Toddler development at 12-15 months: what’s happening

Behaviour, play and feelings
Your toddler spends a lot of time working out what different things do, and what she can do with them. She’ll build small towers of blocks and knock them down, scribble with a texta or crayon, and drop pegs into a basket.

Toddlers love exploring. And if you’re around while your child explores, he feels safe and has the self-confidence to try new things.

This is also an important time for your toddler socially and emotionally.

Your child might often show signs of separation anxiety. But she’ll also begin to show empathy – for example, she might look sad or get upset when she sees someone else crying. Empathy is about understanding how others might be feeling, and it’s an important part of forming relationships with people.

Communicating and talking
At this age, your child’s language development matures. His babbling starts to include real words. Your child might even name familiar objects – for example, a ball. But it’s not all words just yet – he’ll still grunt, nod and point to let you know what he wants. He might even point to people and things he knows when you ask him.

Being active helps your child build muscle strength for more complex movements like standing, walking and running.

Your toddler might stand up without needing help from you or the furniture in these months, and will probably start to walk on her own. As she gets better at walking, she might climb stairs or even the furniture.

If your child isn’t walking on his own yet, try not to worry too much. Some children won’t walk without help until 15-18 months.

At this age your child might also:

  • hug you
  • point to her body parts or a favourite toy when you name them
  • drink from a cup – probably with some spills! – and use a spoon
  • follow simple instructions – for example, when you say to your child, ‘Please give me the block’, she won’t need you to show her what to do
  • try to help when you’re putting on her clothes, often by holding out her arms for sleeves or putting her foot up for shoes
  • hold a crayon and possibly scribble with it after you show her how.

Helping toddler development at 12-15 months

Here are a few simple things you can do to help your toddler’s development at this age:

  • Give your child lots of hugs, cuddles and kisses: empathy and positive attention are good for your child’s emotional development. But don’t expect your toddler to show empathy to you all the time. He’s still learning how his 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 playOpen-ended toys are great for play – try blocks, pegs, balls, ice-cream containers and cardboard boxes. Your child will also still love 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 teach your child 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 to her. You can copy what your child says – for example, if she says ‘mama’, you say ‘Yes, I'm your mama’. This encourages two-way 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 toddler’s ability to think about what he’s 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 toddler can move about without getting hurt.

Parenting a toddler at 12-15 months

As a parent, you’re always learning. Every parent makes mistakes and learns through experience. 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.

With all the focus on looking after a child, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically and mentally will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to be a parent.

Sometimes you might feel frustrated or upset. But if you feel overwhelmed, put your child in a safe place like a cot, or ask someone else to hold her for a while. It’s OK to take some time out until you feel calmer. You could also try going to another room to breathe deeply or calling 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

See your child and family health nurse or GP if you have any concerns or notice that at 12-15 months your toddler has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating
Your child:

  • isn’t making eye contact with you, isn’t following moving objects with his eyes or has an eye that is turned in or out most of the time
  • isn’t interested in sounds
  • doesn’t respond to his name when called
  • isn’t babbling or using single words
  • isn’t trying to let you know what he wants
  • isn’t using gestures like waving or pointing.

Behaviour, play and feelings
Your child:

  • doesn’t seem to understand you
  • isn’t showing her emotions and feelings.

Movement and motor skills
Your child:

  • 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 he 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 women or postnatal depression in men. 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.