Child development: 1-2 years


The time between ages 1 and 2, is one of rapid change. Your child is on the move, and discovering the world. Parenting becomes demanding in a different way, because you have to think about safety and setting limits, as well as caring for your child. Some parents miss their tiny baby, and others are pleased that their child has a little more independence.

Social and emotional development

It is in the course of this year, that your child understands that he/she is a completely separate person from you. This not only causes him/her to worry about the possibility of you leaving, but also causes the much repeated words "me" and "mine". The whole notion of owning something needs first to have a self to own it. Having his/her "own" way, or declaring an object "mine" is, by repetition, 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. Therefore your child may also be into opposites – most likely the opposite of whatever you are suggesting at the time!

Although they can often understand many words, children in their second year cannot grasp abstract concepts - they are strictly concrete thinkers. They often do not respond to spoken commands, and need to be lifted down, moved away, distracted from and picked up very often indeed - even though they seem to understand 'no', they are yet unable to control their impulses, so they will still do the forbidden. Parenting an 18 month-old, is physically as demanding as a strenuous workout at the gym.

  • Your child will be curious and energetic but depends on an adult's presence for reassurance, and needs a lot of adult attention.
  • Your child is very attached to, and dependent on, parents and likely to be afraid of separation. This is because he/she does not yet fully understand that you will come back.
  • Your child enjoys playing with an adult, and likes repetitive games.
  • Your child shows interest in other children, but usually plays alone. He/She has no idea of sharing at this age, and cannot be expected to share, without instruction and supervision.
  • Your child will imitate actions, and games of others, e.g. talking on a toy telephone.
  • Your child may be more cooperative in dressing because of a desire to imitate adults, and "do it myself".
  • Your child may want to "get it right", and experience unbearable frustration if he/she can't achieve mastery over a task.
  • Your child's ability to feed themselves is slowly improving, and he/she is likely to be choosey about what he/she eats.

Developing understanding

In the second year, children still have no ability to see the world in any perspective. They are learning about individual objects from ground level. Concepts of time and distance, "too fast, too slow, too far", are all beyond their grasp, often to the despair of parents for whom these concepts are painfully real!

They are however, working hard on their categories, sorting the objects they see into understandable groups. Consequently having seen and remembered a duck, they are likely to say "duck" when they first see a chicken, because they both have feathers and wings. It's truly wonderful to see what powers of observation they bring to this task, of organising the objects, characters and animals they come across in their world.

  • Your child's ability to remember is improving, and may show at times in being able to think before they act, e.g. remembering something is hot.
  • Between 18 months and 2 years of age, their ability to recognise similarities and differences in things increases, and he/she will be interested in sorting things into groups, e.g. cars, blocks, animals.
  • Your child also begins to work out what things belong together, e.g. picking out Daddy's shoes, putting the crayons with the paper.
  • Your child will begin to try matching and fitting, and will be able to complete some simple puzzles, e.g. shapes or familiar animals.
  • Your child will remember and copy past events.
  • Your child will enjoy simple make-believe play, e.g. talking on the telephone.
  • Your child has very little understanding of time and can't understand what tomorrow means. He/She doesn't grasp abstract words such as pretty, empty, heavy, and cannot talk about things that he/she cannot see, pick up or touch.
  • Your child has no real understanding of size and space, and may be frightened of falling down a plughole, in the bath or toilet.

Physical skills

Your child's rapidly increasing movement in this year, can mean a major reorganisation of the house! They go from crawling or teetering, within a limited space, to walking confidently and exploring widely, pulling open every handle and twiddling every knob they can see. If you want peace of mind, you may find it best to put the stereo, good china and dangerous things, up high, leaving interesting un-breakable's in bottom cupboards. It is not good for you, or your child, if you are saying "no" or "don't touch" every two minutes.

  • By 15 months your child is able to walk alone, with feet wide apart and arms held high to maintain balance.
  • By 2 years of age your child will probably be able to run, without bumping into things, and be able to stop when necessary.
  • At 15 months your child will get to their feet, using hands to push up with, and by 2 years can get up without using their hands.
  • By 2 years most children can go down stairs, while holding on, but will put two feet on each step before moving to the next one.
  • From 1 year old, children can push themselves along, "scooting along", on a four wheeled riding toy.
  • By 2 years old your child will be interested in, and capable of, turning knobs and pushing buttons.

Testing "how far they can go", is a feature of your child's physical life, as well as social life. Try to let your child explore freely and safely, but don't allow to go too far.

Language development

In the second year, your child's language development is usually a reflection of their development in other areas. They quickly start to name more of the objects, and their uses, that they see in the world. However, they will often want you to express what is in their head, and too hard for them to say, e.g. "I want the green cup for my juice".

And while the number of words they know increases hugely during the course of the year, they often get very frustrated, because they can't say as much as they want to - or because you don't understand what they are saying. Talk to them a lot, and repeat what they have said in your replies to them, describing things you see together in simple terms, e.g. "Yes, look at the big bus!"

