Toddler Milestones: Skills Your Child Will Learn and When

Your child is getting bigger and starting to master a whole new set of big-kid skills. Here are the toddler developmental milestones to keep an eye out for.
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By Lisa Milbrand, Contributing Writer
Updated April 13, 2022
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Now that your kiddo has entered toddlerhood, they’ll start to become more independent and show off their budding personality. The ages of one through three are key years for mastering critical skills, like progressing from crawling to walking and from babbling to saying full sentences. But some of the biggest strides in toddler milestones and development will be how your child relates to others. “[Toddlerhood] is the time when kids should be able to engage in a loving fashion with family and be able to navigate play with other children in their age group,” says Caesar Djavaherian, MD, co-founder and chief clinical innovation officer at Carbon Health. “Pretend play is an especially important behavior, since it requires newly developed cognitive, social and emotional skills.”

Of course, it’s easy to get anxious if your friends have kids who are already reciting the alphabet when your little one is still working on “mama” and “dada,” but don’t fret. “Kids don’t meet milestones on the clock,” says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. “If your child doesn’t walk when a website chart suggests they ‘should,’ don’t stress out over it. Sometimes people pressure you to treat meeting milestones like a competition—like a misguided baby Olympics. Support your child and savor their individual developmental pace.” In fact, to account for the wide age ranges for meeting milestones, the Centers for Disease Control and Development (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) adjusted their milestones guidelines in February 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic may also play a role in when some children reach their toddler milestones. Alexis Phillips-Walker, DO, a pediatrician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pediatrics in Atascocita, Texas, is one of many experts who have been seeing lags in speech and emotional development for babies and toddlers born in the COVID era. She notes this is likely due to the kids’ “limited interaction with people outside of the home.” However, it’s important to note there is not yet enough evidence to understand exactly how the pandemic has affected toddler developmental milestones.

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Luckily, there are ways parents can help ensure their child is on track. While not all kids hit toddler milestones at the same time, if you’re ever worried, consult with your pediatrician. “Parents are the experts on their child and know their child best,” says Eboni Smith Hollier, MD, a board-certified developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Houston, Texas. “If you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, it’s important to discuss them with your child’s pediatrician.”

Here’s an overview of when your child might be meeting certain toddler developmental milestones and engaging in new behaviors (watch out for those tantrums as you enter the twos!).

12-Month-Old Toddler Milestones

At 12 months old, your newly minted toddler is probably just starting to pronounce their first words (usually ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ are top of the list). They also might start playing favorites and continue to feel anxious around new people, and that’s part of the big social strides they’re making in their toddler development. “Many parents focus on motor, communication and self-help skills, but social-emotional skills are important in learning to control emotions, navigate relationships and cope with life’s challenges,” Hollier says.

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Uses simple gestures like waving or shaking their head
  • Plays games like peek-a-boo and patty-cake
  • Says ‘mama’ and ‘dada’
  • Explores objects by putting things into containers and shaking things
  • Begins using cups and other items correctly
  • Stands on their own
  • Cruises by holding onto furniture
  • Uses sounds or actions to get your attention
  • Plays favorites with people and things

15-Month-Old Toddler Milestones

At 15 months, your tot may start to take a few wobbly steps and copy other children during playtime. They’ll also start to show both you and their toys affection with hugs, kisses and cuddles.

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Follows simple directions (given with a gesture and words)
  • Takes a few steps
  • Shows affection to loved ones
  • Imitates other kids while playing
  • Claps to show excitement
  • Points at things to ask for something or get help

18-Month-Old Toddler Milestones

Your 18-month-old is likely making sense of the world by learning how simple things work, and becoming oh-so-fascinated with the everyday items you use—including the TV remote and your phone. At this stage of toddler development, you may also get your first piece of lovingly scribbled artwork (hopefully on paper, not the wall).

