Toddler development at 12-15 months: what’s happening
Behaviour and play
Your toddler spends a lot of time working out what different things do and what they can do with them. For example, your toddler might build small towers of blocks and knock them down, scribble with a pencil or crayon, and drop pegs into a basket.
Toddlers love exploring. If you’re around while your toddler explores, you can give them reassurance, particularly in unfamiliar situations. This can help your toddler feel safe and confident to try new things.
This is also an important time for your toddler socially and emotionally. You might notice your toddler playing alongside other children now.
Your toddler will be affectionate towards you and other familiar people and might show signs of separation anxiety.
Your toddler 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 toddler’s language development matures. Your toddler’s babbling starts to include real words. And your toddler might name familiar objects – for example, a ball. But it’s not all words just yet – your toddler still grunts, nods and points to let you know what they want or to share their interests with you.
Being active helps builds your toddler’s 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 might start to walk on their own. As your toddler gets better at walking, they might climb stairs or even the furniture.
But if your toddler isn’t walking on their own yet, it helps to know that some children don’t walk without help until 15-18 months.
At this age your toddler 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 simple things you can do to support your toddler’s development at this age:
- Give your toddler plenty of hugs, cuddles and kisses: empathy and positive attention are good for your toddler’s emotional development. But remember that your toddler is still learning how emotions work and how to get along with others.
- Make time for play: this helps your toddler develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. Open-ended toys are great for play – try blocks, pegs, balls, ice-cream containers and cardboard boxes. Your toddler also still loves playing games with you, like pat-a-cake or peekaboo.
- Spend time playing outdoors: being out and about with you lets your toddler explore the world and test out their growing physical skills. When you’re outside, remember to be safe in the sun.
- Talk with your toddler: naming and talking about everyday things – body parts, toys and household items like spoons or chairs – develops your toddler’s language skills. At this age, you can help your toddler learn that a ‘chair’ can be a ‘big chair’, ‘red chair’ or even a ‘big red chair’.
- Build your toddler’s talking and communication skills by listening and talking back. You can copy what your toddler says – for example, if your toddler says ‘mama’, you say ‘Yes, I’m your mama’. This encourages conversation and makes your toddler feel valued and loved.
- Read with your toddler: you can encourage your toddler’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes. These activities also help your toddler learn to read as they get older.
- Encourage your toddler’s everyday skills like feeding themselves, drinking from a cup and taking off a hat. These skills involve both small and big muscle movements, as well as the ability to think about what they’re doing.
- Encourage moving: this builds your toddler’s 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. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s OK to admit you don’t know something and ask questions or get help.
It’s also important to look after yourself. Looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is good for you, and it’s good for your toddler. When you’re well, you can give your toddler the loving attention they need to grow and thrive. You can also guide your toddler’s behaviour in positive ways, even when you find their behaviour challenging.
And remember that part of looking after yourself is asking for help, especially if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry. There are many people who can support you and your toddler, including your partner, friends, relatives, child and family health nurse and GP.
Never shake, hit or verbally abuse a toddler. You risk harming your child, even if you don’t mean to. If you feel like you can’t cope, it’s OK to take some time out until you feel calmer. Gently put your toddler in a safe place like a cot. Go to another room to breathe deeply, or call your state or territory parenting helpline.
When to be concerned about toddler development
You know your toddler best. So it’s a good idea to 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
- isn’t making eye contact with you
- isn’t following moving objects with their eyes
- has an eye that’s 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.
See a child health professional if you notice that your toddler has lost skills they had before.
It’s also a good idea to 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. Signs of postnatal depression include feeling sad and crying for no obvious reason, feeling irritable, having difficulty coping and feeling very anxious.
Development usually happens in the same order in most children, but skills might develop at different ages or times. If you’re wondering whether your toddler’s development is on track, or if you feel that something isn’t quite right, it’s best to get help early. See your child and family health nurse or GP.