogurt, cheese, cooked carrots, and bananas. Stool softeners may be necessary if these steps don't work.
    • Stuffy Nose/Sneezing: very common and usually caused by irritation from dry air, smoke, or dust. Try to eliminate common irritants. You can try using a humidifier or salt water nose drops.
    • Diaper Rashes: very common and usually clear up in 3-4 days with a diaper rash cream. If it is not clearing up or is bright red and surrounded by red dots, your baby may have a yeast infection and will need an antifungal cream to help clear it up. Diaper rashes can be prevented by frequent diaper changes, increasing air exposure by keeping the diaper off as much as possible and using a mild soap only after bowel movements (rinse with just warm water at other times).
    • Upper Respiratory Infections: these are very common and include symptoms of a clear or a green runny nose and cough and are usually caused by cold viruses. The best treatment is to use saltwater nasal drops and a bulb more suction to keep their nose clear. Call your pediatrician if your child has a high fever, difficulty breathing or is not improving in 7-10 days
    • Vomiting: usually accompanies diarrhea as part of a viral infection. If your child starts vomiting, it is best to give them a break from eating and drinking for an hour or so and then start to give small amounts of Pedialyte (1 teaspoon) every five or ten minutes. Once your child can tolerate drinking these small amounts, you can increase the Pedialyte to about a tablespoon every five or ten minutes and then larger amounts as tolerated and then change back to his regular formula. Avoid giving just Pedialyte for more than 12 hours. Call your pediatrician if the vomit has blood in it, if it is dark green, or if your child is showing signs of dehydration (which includes not urinating in 6-8 hours, having a dry mouth and weight loss).
    • Diarrhea: a common problem and is often caused by a viral infection. Call your pediatrician if diarrhea has blood or pus in it, if it is not getting better in 1-2 weeks or if you see signs of dehydration (which includes not urinating in 6-8 hours, having a dry mouth and weight loss). You should continue with their regular diet but may give 1-2 ounces of Pedialyte each time that he has large diarrhea stool to prevent dehydration.

    Pediatrician Visits

    You will be making frequent visits to your pediatrician during the first year of your child's life so that his growth and development can be closely monitored. Remember to write down any questions you may have for your doctor before the visit so that you don't forget them.

    At the 18 month checkup, you can expect:

    • An examination of your toddler's growth and development.
    • A review of feeding and sleep schedules.
    • Measurement of his height, weight and head circumference.
    • Counseling for injury prevention, dental health, and a proper diet.
    • A discussion of toilet training readiness.
    • Immunizations: DTaP and possibly the Hepatitis A, Prevnar, or IPV vaccines if they weren't given at the fifteen or twelve-month checkup.

    The next checkup with your pediatrician will be when your child is 2 years old.

    View Article Sources
    • Iannelli, V. Your Child. Keep Kids Healthy, LLC.