Healthy living

Child development 1–2 years

You’ll see lots of change between 1 and 2 years. As a parent, you now have to think about safety and setting limits, as well as caring for your baby.

Your baby is on the move and discovering the world. They’re ‘talking’ and making recognisable sounds. They love you talking, looking at picture books together and pointing to objects they know. Your baby is putting sounds together by babbling, trying to copy or say first words, and saying ‘No’ with a shake of his head.

They may be clingy and wary of strangers, but your baby is forming special relationships with you and other family members. Their personality is becoming clear to you.

Social and emotional

Your toddler now understands that they are a completely separate person from you. This may mean they worry about the possibility of you leaving them. It also means they’ll keep repeating ‘me’ and ‘mine’.

Now your baby knows that they are an independent person, they’re starting to understand that they can ‘own’ things. Having their ‘own’ way or calling an object ‘mine’ is a way of coming to grips with this exciting and rather frightening new idea.

It is hard to understand what something is unless you also know what it is not, so your toddler may also be into opposites – probably the opposite of whatever you are suggesting at the time!

Although they probably know many words, at this age they still can’t understand abstract concepts.

They’ll often seem to ignore you when you tell him to do something, and needs to be distracted, moved away or picked up. Even though they seem to understand ‘no’, they still can’t control their impulses enough to obey.

  • Being the parent of an 18 month old can be hard work, physically and mentally.
  • Your toddler will be curious and energetic, but they still need a lot of adult attention, and for you to be there for reassurance.
  • They will depend on you (their parents) and become very attached. They are likely to be afraid of separation because they still don’t completely understand that you will come back.
  • They enjoy playing with an adult and loves repetitive games.
  • They show interest in other children but usually play alone. Don’t expect them to share things – at this age, toddlers don’t understand the idea of sharing.
  • Your toddler will imitate actions and games, such as talking on a toy telephone.
  • They may be more cooperative in dressing because they want to imitate adults and ‘do it myself’.
  • However, because your toddler wants to ‘get it right’, they may become really frustrated if they can’t manage to do a task.
  • Your toddler’s slowly getting better at feeding themselves, but may become choosy about what they eat.
Developing understanding

In their second year, your toddler still can’t see the world in perspective. Concepts of time and distance – ‘too fast, too slow, too far’ – are all beyond their grasp. 

This can be frustrating for you because you already understand these concepts. However, your toddler is working hard at sorting the objects they see into understandable groups.

At first, these groups may be quite loose. For example, after seeing and remembering a duck, they’ll say ‘duck’ when he sees a chicken because they both have feathers and wings.

Take the time to enjoy and watch their powers of observation while they are organising the objects, characters and animals they comes across in their world.

  • Your toddler’s getting better at remembering – they’re starting to think before they act, such as remembering something is hot. They’ll also remember and copy past events.
  • Between 18 months and 2 years, your toddler will get better at recognising similarities and differences in things, and they’ll start sorting things into groups such as cars, blocks or animals.
  • Your toddler will also begin to work out what things belong together picking out Daddy’s shoes, putting crayons with paper.
  • They’ll begin to try matching and fitting, and can do simple puzzles, such as shapes or familiar animals.
  • However, they still have very little understanding of time and can’t understand what tomorrow means. Your toddler doesn’t grasp abstract words such as pretty, empty or heavy, and can’t talk about things that they can’t see, pick up or touch.
  • They also have no real understanding of size and space – they may be frightened of falling down the toilet or the plughole in the bath.
Physical development

Your toddler’s rapidly increasing movement means you’ll probably have to reorganise your house. They’ll go from crawling or teetering within a limited space, to walking confidently and exploring widely, pulling open every handle and turning every knob they can see.

Secure or remove heavy or breakable items. 

Leave interesting, unbreakable objects where they can reach them.

Be positive

Try to limit using negative words like ‘no’ and ‘don’t’, as they will have a powerful effect on your toddler’s view of themselves and the world. You want to paint a positive picture of a world where many things are possible – not a place where nothing is allowed.

When you need to guide their behaviour, try to suggest alternatives and explain the dangers as simply as you can. By around 15 months, your toddler can:

  • push themselves by ‘scooting along’ on a four-wheeled riding toy
  • walk alone with feet wide apart and arms held high to maintain balance
  • get to their feet using their hands to push up with.

