What are development milestones in toddlers?
By the time children reach 12 months of age, they are considered to be ‘toddlers’. While toddlers can vary in their size shape and personality, there is a well-defined time frame over which most toddlers will reach their developmental milestones.
Just like babies, toddlers develop and reach these milestones when they feel safe and loved. Toddlers also need plenty of sleep and a variety of healthy foods. Try to make sure your child gets 11 to 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period spread over a long sleep overnight and 1 to 2 shorter sleeps during the day.
Read about toddlers’ sleep needs.
Physical and skills milestones
Your toddler may be able to stand up without help from you or other support between 12 and 15 months. Once they can stand, they soon start to explore more.
Many toddlers start walking on their own between 12 and 15 months but it is normal for others to start walking at 15 to 18 months. With practice, they may even start climbing stairs or on furniture and start running. Toddlers are very busy, active and curious about the world they live in. Your toddler may start to dance in place to music, kick and throw a ball, scribble and finger feed more efficiently during this time.
Between 12 and 15 months, toddlers learn a lot about their world by shaking and banging things and putting them together in piles or towers then knocking them apart.
They may be able to point to the people and things they know when you ask them.
Your toddler may start to drink from a cup and continue to improve in self feeding by picking up different types and textures of food.
By 18 months, most toddlers have a lot more control over their hand and arm movements and may try to help you dress them.
Your toddler may attempt skills such as using a pencil or spoon, or drinking from a cup. They will also gain more control of the movements needed for those skills that will enable them to start picking up very small objects, such as small stones or parts of toys. It is very important to watch what your toddler picks up in case they try to swallow it or put it in their ear or nose.
At 12 months, your toddler will have well developed emotional attachments to people and start to show them affection. Usually at about 14 months, they will start to feel separation anxiety when they are fearful of being separated from you.
Some toddlers start to throw temper tantrums.
Your toddler will start to understand how others feel — for example, by looking sad if someone near them appears sad or is crying.
Your toddler may begin to become self-aware and show signs of embarrassment if people are watching them.
Thinking and communication milestones
You’ve probably noticed for several months that your baby seems to ‘babble’. Now you’ll start to hear real words among the grunts, nods and pointing. There may be 1 or 2 words at about 12 months, increasing to 6 or more words by 18 months.
By 18 months, your toddler will know the purpose of some things, such as phones and brushes.
Between 12 and 15 months, your toddler will also begin to:
- hug you
- point to body parts or favourite things when you name them
- follow simple instructions — if you ask them to give you something and hold out your hand, they will most likely do it
Between 15 and 18 months, toddlers are able to recognise their own names. By 18 months, they can understand and follow simple instructions such as fetching something from another room without needing to be prompted by gestures.
By 18 months, your toddler may recognise themselves in the mirror.
Read about helping your toddler learn to talk.
Helping your toddler’s development
To help your toddler develop in this period and reach the milestones in the normal range, you can:
- show lots of warmth and love with hugs and kisses
- play with them, using objects such as blocks, plastic containers and pegs, or parts of the body, such as in peek-a-boo
- play with them in a pretend way, such as pretending to drink a cup of tea, or playing with dolls
- talk to them — name things that you’re using and are in contact with such as furniture, colours and people’s names
- read, sing nursery rhymes and sing songs
- encourage skills such as using a spoon and drinking from a cup (and understand that it will be messy for a while)
- encourage them to walk and explore, but stay close so they feel safe
- encourage play with other children, but be conscious that ‘sharing’ is not a concept they will understand yet (although ‘mine’ certainly is)
- Feed them a variety of healthy foods including different colours and soft textures (such as cooked vegetables or fruit, eggs)
If you’re concerned
You should contact your doctor or child health nurse if by 18 months your toddler doesn’t:
- enjoy eye contact or cuddles
- use any single words
- follow simple instructions
- point, wave or use other gestures
- have ‘pretend play’
- see or hear things clearly
- retain skills they once had
- notice or appear to mind when you leave or return
At 18 months, they should receive the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (varicella) (MMRV) vaccination, the diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) vaccination and the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine.
Find out more about the Australian vaccination program.
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Last reviewed: November 2021