Parents often worry whether or not their children are developing as they should be. The toddler age is an important part of development as children are growing physically, linguistically, and socially. While every child is different, there are some key milestones for every parent to look for.
Physical development happens fairly sequentially. Around 9 to 12 months the child should get to a sitting position without help, pulling himself to a standing position. The child may even walk a few steps without any assistance. Walking occurs at different ages for different children. Pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon explains that while not walking by 15 months may warrant a physical therapy evaluation, it is still within normal developmental ranges.
As the child grows older—around 24 months – motor skills begin developing more rapidly. By now the child should be able to walk alone, and run short distances. He may also begin to walk up steps one at a time. More intricate skills such as undressing, drinking from cups, and using utensils becomes easier as well. Also, around this time many children begin climbing.
By 36 months, children run and climb with a greater degree of confidence. They may take stairs sequentially, rather than one at a time while using a handrail. They should also be able to kick a ball and throw overhand. Some children may reach this point before others, which is also normal. If a child seems to develop slower than most, there is no harm in going to a physical therapist for an evaluation.
Pediatrician Dr. Sonya Sethi Gohill explains that children need no formal instruction when learning a language. Instead they learn by hearing it around them—specifically when spoken to them. This means children require active speaking, rather than passive speech that comes from a television or radio. Reading to a child is the most effective way to help with language development, especially if the book uses words not normally spoken in daily interaction. In addition, psychotherapist Julie Wright explains that when parents show an active interest in children’s vocalizations during these sessions, linguistic development increases even further.
If progressing normally, by 36 months children should be able to put together three or four word sentences using a vocabulary of hundreds of words. Children should be utilizing their language abilities to communicate with each other and with adults. Occupational therapist Melissa Idelson explains that if a child starts resorting to physical acts such as biting, hitting, or avoiding socialization entirely, a speech and language pathologist should be contacted. Speech pathologist Barbara Schacter also encourages parents to take their children to a speech pathologist if speech pattern concerns arise at any point.
Initially a child learns to socialize through playing with their parent. Psychologist Rebecca Eberlin explains that as the child grows older and has more contact with other children, the socialization becomes deeper and more enriching. Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz further explains that as a child develops social skills through play, their ability to self-manage through executive function grows stronger. This relates directly to academic performance.
In the beginning – up to around 18 months – the child will most likely socialize by reacting to a parent’s speech or behavior. Eventually he will learn to elicit responses through his own actions and vocalization. A parent’s example of socialization becomes the first model on which children base friendship. By the time children reach 36 months, they begin learning rules and guidelines from other children. They learn the concept of sharing and taking turns. Eventually they learn to identify with others and create strong friendships.