Toddler development at 15-18 months: what’s happening
Behaviour, play and feelings
Your toddler is curious about everything and is keen to play, experiment and explore.
Play is important for your toddler – it’s how they develop thinking, imagination and creativity. Your toddler might particularly enjoy games like finding hidden toys and pointing to body parts or familiar toys.
By the time your toddler is 18 months, they might start to do ‘pretend play’. For example, your toddler might pretend to drink from a cup or talk on the phone using a toy.
At this age, it’s more likely that your toddler will play side by side with other children rather than with them.
When it comes to emotions, your toddler has developed strong attachments to the people they love. You’ll find your toddler gives you a lot of cuddles and kisses. But your toddler might also be self-conscious and even embarrassed when they realise other people are looking at them. If your toddler is separated from you, they might get upset – separation anxiety is a typical part of development at this age.
In language development, your toddler might say a few words by 15 months. Your toddler will learn more and more words in the coming months and might start naming objects and actions.
Your toddler is starting to understand their own name, as well as simple instructions like ‘Bring it to Mum’. Your toddler might also learn the power of words like ‘no’ and ‘mine’!
Your toddler might already be walking on their own. If not, your toddler will probably take their first steps during the next few months. If your toddler has been walking for a while, they might soon start running, walking up or down stairs holding the bannister or your hand, or climbing furniture.
Hand movements like scribbling, turning pages in a book, using a spoon, drinking from a cup or building a tower of blocks are much easier for your toddler now.
At this age, your toddler might also:
- take off some of their clothes
- seat themselves in a small chair, or try to get into your chair
- get something from another room when you ask them to
- pick up very small objects – for example, pebbles or crumbs.
Helping toddler development at 15-18 months
Here are simple things you can do to support your toddler’s development at this age:
- Be there for your toddler: if you’re nearby while your toddler plays and explores, it gives your toddler the confidence to try new things on their own. This can help your toddler to be independent and self-confident when they’re older.
- Encourage social play: playing with others is a great way for your toddler to learn how to be with other children, make friends and start developing social skills like sharing and taking turns.
- Spend time playing outdoors: being out and about with you allows your toddler to explore the world around them and test out their growing physical skills. When you’re outside, remember to be safe in the sun.
- Encourage your toddler to practise 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 your toddler’s ability to think about what they’re doing.
- 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 teach your toddler that a ‘chair’ can be a ‘big chair’, ‘red chair’ or even a ‘big red chair’.
- Give meaning to your toddler’s talking by listening and talking back. For example, you can copy what your toddler says – if they say ‘dada’, you say ‘Yes, dada is here’. This encourages conversation and builds your toddler’s communication skills. It also 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 moving: this helps your toddler build muscle strength, which is important for more complex movements like walking and running. Making your home safe can help your active toddler move about without getting hurt.
Parenting a toddler at 15-18 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 15-18 months your toddler has any of the following issues.
Seeing, hearing and communicating
- has trouble seeing or hearing things
- doesn’t say any single words
- doesn’t follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’
- doesn’t point, wave or use other gestures.
Your toddler doesn’t enjoy eye contact or cuddles with you.
Movements and motor skills
- isn’t walking by themselves
- uses one hand a lot more than the other (usually children don’t use one hand more than the other until closer to 2 years).
See a child health professional if you notice 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.