Toddlers (1-3 Years)

very young boy with a glass of water

Language is one of the most exciting parts of your child's development. This is the period where their understanding and use of words builds rapidly. At one year of age most children can say two or three recognisable words and by the time they're three they will have progressed to conversations of two or three sentences.

Physically their skills and coordination are also rapidly increasing: learning how to kick a ball, climb stairs and grasp a pencil to scribble. They show their independence by saying "no" and begin to pretend when they play.

Remember that children develop at different rates. Don't worry if your child hasn't reached certain milestones that other children the same age have. And keep in mind that development is a journey, not a race.

You know your toddler best, so if you have concerns or questions about your child's development, talk to your Maternal and Child Health nurse. Your eight and ninth Maternal and Child Health appointments fall within this age bracket at 18 months and two years.

To find out more about the Maternal and Child Health service, how it works and how to find your closest centre, see: Maternal and Child Health

What your child may be doing

At 18 months:

  • walking well with feet slightly apart
  • climbing, managing corners and obstacles well
  • saying six to 12 recognisable words
  • repeating last words of sentences
  • wanting to be more independent and do things without help
  • showing personality traits
  • playing alone, but still liking to be near adults
  • easily frustrated and throwing temper tantrums
  • using objects and routines for comfort and security.

At two years:

  • walking up stairs and maybe walking backwards
  • squatting and standing without using hands
  • kicking a ball and throwing over arm
  • saying 50 or more recognisable words and understanding more
  • joining in some nursery rhymes
  • becoming increasingly independent but still constantly demanding parents’ attention
  • clinging tightly in affection, fear or fatigue
  • throwing temper tantrums when frustrated
  • starting to develop an imagination.

At 3 years:

  • identifying some pictures by naming them
  • balancing on one foot, walking on tiptoes and walking upstairs
  • constantly asking questions
  • listening to and telling stories
  • washing and drying hands
  • identifying a friend by name
  • using less ‘baby talk’ in speech
  • speaking in ways that can be understood half the time
  • decreasing temper tantrums
  • developing fears of the dark or animals.

Talk to your Maternal and Child Health nurse about:

  • emotional development in your toddler, whether they are affectionate and if they come to you for comfort
  • language development, the number of words your toddler speaks and understands, as well as their attempts to put words together
  • play, what your toddler enjoys and if they take an interest in ‘pretend play’.

Your child's learning

You can get your young child off to a good start by getting involved in their learning early. It’s easy and fun, and research shows it will help your child’s learning for life.

You can help your child learn by:

  • talking about what’s around you and what’s happening
  • encouraging your child to talk by listening and responding
  • providing materials that can be used in lots of ways and that encourage your child to imitate and pretend (for example, toy telephones, dolls or hats)
  • sharing songs, stories and rhymes.

Your child and books

You should try to read to your child every day. Toddlers, and even babies, can start experiencing books very early.

They can learn:

  • how to hold a book
  • that the front of a book is different from the inside
  • how to hold the book and turn the pages at the same time
  • to look for interesting things in the pictures
  • that pictures and stories stay the same each time you look at a book
  • that some books contain exciting stories
  • that some books contain printed words and language.

Play-based learning

Play offers children many valuable opportunities that contribute to their learning. Evidence shows that play can support learning across physical, social, emotional and intellectual areas of development. In the first three years particularly, play helps children to learn about the world through listening, looking, touching, tasting and smelling.

Following are a few suggestions of things you can do with your child:

Put several different objects in a bag and ask your child to put a hand in and feel one. Ask questions such as ‘How does it feel?’ Describing objects helps your child’s language development.

Encourage your child to stack blocks and then take some away. Activities like this help your child begin to learn skills and an understanding for maths.

Fill plastic containers with sand, pebbles, rice and water. Encourage your child to shake them and discover the different sounds they make.

Provide your child with opportunities to socialise more widely.

Communicating with your child

Toddlers listen to everything you say. They often understand more than we think they do. They can be very sensitive and may get grumpy or burst into tears because of the way someone speaks to them or laughs at them.

Toddlers have strong feelings and emotions and their communication skills let them down at times. Their feelings can sometimes be too much for them, but they often don’t have the words or understanding to tell you what’s wrong. Their communication skills are improving all the time. When toddlers can communicate well with words it will be easier for them to get help with their everyday needs. Feeling secure, understood and accepted by their family helps them through trying times.

Following are some tips for good communication:

  • really listen to what your child is trying to say and try to recognise the emotions behind it
  • make regular time to communicate one-on-one with your child
  • whenever your child wants to talk, try to pay full attention
  • get down to your child’s level to talk by kneeling or squatting and facing the child
  • let your child finish sentences – don’t interrupt.

Your child's behaviour

By this age, many children start to control their urges, change their behaviour and do as you ask - not all the time, of course.

The name for this ability is self-regulation. It’s one of life’s most important milestones.

Some tips for helping your child learn to behave in acceptable ways include:

  • try to create situations where your child can explore life without lots of ‘don’t’ and ‘no’
  • show your child how you feel about their behaviour
  • give your child positive feedback for behaviour that you approve of
  • explain the consequences of your child’s behaviour so they can figure out why something is wrong
  • be patient.

Related information

For more information, see:

Back to: Your Child's Learning and Development