Toddlers’ Developmental Milestones (12–36 months old)

Has your toddler taken his first steps or said his first words on time? Read on to find out the importance of developmental milestones and how they signify your toddler’s growth and development.

By Amrita Gracias

Toddlers’ Developmental Milestones (12–36 months old)

Your rapidly-growing toddler begins discovering the world around him by engaging himself in numerous experiences. As he starts methodically perfecting his capabilities, it becomes necessary to measure and express his progress. This is done with the help of milestones.

A milestone is defined as a set of skills, abilities and behaviours that a child should learn by a certain age. There are milestones to measure all aspects of a child’s development, viz, physical, social, emotional, cognitive and communication.

Milestones help ascertain if a child’s growth and development is taking place normally or there are issues that need to be taken care of. But, for a child to attain the milestones in time, parents must play an important role. For, a parent is a child’s first teacher, and a child looks up to his parents to guide him through various experiences and discoveries. There are other major influencing factors as well, the most important being a child’s basic needs – nutritious food, clean and safe environment, and good balance of adequate activity and sleep.

Let’s look at some of the significant age-appropriate milestones that will help you understand how well your toddler is developing.

Physical Milestones

Physical milestones include learning the skills necessary for self-movement, balance, holding objects and basic hand-to-mouth coordination. They also include the development of fine motor skills, where the large and small muscles are used in a coordinated manner. Here is a list of physical milestones that your toddler should achieve.

By the time your child is 12 months old, he should:

  • Stand unaided
  • Attempt walking with support (for example, by holding the furniture or your hand)
  • Pick up objects and throw them

Between ages 1 and 2, he should:

  • Walk on his own
  • Climb on to furniture and go up and down the stairs
  • Pick up objects while standing
  • Sway to music
  • Scribble using a pencil or a crayon

Between ages 2 and 3, he should:

  • Stand on one foot
  • Run forward
  • Jump
  • Kick a ball
  • Turn the pages of a book

When should parents be concerned: When a child cannot crawl or stand even after he is 1 year old, cannot stand without support or walk by 18 months of age, or falls frequently while moving even after he is 3 years old.

Social and Emotional Milestones

There is tremendous social and emotional development for your toddler during the initial years of growing up. This is aided by the steady progress of his language skills, which enables better communication and interaction with others around him. Increased interaction and communication also helps a toddler learn to understand his own emotions and those of others.

Social and emotional milestones deal with a child’s ability to foster relationships and interact with those around him. Here is a list of social milestones for your toddler.

By the time your child is 12 months old, she should:

  • Imitate simple actions
  • Express anxiety or distress when separated from parents or care-givers
  • Show some fear in certain situations
  • Play simple games or express the desire for a book being read or a story being told to her

Between ages 1 and 2 years, she should:

  • Show affection towards those she is familiar with
  • Understand commands and respond to them
  • Express anger and frustration
  • Display a sense of independence
  • Play with other children
  • Express her basic needs

Between ages 2 and 3 years, she will most likely:

  • Recognise her emotions and those of others
  • Be assertive and say ‘no’ if she disagrees
  • Display an increased sense of confidence
  • Separate easily from parents
  • Imitate behaviour of adults or older children
  • Become possessive about her toys and other belongings

When should parents be concerned: When a child doesn’t imitate actions by the time she is 1 year old, shows no sign of independence at 2 years of age, makes no eye contact or shows no interest in playing with other children by the time she is 3 years old.

Cognitive Milestones

Toddlers are constantly gathering and absorbing information. Gradually, they begin to think and understand how things work. Cognitive milestones refer to a child’s ability to think, learn and engage. They help in understanding the development of the brain architecture. Here are some of the cognitive milestones your child must achieve:

By the time your child is 12 months old, he should:

  • Locate hidden objects easily
  • Bang things together
  • Understand how to use objects like a cup or a comb
  • Respond with gestures and sounds
  • Try to stack or put objects one on top of the other

Between ages 1 and 2 years, he should:

  • Understand and respond to words
  • Identify or point out familiar objects or people
  • Begin to match objects that have similar shape or colour
  • Feel proud when he does things independently
  • Follow two-step directions like, “Pick up this pair of socks and put it in the basket”

Between ages 2 and 3 years, he will:

  • Name pictures in a book
  • Understand simple stories
  • Sort objects according to categories like animals or flowers
  • Respond to simple instructions given by parents or caregivers
  • Identify himself using his name
  • Put together 3–4-piece puzzles

When should parents be concerned: When a child doesn’t find or point to objects by the time he is 1 year old, doesn’t follow simple instructions by 2 years of age, shows no interest in toys or cannot handle objects by the time he is 3 years old.

Communication Milestones

This all-important element of development involves your child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. The development of communication skills is largely influenced by a child’s environment – sights, sounds and interaction with parents or caregivers. A child starts developing language skills by first listening to and understanding sounds and language. She then learns to form sounds and words. Once she is able to communicate fluently, she uses language to express her feelings, experiences and attract attention. Here are some of the communication milestones for language development.

By the time your child is 12 months old, she should:

  • Say a few simple words like ‘mama’, ‘dada’ (names of objects or people)
  • Understand the names of several individuals and objects
  • Respond to simple spoken requests
  • Understand the word ‘no’
  • Wave goodbye
  • Turn and look in the direction of the sound

Between ages 1 and 2 years, she should:

  • Begin enjoying short stories, rhymes and songs
  • Say several single words
  • Attempt to put two words together
  • Know names of several people and some body parts
  • Repeat words she hears around her

Between ages 2 and 3 years, she can:

  • Name most familiar things
  • Say her own name and the name of a friend
  • Carry on a conversation with 2 or 3-word phrases or sentences
  • Name objects when asking for them
  • Use specific words to describe things
  • Be understood by parents or family
  • Sing simple songs

When should parents be concerned: When a child doesn’t utter individual words or use gestures to express herself by the time she is 1 year old, has very limited vocabulary at 2 years of age, or she doesn’t speak clearly by the time she is 3 years old.

It is important for parents to understand that milestones only define the age range by which a child should perform or master certain skills. With some children, there might be a slight delay in mastering age-appropriate skills. However, parents should stay alert and watch out for inordinate delays. In case, a child has not achieved a certain milestone or is lagging behind, it is advisable to inform the paediatrician. For, timely intervention can help detect and settle the issue and put the child back on track.