By Raising Children Network
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Toddlers are beginning to understand more about life and themselves. Your toddler is starting to think things through and to understand lots of new concepts, like the difference between big and small.

Toddler playing with toy

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

Your toddler won’t understand why scribbles on the wall make you cross. After all, he just wanted to make a nice picture for you!


What to expect

Your toddler will probably:

  • think you know what she is thinking – not until about three years old will your toddler begin to realise that she is a separate person
  • be unable to separate what’s real and what’s pretend (he will be easily frightened by television images)
  • be keen to experiment and explore
  • be able to use words such as ‘dark’, ‘loud’, ‘hard’ or ‘heavy’ appropriately, and understand their meaning, by 36 months
  • enjoy exploring all five senses
  • be curious about and want to explore unfamiliar objects and events.

Your toddler is determined to try everything. It’s all part of thinking about how things work. Between eight and 16 months, your toddler will want to thoroughly explore all toys and objects within reach – banging, dropping and shaking them to see what happens. A safe home environment will give your child the freedom to explore a whole new world of thinking.

By about 16 months, your toddler will sort objects into types. Your child now understands that there are groups of things in the world. Toys and household items such as pegs and plastic cooking utensils help your child with this play.

Despite the huge amount they are learning, toddlers don’t know how all the concepts fit together. For example, your child can see that things flush down the toilet. But toddlers don’t realise that they can’t accidentally be flushed down the toilet too – something that could become a real fear at this age.

Because toddlers have little experience or understanding of the world, they can be easily upset by situations that you might not consider scary. If the leg rips off a teddy, your toddler might be frightened that the same could happen to a real person. The monsters in cartoons might seem real.

Your toddler will be working hard to understand and will learn more every day. Now is the time to start letting your toddler take the lead more and more. The more relaxed the fun, the more easily the learning will happen.

Play ideas to encourage thinking

  • Help your toddler put together basic puzzles.
  • Provide lots of fun bath toys so your child can enjoy measuring, scooping and pouring.
  • Read books and recite nursery rhymes together.
  • Provide materials that can be sorted, such as different coloured blocks or balls, or different-sized plastic cups and containers and measuring spoons.
  • Give your toddler toys with buttons to push to make something happen.
If you’re concerned about any aspect of your toddler’s development, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your health professional.
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  • Last Updated 11-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Berk, L. (1997). Child Development, (4th Ed.) Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

    Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.