Toddler development


Toddlers are children age 1 through 3.

Jean Piaget, in the cognitive development theory, states that the late sensorimotor stage includes rudimentary thought:

  • Understanding permanence of objects and people  
  • Following visual (then later, invisible) displacement of objects  
  • Early use of instruments or tools.

Erik H. Erikson’s personal-social development theory says the toddler stage represents Autonomy (independence) vs. Shame or Doubt. The child learns to adjust to society’s demands, while trying to maintain autonomy and a sense of self.

These milestones are typicial of children in the toddler stages. Some variation is normal. If you have questions about your child’s development, contact your health care provider.

The following are signs of expected physical development in a toddler:

  • Having gross motor skills  
  • Standing alone well by 12 months  
  • Stooping over, picking up objects, and standing again  
  • Walking well by 12 to 14 months  
  • Learning to walk backwards and up steps after 12 to 14 months  
  • Kicking ball forward at about 16 to 18 months  
  • Throwing ball overhand at about 18 to 24 months  
  • Jumping in place by about 24 months

Evidence of fine motor skills in a 15-month-old includes:

  • Scribbling  
  • Placing a block in a cup  
  • Beginning to stack blocks

Normal toddler language development typically includes:

  • Using 2-3 words (other than Mama or Dada) at 12 to 15 months  
  • Combining 2 words at 16 to 20 months  
  • Pointing to named body parts at 18 to 24 months  
  • Naming pictures of items and animals at 18 to 24 months  
  • Beginning to state name at 22 to 24 months

Toddlers are constantly striving for more independence. This creates not only special safety concerns, but discipline challenges. The child must be taught - in a consistent manner - the limits of appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.

Frustration and anger frequently erupt in a toddler trying out activities for which adequate skills have not been acquired. Breath-holding, crying, screaming, and temper tantrums may be daily occurrences.

It is important for a child to learn from experiences and to be able to rely upon consistent boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Toddler safety is very important.

  • It is important for parents to recognize that the child can now walk, run, climb, jump, and explore wherever the environment is unrestricted. This new stage of mobility makes child-proofing the home essential. Window guards, gates on stairways, cabinet locks, toilet seat locks, electric outlet covers and other safety features are absolutely essential.  
  • As during the infancy period, the toddler should be placed in a safety restraint (toddler car seat) when riding in a car.  
  • Do not leave a toddler unattended for even short periods of time. Remember, more accidents occur during toddler years than any other stage of childhood.  
  • Rules about not playing in streets or crossing without adults should be introduced and strictly adhered to.  
  • Falls are an important cause of injury. Keep gates or doors closed to stairways and use guards for all windows above the ground floor. Do not leave chairs or ladders in areas likely to entice the toddler into climbing up to explore new areas. Use corner guards on furniture in areas where the toddler is likely to walk, play, or run.  
  • Childhood poisonings are a frequent source of illness and death during the toddler years. Keep all medications in a locked cabinet. Keep all toxic household products (polishes, acids, cleaning solutions, chlorine bleach, lighter fluid, insecticides, or poisons) in a locked cabinet or closet. Many household plants may cause illness if ingested, and toad stools and other garden plants may cause serious illness or death. Obtain a list of these common plants from your pediatrician.  
  • If a family member owns a firearm, make sure it is unloaded and locked up in a secure place.  
  • Toddlers should be restricted from the kitchen with a safety gate or placed in a playpen or high chair to eliminate the danger of burns from pulling hot foods off the stove or bumping into the hot oven door.  
  • Toddlers love to play in water, but should never be allowed to do so alone. A toddler may drown even in shallow water in a bathtub. It may be a good age to initiate swimming lessons, but knowing how to swim does not eliminate the need for supervised water-play at this age.


  • The toddler years are the time to begin instilling values, reasoning, and incentives in the child to learn accepted rules of behavior. It is important for parents to be consistent both in modeling behavior and in addressing appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior in the child. Positive behavior should be recognized and rewarded. Time-out may be initiated for negative behavior or exceeding established limits.  
  • The toddler’s favorite word may seem to be “NO!!!” It is important for parents not to follow into a pattern of negative behavior with yelling, spanking, and threatening of their own.  
  • Teach children the proper names of body parts.  
  • stress the unique, individual qualities of the child.  
  • Teach concepts of please, thank you, and sharing with others.  
  • Read to the child on a regular basis - it will enhance the development of verbal skills.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.