Ages & Stages: Toddler Development
Life with toddlers is rarely dull. Their busyness, intensity, curiosity, Independence, and increasing verbal skills may make them both exciting and frustrating for parents. Parents are often pleased by some of the observations they verbalize, and sometimes outraged at their stubbornness. This stage has often been called the “terrible twos” because of the child’s increased need to explore the surroundings and gain control over the environment. Both expressive language and physical mobility increase during the stage. The toddler is in a rush to discover a new style of living.
By the end of the first year, the average 1 year old is between 27 to 29 inches in height and weight approximately 20 lb. By the end of the third year, height has increased to around 36 inches and weight to 35 lb. Although growth in the second and third years is slower than infancy, it still occurs at a rapid pace.
Large Muscle Development – (Gross Motor)
- The child should be walking better. Feet are more parallel and can walk without holding arms up for balance. Child usually can walk backwards (15 months)
- The toddler can pick up things from a standing position without falling. Now that hands are free, he loves to carry things, especially big things (15 to 18-months)
- Child likes to push or pull toys; loves to throw things (15 to 18 months)
- Seats self in child’s chair; moves to music (18 to 24 months)
- Runs, jumps, climbs, and stands on chair, walks up stairs, crawls downstairs backwards, kicks a ball, loves pounding, tugging, lugging, dumping (18 to 24 months)
- Climbs small ladder (around 36 months)
- Walks on tiptoes; stands on one foot with aid (24 to 36 months)
Small Muscle Development – (Fine Motor)
- Combines use of several objects: hitting one object with the other; dropping small things into large containers (15 to 18 months)
- Begins to use spoon to eat; drinks from a cup that is held (18 months)
- Turn several pages at a time; can make a straight stroke with pencil or crayons instead of just a scribble (18 months)
- Can turn a doorknob, builds tower of many blocks (18 months)
- Turn single pages; drinks from a cup without help (24 to 36 months)
- Removes shoes, pants, socks, sweater, unzips large zipper (24 months)
- Snips with scissors; holds crayons with thumb and fingers, not fists; paints with wrist action; makes dots, lines, circular strokes (24 to 36 months)
- uses one hand consistently in most activities (24 to 36 months)
The increased exploration and discovery of objects within the environment leads to activities that expand the child’s understanding of the world. At 18 months, the toddler’s interest is directed beyond his body. Toddlers begin to understand that each object has an independent existence and permanence. Such understanding leads to exploration of these objects and how they work. The child learns that a chair remains the same whether seen from above, behind, or beneath.
From eighteen months to two years of age, children are limited to the immediate experiencing of objects, people, and whatever or whoever else is present at the moment. A lot of time is spent staring at objects and people. The beginning of language use and memory occurs around two years. By three, children are able to remember events, people, and activities they observed in the environment. Memory expands dramatically. Memory helps in the development of language. During two and three years of age, language develops rapidly, and imaginative and imitative play increases. Parents are often surprised at what children are able to remember and imitate later.
- Toddlers are curious about textures. They like to stroke a cat or dog and rub their cheeks against the fur (18 months)
- Toddlers are attracted to water and to toilets and enjoy playing in the bathroom (18 to 24 months)
- Imitates actions and words of adults (18 to 24 months)
- Recognizes difference between you and me (18 to 24 months)
- Has limited attention span; accomplishes primary learning through exploration of environment (12 to 24 months)
- Responds to simple directions, “Give me the block,” “Get your shoes” (24 to 36 months)
- Recognizes self in mirror; can talk briefly about what he is doing (24 to 36 months)
- Has limited sense of time: vaguely knows idea of past and future and knows such terms as “yesterday” and “tonight,” although they may be used incorrectly (24 to 36 months)
Babies begin to produce a few basic words at about a year of life. By 24 months, most children are speaking phrases and have a wide range of words. A two-year-old has a vocabulary of perhaps 50 words, which increases to about 900 words by the time the child is three.
Many factors contribute to the development of language in a child. A strong, emotional relationship with mother, enhanced by the amount and quality of time spent together, and the amount of talking, asking questions, and responding to what the child says increases the child’s verbal activities.
