Toddler development at 12-15 months: what’s happening
Behaviour and play
Your child spends a lot of time working out what different things do, and what they can do with them. For example, your child builds small towers of blocks and knocks them down, scribbles with a pencil or crayon, and drops pegs into a basket.
Toddlers love exploring. And if you’re around while your child explores, they feel safe and confident to try new things.
This is also an important time for your child socially and emotionally. You might notice your child playing alongside other children now.
Your child might often show signs of separation anxiety. But child also starts to show empathy – for example, they might look sad or get upset when they see someone else crying. Empathy is about understanding how others are feeling, and it’s an important part of forming relationships with people.
Communicating and talking
At this age, your child’s language development matures. Your child’s babbling starts to include real words. And your child might name familiar objects – for example, a ball. But it’s not all words just yet – your child still grunts, nods and points to let you know what they want.
Being active helps your child build muscle strength for more complex movements like standing, walking and running.
Your child might stand up without needing help from you or the furniture in these months and might start to walk on their own. As your child gets better at walking, they might climb stairs or even the furniture.
If your child isn’t walking on their own yet, try not to worry too much. Some children don’t walk without help until 15-18 months.
At this age your child might also:
- hug you
- point to body parts, favourite toys or familiar people when you name them
- drink from a cup – probably with some spills! – and use a spoon
- follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the block’
- try to help when you’re putting on their clothes, often by holding out their arms for sleeves or putting their feet up for shoes
- hold a crayon and possibly scribble with it after you show them how.
Helping toddler development at 12-15 months
Here are a few simple things you can do to support your child’s development at this age:
- Give your child plenty of hugs, cuddles and kisses: empathy and positive attention are good for your child’s emotional development. But remember that your child is still learning how emotions work and how to get along with others.
- Playing is an important way for your child to find out how things work, so make time for both indoor and outdoor play. Open-ended toys are great for play – try blocks, pegs, balls, ice-cream containers and cardboard boxes. Your child also still loves playing games with you, like pat-a-cake or peekaboo.
- Talk with your toddler: naming and talking about everyday things – body parts, toys and household items like spoons or chairs – develops your child’s language skills. At this age, you can help your child learn that a ‘chair’ can be a ‘big chair’, ‘red chair’ or even a ‘big red chair’.
- Build your child’s talking and communication skills by listening and talking back. You can copy what your child says – for example, if your child says ‘mama’, you say ‘Yes, I'm your mama’. This encourages conversation and also makes your child feel valued and loved.
- Read with your toddler: you can encourage your child’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.
- Encourage everyday skills like using a spoon, drinking from a cup and taking off a hat. These skills involve both small and big muscle movements, as well as your child’s ability to think about what they’re doing.
- Encourage moving: this helps your child build muscle strength, which is important for more complex movements like walking and running. Making your home safe means your active child can move about without getting hurt.
Parenting a toddler at 12-15 months
As a parent, you’re always learning. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know something and ask questions or get help.
When you’re focused on looking after a child, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally helps your child grow and thrive.
Sometimes you might feel frustrated, upset or overwhelmed. It’s OK to take some time out until you feel calmer. Put your child in a safe place like a cot, or ask someone else to hold your child for a while. Try going to another room to breathe deeply, or call a family member or friend to talk things through.
Never shake a toddler. It can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage.
It’s OK to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caring for your toddler, call your local Parentline. You might also like to try our ideas for dealing with anger, anxiety and stress.
When to be concerned about toddler development
Seeing, hearing and communicating
- isn’t making eye contact with you, isn’t following moving objects with their eyes or has an eye that is turned in or out most of the time
- isn’t interested in sounds
- doesn’t respond to their name
- isn’t babbling or using single words
- isn’t trying to let you know what they want
- isn’t using gestures like waving or pointing.
Behaviour, play and feelings
- doesn’t seem to understand you
- isn’t showing emotions and feelings.
Movement and motor skills
- can’t stand even when holding on to you or the furniture
- uses one hand a lot more than the other.
You should see a child health professional if you notice that your child has lost skills they had before.
You should also see your child and family health nurse or GP if you or your partner experiences the signs of postnatal depression in birthing mothers or postnatal depression in non-birthing parents. Symptoms of postnatal depression include feeling sad and crying for no obvious reason, feeling irritable, having difficulty coping and feeling very anxious.
Children grow and develop at different speeds. If you’re worried about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot. But if you still feel that something isn’t quite right, see your child and family health nurse or GP.