By 2 years, your toddler:

  • can get up without using their hands
  • will probably be able to run without bumping into things and stop when necessary
  • can probably go down stairs while holding on, but will put both feet on each step before moving to the next one
  • will be interested in, and capable of, turning knobs and pushing buttons

Testing ‘how far they can go’ is a part of your toddler’s physical and social life. Try to let them explore freely and safely, but don’t let them run too far. Always let your toddler know that you are there for them to return to.

Speech and language

In the second year, language is a mirror of other changes in development. Your toddler quickly starts to name more of the things in their world, and what they are for. They’ll still want you to say what’s in their head but too hard for them to express – like ‘I want the green cup for my water’.

While the number of words they know is increasing during this year, they’ll get very frustrated because they just can’t say as much as hey want to – or because you don’t understand what they’re saying. 

Talk to them a lot and repeat what they have said when you reply. Describe things you see together in simple terms, such as ‘Look at the big bus’! 

  • Your toddler’s speech increases from around 5 to 20 words at 18 months to as many as 150 to 300 words by 2 years. They can understand even more words.
  • By 2 years, your toddler can tell you most of what they want with words, like ‘outside’, ‘milk’ or ‘biscuit’, even though they might not always say them properly. 
  • Your toddler’s sentences will become longer and more accurate– from ‘more’ to ‘want more’ and then ‘I want more’. 
  • Your toddler can also understand more language, and they can remember 2 things at a time, such as ‘Get the ball and bring it to Daddy’. 
  • Besides words to say what they want, they’re beginning to learn words about how they feel, such as ‘ow’ when they hurts themselves. 
  • By 2, your toddler will have enough language skills to tell people what they want them to do – ‘no’ or ‘go away’. 
  • They may hesitate over some words when excited.
Activities
  • Your toddler will love to turn knobs and push buttons. This helps them learn to use their muscles and to feel that they can manage new things. Protect the TV and other tempting equipment, and give them their own toys with knobs and buttons to press.
  • They’ll enjoy simple puzzles. (If your toddler loses interest once they can do the puzzle, borrow some from a toy library).
  • They’ll like toys that link together, such as trains or stacking toys, hammer and peg sets, and filling and emptying containers.
  • Your toddler will love looking at pictures. Name familiar objects and animals with them. Sometimes, let them turn the pages.
  • Favourite conversations involve talking about what they’re looking at, doing or feeling. Your toddler learns more words when you chat this way, rather than when you ask questions.
  • Avoid questions that you already know the answer to. Instead of asking ‘What’s that?’, you might say ‘Oh, it’s a yummy apple’.
  • Play games where they can say ‘no’, such as ‘Is Daddy under the bed?’
  • Provide different toys so your toddler can learn about different and same, such as fruit, animals or cars.
  • They’ll love to copy you and play ‘house’, such as washing up, playing with toy telephones, dressing dolls, and playing dress up.

Don’t forget to sometimes just let them play on their own, so that they learn to entertain themselves. They will ask for help if they want it.

Your child is unique

Every child is different and may develop at different rates. So, if your child does not do some of these things, they may be ‘working’ on a different area of learning and development. 

However, children usually follow the same pattern of development, and it’s good to feel that your child is developing normally, in their own unique way. 

If you are worried about your child’s development, or if they are very different from other children, talk with your doctor or child health nurse. If there is a problem, it’s better to get help early.

What to watch out for

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if your child:

  • is tripping over her feet a lot and this is not improving
  • cannot walk
  • cannot hold a spoon and get most of the food to her mouth
  • cannot pick up small objects
  • cannot build a tower of 3 to 4 bricks
  • only regularly uses to 20 words or fewer
  • does not understand simple directions (this does not mean she will always do as you tell her)
  • often runs very far away (out of sight) or climbs extremely high without hesitation.

Safety

Safety is a big issue as toddlers are curious and very mobile, but still too young to understand danger.

  • Make sure all dangerous items, including medicines, are locked away up high.
  • Secure furniture, including bookshelves and TVs, to a wall.
  • Check that the hot water is set to 50 degrees or less.
  • Always supervise children around water.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network


Last reviewed: 21-05-2019
Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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