Toddlers are bursting with energy and want to be independent, yet they are still very much dependent on adults. Understanding what to expect regarding their development will help parents to provide an environment that fosters their growth. Continuing with the topic of play and development in young children, this post provides information about the development of toddlers.

Being Active

Toddlers are constantly on the move and enjoy playing outdoors. It is important to provide activities to practice their developing physical skills in a safe and secure environment. Running, climbing, jumping, throwing, walking backwards and forwards and kicking are some of the activities that help to develop their large muscle skills, sense of balance and self-confidence.

Language and communication

Though toddlers are not yet able to make a ‘proper’ conversation, they will still be able to respond with gestures and sounds and in effect, communicate their needs. Older toddlers will start using words or short phrases which is called Telegraphic Language as it is short contracted yet conveys meaning – ‘Mummy, milk!’ – A mother knows exactly what the toddler wants. Toddlers understand much more than they can express themselves. They have very intense emotions and feelings and often find it difficult to say this in words and they can become very frustrated. This can lead to temper tantrums which are very common during these years. Please read our two portal posts on ‘Guiding children’s behaviour - Temper Tantrums’ to gain more information about temper tantrums.

Young children love listening to their parents talk or read to them.  It is never too early to start reading to your child. To know more about the importance of reading and recommended books, please check out our two posts on ‘Enjoying books: the pathway to successful reading

Becoming independent

In the quest to become more independent, toddlers often insist on doing things their own way. One common example is that of wanting to feed themselves.  With finger foods this should be encouraged.  As language develops, toddlers begin to express themselves and “No” becomes a favourite word. With their growing need for independence, toddlers want to try out new experiences such as climbing on a chair, dressing themselves, pouring milk etc. Over time toddlers learn limits but it can be a trying time for parents and educators.


Play at this stage is not just fun for the children but also critical for their development. Through play toddlers learn about their world, develop relationships, learn new skills and begin to engage in imagination.


Toddlers are in the early stages of developing awareness of self and others. They are often engaged in what is called parallel play. They enjoy the company of other children but cannot always interact so they are happy to play alongside other toddlers, without interacting. Older toddlers begin to make connections between their behaviour and other people’s feelings. This is the foundation for forming friendships. Though they are happy playing alone, they enjoy the company of other children, will smile, gurgle, touch and show interest in other toddlers. They are sometimes possessive of toys, equipment and find it difficult to share at this age.  Sharing is a skill that toddlers learn through practice and as they play alongside other children. Parents can foster sharing skills by playing informal games that require taking turns and by inviting other children and parents for playdates. Talking to your child about yours and other people’s feelings help him/her develop empathy.

Sense of humor

You will see signs of the developing sense of humour in your child in late infancy and toddlers appreciate every silly situation as funny and welcome it with giggles and laughter. Research shows that a sense of humour is a sign of well-being and it is a developed skill and not inherited from parents. Toddlers especially enjoy humour using their body parts. A funny face, a silly hat or balancing something on your nose or head are enough to tickle a toddler’s funny bone. Though toddlers are amused by the simplest of things, care should be taken not to overwhelm them. Some children find circuses and parades to be too intense or scary.

What can parents do to foster play and development?

  • Environment – create a safe, comfortable environment where there is enough space to move around and explore.
  • Look out for signals (facial expression, sounds, gestures, body language) from your child for tiredness, frustration or disinterest. Make sure your toddler gets enough sleep. Toddlers need approximately 12 to 14 hours of sleep.
  • Children love engaging in activities over and over again. Though it may seem boring for the parents, children learn new skills by repeating them until they gain confidence. Singing the same song or reading their favourite book every bedtime gives them a sense of security.
  • Try to allocate more time in your schedule such as getting ready to go out so that your toddler has enough time to put on the shoes and dress themselves. Give some warning of a change of activity or event “Soon we will go out to do some shopping”. Encourage their independence by including them in age appropriate chores such as wiping the table or putting away the dry dishes.

Concluding Comments

Children develop at their own rate and there is a wide developmental range that is considered normal. You may observe that your child is developing faster in some areas and slower in certain others. Please consult an expert if you are worried about any possible delays in development.

Enjoy your time with your toddler by being spontaneous and trying to see things from their perspective. Do show affection and talk to your toddler. Although they may not have expressive language they will understand you. They appreciate the quality time spent with them rather than any expensive toys.

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Sheela Warrier 2017

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