- Says first meaningful words (12 to 24 months)
- Uses a single word plus a gesture to ask for objects (12 to 24 months)
- Refers to self by name; uses “my” or “mine” to indicate possession (12 to 24 months)
- Toddler likes to talk to self; replaces baby language with sentences; likes to repeat words (24 months)
- Joins words together in two word phrases, e.g. “See doggy” (24 months)
- Asks what and where questions (24 to 36 months)
Social/Emotional Development – Autonomy vs. Doubt
Parents of toddlers have an overwhelming job. The child continues to be needy and dependent, but at the same time is growing and developing into an independent person both physically and emotionally.
The second and third years of a child’s life focus on the emergence of autonomy. This autonomy is built upon the child’s new motor and mental abilities. The child takes pride in his new accomplishment and wants to do everything himself. Whether it is pulling the rapper off a piece of candy, wanting to dress himself, or flushing the toilet, the child wants to demonstrate his competence at completing the task.
The importance of this stage reflects upon the willingness of parents to allow the child to express autonomy. If parents are impatient and do for the child what a child is capable of doing, they create a sense of shame and doubt. Overprotecting, abusive treatment, criticizing, and inappropriate expectations foster feelings of “I’m not capable” or “I’m not worthy.” Such doubt or shame will handicap a child’s attempts to achieve autonomy in adolescence and adulthood.
Parents need to help a child explore and grow during this stage. To accomplish this task, parents can:
- Provide a safe environment for the child to explore by “childproofing“ the house by removing breakables and eliminating hazards.
- Provide a creative environment for the child to explore.
- Use creative toys and games to facilitate learning.
- Be involved in the child’s exploration.
- Talk to the child to reinforce natural curiosity and exploration of the environment.
Separation from Parents
Children quite frequently get upset at separation from the parents, particularly from Mother. The emotional tie that is developed between mother and child results in the child wanting to be with the parent. Crying at separation is normal. Throwing temper tantrums at separation is a sign of possible problems.
Research has shown that children who are positively attached to their Mother develop a sense of trust and feelings of security. Securely attached toddlers are outgoing preschoolers who are well-liked, attack new problems vigorously and positively, and can accept help from others. They are sympathetic to others, self-directed and goal-oriented, and exhibit high self-esteem and self-confidence. Toddlers who are not positively, emotionally attached to the parents, particularly to the Mother, exhibit problem behaviors. Such children are anxious, throw more tantrums when presented with problems, are more negative in response to Mother, ignore and oppose her in many ways. Children who feel less securely attached to Mom fear separation. The fear can turn into panic during an actual separation. To minimize the fear, a strong attachment needs to be established between Mother and child. Feelings of security need to be developed and assurances that Mother will not abandon the child need to be expressed.
As the toddler becomes more aware of self, more independent, more definite in what he can and cannot do, the child will become more assertive in interactions with parents and peers. “No” becomes a common word. “I want,” “I need,” and “more” are other phrases and words frequently expressed in the toddler years. Children also like to command parent, sometimes adopting dictatorial tones of “do this” or “do that!”
Assertion turns to frustration and anger when toddlers cannot accomplish what they set out to do. When parents exert limits (discipline) designed to manage behavior, toddlers may express their anger physically yelling, crying, temper tantrums, holding breath, or throwing objects. The physical activities release the tension that cannot be expressed in words. Consistent application of ignoring undesirable behavior, praising desirable behavior, and punishing unacceptable behavior through time-out, loss of privilege, etc. will help toddlers negotiate this stage of development. As children become more capable and competent at achieving their end, the tantrums will decrease.
Most experts agree that somewhere between 18 to 24 months, children are ready to learn toilet training. However it is important for parents to know that, just like eating, toileting is an area that parents cannot control, and the first area children learn that they can control. Therefore, in an extreme struggle of wills in toilet training, the child will win. An approach that helps children lessen their need to control this area is generally more successful.
List one thing you can do to encourage your child development in each of the following areas of development:
a. Gross Motor: ___________________________________________________________
b. Fine Motor: ____________________________________________________________
c. Intellect: ______________________________________________________________
d. Language: _____________________________________________________________
e. Social: ________________________________________________________________
f. Emotional: _____________________________________________________________