  • Your child's speech increases, from an average of 10 words at 15 months, to as many as 100 or more between 18 months and 2 years. Their understanding of words becomes even greater.
  • By 2 years, your child can tell you most of what he/she wants with words, e.g. "outside", "milk", "biscuit", even though many words will not always be pronounced correctly.
  • By 2 years, sentences become longer and more accurate, e.g. from "more" to "want more" and then "I want more".
  • Your child's language understanding is also improving, so he/she can remember two things at a time, e.g. "Get the ball and bring it to Daddy".
  • Besides words to say what they want, children at this age have begun to learn some words to say how they feel, e.g. feelings of happiness "goo", or hurting themselves "ow", "sore", or words for wanting a plaster.
  • By 2 years, your child will have enough language skills to be able to tell people what he/she wants them to do, e.g. "no" or "go away".
  • Your child may stammer, or hesitate, over particular words or when excited.

What you can do

  • Your child will love to turn knobs, and push buttons, as this helps to learn to use muscles, and also to feel that he/she can manage new things. Protect the TV etc, and give him/her their own toys, with knobs and buttons to press.
  • Your child will be interested in playing with simple puzzles. (Best to borrow some from a toy library rather than them buy, because children often lose interest once they can do the puzzle.)
  • Your child will enjoy toys that link together, such as trains with carriages, and stacking toys, hammer and peg sets, and filling and emptying containers.
  • Your child will love to look at pictures, particularly if you name familiar objects and animals to him/her, and allow him/her to turn the pages, sometimes.
  • Favourite conversations are telling a child the name of an object, and then saying, "What's that?" Use favourite questions like, "what does the dog say?"
  • Play games where the child has lots of opportunities to say "No", e.g. "Is daddy under the bed?"
  • Provide toys, e.g. fruit, animals, cars, so your child can learn about difference and sameness.
  • Young children love to copy others, and to dress up, and play with toys that allow them to copy household activity, e.g. telephone, dolls, washing up.
  • Allow your child to play alone at times, without interference, so that he/she learns to entertain themself. Your child will ask for help if he/she wants it.

What to watch out for

There may be a problem if, by two years:

  • your child is tripping over their feet a lot, and this is not improving
  • your child cannot walk
  • your child cannot hold a spoon, and get most of the food to their mouth
  • your child cannot pick up small objects
  • your child cannot build a tower, of 3 - 4 bricks
  • your child does not say a few single words
  • your child does not understand simple directions (this does not mean he/she will always do as you say)
  • your child often runs very far away [out of sight], or climbs extremely high, without hesitation.


Many parents will want to start "toilet training" their child towards the end of the second year, as their child will usually be showing awareness of their bowel movements. Most children will "train" themselves when they are ready, with some simple encouragement from their parents, and this can happen any time between about 2 years and 3½ years. However it usually does not happen before children are 2 years old. As 2 year old children are keen to be able to boss themselves and "get it right", they can get very worried and frightened about not managing their own toileting properly. If you find tensions arising around toileting, get help from a health professional early.


Social emotional development.

By 18 months, children are usually:

  • exploring the environment around them, touching, pulling, whatever they can see and reach (make sure that toddlers are safe)
  • enjoying physical contact (cuddles, tickles)
  • emotionally changeable; quick mood changes from happy, to sad, to angry
  • likely to be afraid of strangers
  • showing a strong attachment to parents
  • showing distress when left by a parent, and often clingy when the parent returns.

There may be a problem if, by 18 months, a child:

  • does not show a preference for familiar people
  • does not show separation anxiety.

By 2 years, children are usually:

  • starting to explore more widely, opening doors and drawers
  • playing near other children, but not yet with other children (unless the other child is older, and able to adapt play to fit the 2 year old).
  • unable to share
  • very fearful of separation
  • dependent on a comforter, such as a dummy.

There may be a problem if, by 2 years, a child:

  • does not show awareness of different people.

Motor Skills

By 18 months, children are usually:

  • walking skilfully, but also often falling if they try to run fast
  • climbing onto low furniture
  • able to push a toy, such as a trolley
  • able to put one object, such as a block, deliberately onto another
  • starting to scribble with a pencil
  • able to pick up small objects.

There may be a problem if, by 18 months, a child is:

  • not yet walking

By 2 years children are usually:

  • able to run fast without falling over, when turning corners or stopping
  • squatting steadily, to pick up objects from the floor
  • able to bring a small chair to the table, and sit on the chair at the table
  • able to walk backwards, pulling a toy or trolley.

There may be a problem if, by 2 years, the child is:

  • not walking steadily, especially if the child has a limp.

Speech and language

By 18 months, children are usually:

  • babbling loudly, and often to themselves and to others, as though having a conversation
  • listening to things said to them, and understanding some things such as 'no'
  • able to follow a few simple instructions, such as 'get your shoes'
  • able to identify a few familiar objects when they are named (such as 'show me the ball', or 'where is the spoon')
  • using 6 or more recognisable words (the words may be quite unclear, but the primary caregiver is able to tell what is meant, by the sound).

There may be a problem if a child:

  • is not babbling often
  • is not starting to use some meaningful words
  • does not listen, when others are talking to him.

By 2 years children are usually:

  • able to use up to 50 recognisable words
  • listening to things that are said to them
  • starting to put 2 words together, such as "daddy's car"
  • joining in with familiar songs
  • babbling while playing, with a few recognisable words in the babble.

There may be a problem if a child:

  • is still mostly silent, while playing
  • does not respond when others talk to him/her
  • is not able to point to objects, when they are named
  • uses signs, grunts or gestures, only when he/she wants something.

The information on this site, should not be used as an alternative to professional care.
If you have a particular problem, see a doctor.

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