All over the world and across cultures, children meet development milestones in generally the same order. This holds particularly true for the toddler years when enormous and exciting development occurs. While there can be some variability in the exact month a toddler achieves a new milestone, during the 18 to 24 month period, you can expect your little one continue to grow in many fascinating ways.
Physical and skills milestones
Most toddlers walk and probably run by 18 months and most will start to walk and down stairs with your help.
Although your toddler may enjoy playing near other children, they might not yet be interested in playing with them — this is called ‘parallel play’. They also become better at kicking or throwing a ball, scribbling with a pencil and creating structures with blocks. By 24 months, your toddler may show a preference for using one hand over the other.
From about 18 months, it is normal for your toddler to change their eating habits by eating less as their rate of growth slows. It is also normal for them to become fussy about food and show strong likes and dislikes (that can change quickly). They often want to eat and drink by themselves, using a spoon and a cup and perhaps a fork.
Read more about toddlers' eating habits.
Your child might try to help you undress them by taking off their socks, shoes and clothes that don’t have buttons. Likewise, they may pull toys around, nest cups and boxes inside each other and generally start to show a desire to try things on their own.
Your toddler may show signs of being ready for toilet training at 18 months and many children will be ready from about 24 months. These signs include telling you that their nappy is soiled, showing curiosity in your use of the toilet, telling you they have to or are currently weeing or pooing. Pushing toilet training too soon can result in frustration for everyone so it is best to take a relaxed attitude and follow your toddler’s cues.
Social and emotional milestones
Your 18 to 24 month old is likely to interact more with their world by handing things to others to play, pretending to feed a doll, pointing to interesting things and exploring alone but with a parent or caregiver nearby.
At this age, your child starts to feel more emotions like anger, shame and excitement. They may start to deliberately do what you’ve told them not to do. They’re learning to deal with new, confusing and sometimes difficult emotions and this can lead to temper tantrums.
Toddlers use temper tantrums to express difficult feelings. Different ‘tantrum’ behaviours include:
- being very angry
- crying, screaming or shouting
- throwing or breaking things
- running away
- kicking or otherwise being aggressive
- becoming rigid
- holding their breath or vomiting
Hungry or tired children are more vulnerable to tantrums so it is important that your toddler has enough food and sleep. Your toddler should sleep for 12 to 13 hours in a 24-hour period, including a long overnight sleep. Some toddlers need 1 to 2 sleeps during the day while others require none.
Read more about sleep and settling.
Separation anxiety is usually strongest at about 18 months. You might notice that it becomes less intense by 24 months.
Thinking and communication milestones
Between 18 and 24 months, your toddler’s brain is developing nerve connections and pathways that are affected by all the things they try and learn, and by their experiences of life. They copy you and other people and repeat things they hear.
Your toddler will probably start being able to:
- find hidden things
- sort shapes and colours
- complete familiar rhymes and parts of songs
- name items in books
Their language skills develop, too. They experiment with between 1 and 7 new words each week to describe things they see, describe parts of their body and mimic animal sounds. They also start pointing to things they recognise in picture books.
Your child will learn to understand and follow instructions and are likely to begin asking for ‘more’, and saying ‘no’ and ‘why’ when asked to do something. By 24 months most toddlers know about 50 words and use sentences of two or more words to describe their needs or what they see.
Some toddlers link the new feelings they are experiencing with words, such as ‘sad’, or express affection by giving you or a favourite toy hugs or kisses. Read more about speech development in children.
Helping your toddler’s development
If you encourage and praise attempts at new and existing activities, your toddler will gain the confidence to try new things, develop new skills and extend the ones they have.
You can help your child become confident and independent by remaining nearby as they explore their surroundings.
Talking to toddlers and reading aloud encourages them to try using words to communicate.
If you’re concerned
You should contact your doctor or child health nurse if by 24 months your child doesn't:
- use two word phrases such as ‘drink milk’
- seem to know what to do with common things like a brush, phone, fork or spoon
- copy your actions or words
- follow simple instructions
- walk steadily
- retain the skills they once had
At 18 months, they should receive the measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox (varicella) (MMRV) vaccination, the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination and the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine.
Find out more about the Australian vaccination program.
If you have questions or are worried about your child’s development contact your doctor or child health nurse.
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Last reviewed: November 2021