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.
ByLisa Milbrand
Contributing Writer
March 9, 2020

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 development will be how your child relates to others. “A very important milestone is engagement,” says Caesar Djavaherian, MD, chief medical officer at Carbon Health healthcare network. “This 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. Ensuring your child is able to make eye contact, can hug and smile appropriately, and cry at appropriate times are subtle behavioral milestones—signs that empathy and attachment are developing.”

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.”

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!). Remember, not all kids hit the same toddler milestones at the same time—but 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.”

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12-Month-Old Milestones

At this age, 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 feeling 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 may soon hit:

  • Develops stranger anxiety
  • Plays favorites with people and things
  • Uses sounds or actions to get your attention
  • 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 shaking, banging and throwing things
  • Begins using cups and other items correctly
  • Follows simple directions
  • Sits up without help
  • Cruises by holding onto furniture
  • May take a few steps or stand on their own

18-Month-Old 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 may soon hit:

  • Has temper tantrums
  • Shows affection to loved ones
  • Engages in simple pretend play, like feeding a baby
  • Says several words
  • Knows what ordinary objects are for, like a brush and spoon
  • Scribbles
  • Follows one-step commands
  • Walks independently and may start to run
  • Helps undress themselves
  • Drinks from a cup and eats with a spoon

2-Year-Old 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 may soon hit:

  • Copies adults and older children
  • Likes playing alongside (and sometimes with!) other kids
  • Shows more independence, including a little defiance
  • Knows the names of familiar people and body parts
  • Strings together sentences using two to four words
  • Echoes the words you say
  • Starts sorting shapes and colors
  • Builds towers of four or more blocks
  • Plays make-believe games
  • Starts to show a hand preference
  • Follows two-step instructions
  • Stands on tiptoes
  • Kicks a ball
  • Throws a ball overhand
  • Makes straight lines and circles

3-Year-Old 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 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 says.

Toddler milestones your child may soon hit:

  • Shows concern for their friends
  • Takes turns in games
  • Displays a wide range of emotions
  • Dresses and undresses themselves
  • Follows multi-step instructions
  • Understands prepositions (in, on, under)
  • Uses pronouns and plural nouns
  • Talks well enough that strangers can understand them
  • Solves puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Understands the concept of “two”
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Builds towers higher than six blocks
  • Climbs well
  • Pedals a tricycle

Published February 2019

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