Toddler Milestones

For toddlers play is serious business – it’s the way in which they learn how the world works. While they play, they learn. You can be the best teacher your child will ever have and it can all be done through play. When your children play with you they feel loved and important and feel they are fun to be around. These social/emotional skills give them the self-esteem and self-confidence they need to continue building loving and supportive relationships all their lives.

Some Milestones

Your toddler is remembering more and figuring out how things work.

At around one year old most toddlers:

  • are able to wave ‘bye-bye’
  • search for a lost toy because they can remember it
  • point to their nose, tummy or the dog when asked to.

You can encourage development by:

  • lots of interaction – point out animals, colours, shapes
  • talking to them – they will try and join in the conversation
  • giving them shape sorter toys, push along toys, building blocks, pegboards with large coloured pegs
  • praising them – they will love to show off their new skills (like waving)
  • providing simple jigsaw puzzles to help them develop basic problem-solving skills as well as hand-eye coordination.

Around 18 months most toddlers:

  • parallel play – play near others but not with them
  • have seemingly endless energy and capacity for making a mess
  • are much more steady on their feet
  • are able to build a tower of three or four blocks
  • go back to a game if interrupted
  • talk to themselves as they play

You can encourage development by:

  • letting them explore in a safe environment
  • reading to them (rhyming and repetition are especially good)
  • singing and dancing together
  • getting them together with other children

They will imitate whatever you are doing. This is a time for lots of hugs and cuddles.

At around two years most toddlers:

  • are able to put simple shapes through holes
  • start climbing
  • remember when you do things
  • sit on the bottom step when it’s time to put shoes on
  • fetch a book for story time
  • know names of body parts

By three years most toddlers:

  • find it difficult to control their feelings, which often results in a tantrum
  • find it a challenge when asked to wait
  • are able to do large-piece jigsaw puzzles
  • act out versions of the real world
  • pour a cup of pretend tea
  • take toys for a ride
  • begin to share.

All children are different and develop at different rates, so don’t be overly concerned if your toddler is acquiring new skills at a different rate to those around him.

Social Time

Children usually settle more easily into school life if they have spent some time in a playgroup or preschool setting. In New Zealand, the main providers of early childhood education are kindergartens, play centres, Pacific Islands language groups, education and care services, home-based care services and köhanga reo.

In the toddler years, combining childcare with early learning becomes more important. In a playgroup or pre-school, toddlers learn some of the skills they need for school and also how to behave in a group – sharing toys, having quiet times and playtimes, and getting along without mum or dad. When you visit a childcare centre or playgroup that you’re thinking about for your toddler, look to see:

  • are the children happy and relaxed, enjoying themselves?
  • are the staff friendly and welcoming?
  • is the building and outside play area safe and attractive?
  • are the available activities interesting?
  • is the centre’s atmosphere colourful, fun and creative?
  • is there good lighting, ventilation and heating?
  • is there an area for messy play, a space for book reading, a dress-up area etc?
  • what is the routine for meal/snack times and who provides the food?
  • the toilets/changing areas.

Help your toddler settle in:

  • visit several times before you leave them there
  • let them play while you are at the other end of the room
  • stay for just half an hour the first time
  • tell them that you are going and when you will come back
  • stay calm and positive yourself (however you feel inside)
  • come back when you say you will.

Make sure your childminder or pre-school know their likes and dislikes and leave their favourite toy or cuddly if they need it to fall asleep.

Making Friends

For toddlers making friends is like walking. At first, they need a lot of support. Later, they can’t wait to charge off on their own.

Most toddlers enjoy having other children around. Until the age of about three, they play near others rather than with them but will form strong attachments to children they see regularly. At this age toy sharing isn’t an option – one or the other will have to have it, or an adult will have to take it away and keep the peace. Even the best of friends of toddler age can be hurtful to one another –social skills take time.

“My daughter prefers to play alone and won’t play with her friends.”

Toddlers do not show much interest in playing together with other children until they are around 3 years old. Instead, they tend to engage in what’s known as parallel play. This is where the children play next to or alongside each other. To you, it looks like playing alone but if they are happy, leave them to it.

Between the ages of two and three years, most toddlers enjoy spending some time each week in a group of children. They learn to make friends with adults on hand to organise activities, sort out squabbles and read stories. Check notice boards or ask your Plunket nurse or Well Child Health provider for details of playgroups in your local area. A couple of sessions a week could be just the social event your toddler needs!

What not to worry about – shyness with other kids

Some children are naturally more introverted than others, especially around strangers, and need more encouragement in social situations. Try instigating a one-to-one play date in your home rather than large toddler group and prepare your child for what’s going to happen in advance, talking about who’s coming and what you’ll all play with.

The Art of Sharing

Your toddler won’t share! The good news is they are not selfish or spoilt and they won’t grow up to be antisocial. They are simply acting their age. The reality is, few children react well when someone else dares to take their things. But don’t give up – there is a way to teach your child the finer points of sharing.

Sharing is a skill a child has to learn

Sharing is very difficult for small children to grasp, mainly because they feel the world is about them,  so why should they let another child play with what is obviously theirs? The good news is you can coach your child to share. Imitation is your best tool. If your child sees you, your partner, family and friends sharing, they will see it as a normal way of behaving.

However, there are very distinct stages of child development that will affect your child’s ability to share successfully:

  • between 0 – 1 1/2 years your child is likely to play alone and not understand sharing at all.
  • from 2 – 2 1/2 years your child will play side by side (parallel play) with another child and with your help can begin to grasp the idea of sharing.
  • from 2 ½ – 3 years your child will begin to interact with other children and may share without being encouraged.
  • above 4 – 5 years your child will show a preference for friends and play happily with other children with the concept of sharing becoming more natural.

What’s the best way to teach my child to share with another child?

Aside from imitation and praise for your child when they share, it’s important to assure your child that sharing doesn’t mean giving away a toy forever. Many children think if they share they will never see a toy again.

If your child doesn’t want to share something – don’t force them or punish them, as this won’t teach them anything. Not sharing isn’t a reflection on your parenting or your child’s personality (even if it feels that way). It’s simply a sign your child isn’t at the right stage to share yet.