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 child – it’s how they develop thinking, imagination and creativity. Your child might particularly enjoy games like finding hidden toys and pointing to body parts or familiar toys.
By the time your child is 18 months, they might start to do ‘pretend play’. For example, your child might pretend to drink from a cup or talk on the phone using a toy.
At this age, it’s more likely that your child will play side by side with other children rather than with them.
When it comes to emotions, your child has developed strong attachments to the people they love. You’ll find your child gives you a lot of cuddles and kisses. But your child might also be self-conscious and even embarrassed when they realise other people are looking at them. If your child is separated from you, they might get upset – separation anxiety is a typical part of development at this age.
In language development, your child might say a few words by 15 months. Your child will learn more and more words in the coming months and might start naming objects and actions.
Your child is starting to understand their own name, as well as simple commands like ‘Bring it to Mum’. Your child might also learn the power of words like ‘no’ and ‘mine’!
Your child might already be walking on their own. If not, your child will probably take their first steps during the next few months. If your child 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 child now.
At this age, your child 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 some simple things you can do to support your child’s development at this age:
- Be there for your child: if you’re nearby while your child plays and explores, it gives your child the confidence to try new things on their own. This can help your child to be independent and self-confident when they’re older.
- Encourage social play: playing with others is a great way for your child to make friends and learn how to be with other children. But don’t expect sharing and taking turns just yet.
- Encourage your child to practise 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.
- Talk with your child: naming and talking about everyday things – body parts, toys and household items like spoons or chairs – helps develop 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’.
- Give meaning to your child’s talking by listening and talking back. For example, you can copy what your child says – if they say ‘dada’, you say ‘Yes, dada is here’. This encourages conversation and helps your child build communication skills. It also makes your child feel valued and loved.
- Read with your child: you can encourage your child’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.
- Encourage moving: this helps your child build muscle strength, which is important for more complex movements like walking and running. Making your home safe can help your active child 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 also OK to admit you don’t know something and ask questions or get help.
When you’re focusing 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 child, 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
- 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 child 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).
You should see a child health professional if you notice 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.