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Has temper tantrums
  • Walks independently
  • Helps dress themselves
  • Drinks from a cup and tries to use a spoon
  • Scribbles
  • Follows one-step commands (given without gestures)
  • Engages in simple pretend play, like feeding a baby
  • Imitates you doing chores, like wiping a counter or sweeping the floor
  • Says a few words other than “mama” and “dada”

2-Year-Old Toddler Milestones

Yep, you’re about to enter the “terrible twos,” a phase of toddler development named for the acts of defiance and emotional meltdowns that tend to peak around this time. But this age can also be pretty great, as your child’s playtime activities become more sophisticated and imaginative. Parents play a key role here too. “Foster your child’s development by playing with them and encouraging them when you see them trying to master something new,” says Jamee Walters, MD, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida.

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Shows concern for their friends
  • Shows more independence, including a little defiance
  • Knows the names of familiar people and body parts
  • Strings together sentences using at least two words
  • Kicks a ball and may throw it overhand
  • Echoes the words you say
  • Starts to use gestures beyond waving and pointing, like blowing a kiss
  • Starts to show a hand preference
  • Can run and stand on tiptoes
  • Builds towers of four or more blocks

30-Month-Old Toddler Milestones

By two and a half years old, your little one is likely hitting all types of milestones! By this age, they may be speaking a mile-a-minute or be fully potty trained. (Don’t worry if they’re not—remember, every child goes at their own pace!). They may also engage in more pretend play and be able to recognize different shapes and colors.

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Likes playing alongside (and sometimes with!) other kids
  • Can follow simple routine and two-step instructions
  • Uses objects for pretend play, like feeding a block for a doll
  • Plays make-believe games
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Starts sorting shapes and colors
  • Can say around 50 words and name certain items in a familiar book
  • Uses words like “I,” “me” or “we”
  • Can jump off the ground using both feet
  • Can partially undress themselves

3-Year-Old Toddler Milestones

Once your child enters preschool, it’s tempting to compare your child’s development to other kids—but try to resist. There are many factors that go into each aspect of toddler development. “Kids may simply be ahead because they have had opportunities to practice certain skills,” says Heather Isaacson, MD, a pediatrician at UCHealth Longmont Clinic in Longmont, Colorado. “They may be of normal intelligence, or it may mean they’re very intelligent and will need to be more challenged in the future. Some kids are ahead in certain areas, like gross motor skills, but struggle in other areas, like potty training. Often, how motivated the child is plays a role as well.” So remind yourself that a 3-year-old who can already write their name isn’t necessarily headed to Harvard. “There is no conclusive evidence that children who reach developmental milestones early are more likely to have a more favorable developmental outcome or be smarter later in life,” Hollier adds.

Toddler milestones your child will soon hit:

  • Draws straight lines and circles
  • Talks well enough that strangers can understand them
  • Dresses and undresses themselves to some extent
  • Climbs well
  • Able to pedal a tricycle
  • Solves puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Follows multi-step instructions
  • Understands prepositions (in, on, under)
  • Uses pronouns and plural nouns
  • Takes turns in games
  • Displays a wide range of emotions
  • Asks “who,” “what,” “where” and “why” questions
  • Understands the concept of “two”

It’s exciting to watch your tot grow and learn before your very eyes. As tempting as it may be, try not to compare their pace to their peers; your child will develop at their own pace. If you ever have questions or concerns about your toddler’s developmental milestones, always reach out to your pediatrician. They’ll be able to help you find answers and, when necessary, come up with next steps.

About the experts:

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, is a California-based physician and the co-founder and chief clinical innovation officer at Carbon Health. He received his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, is a family physician based in Kentucky with over two decades of experience. She is also the coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year and The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years and has been featured as a medical expert on over 100 radio shows, TV shows and publications. She received her medical degree from East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine.

Eboni Smith Hollier, MD, is a board-certified developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Houston, Texas, with an expertise in identifying developmental disabilities, such as autism and speech delays. She is also the founder and chief medical advisor of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, based in Houston. She earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and completed her residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Alexis Phillips-Walker, DO, is a pediatrician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pediatrics Atascocita in Atascocita, Texas. She earned her medical degree at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens.

Jamee Walters, MD, is a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She received her medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and completed her pediatric residency at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Heather Isaacson, MD, is a pediatrician at UCHealth Longmont Clinic in Longmont, Colorado. She is also on the Board of Directors for Healthy Learning Paths, a nonprofit that teaches kids how to set healthy habits for life. She received her medical degree from the University of Arizona and completed her residency at the University of California, San Diego.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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