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 she develops thinkingimagination and creativity. Your toddler might particularly enjoy games like finding hidden toys and pointing to body parts or familiar toys when you ask her to.

By the time your toddler is 18 months, he might start to do ‘pretend play’ – for example, he might pretend to drink from a cup or talk on the phone using a toy block.

When it comes to emotions, your child has developed strong attachments to the people she loves. You’ll find your toddler gives you lots of cuddles and kisses. But she might also be very aware of herself and even embarrassed when she realises other people are looking at her. If she’s separated from you, she might get upset – separation anxiety is quite normal at this age.

When it comes to language development, your child might say a few words by 15 months. He’ll learn more and more words in the coming months and might start naming objects and actions.

Your child is starting to understand her own name, and simple commands like ‘Bring it to Mum’. And she almost certainly understands ‘mine’!

Your toddler might already be walking on his own. If not, he’ll probably take his first steps during the next few months. If your toddler has been walking for a while, he 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 child might also:

  • take off some of her clothes
  • seat herself in a small chair, or try to get into your chair
  • get something from another room when you ask her 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 help your toddler’s development at this age:

  • Be there for your toddler: being nearby while your toddler plays and explores gives your child the confidence to try new things on his own. This can help him to be independent and self-confident when he’s 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 – it’s normal for toddlers to think that everything belongs to them.
  • Encourage your toddler 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 toddler’s ability to think about what she’s doing.
  • Talk with your toddler: 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 to him. For example, you can copy what your child says – if he says ‘dada’, you say ‘Yes, dada is here’. This encourages two-way conversation and helps your child build communication skills. It also makes him 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 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 toddler move about without getting hurt.

Parenting a toddler at 15-18 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, lots of parents forget or run out of time to look after themselves. 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 15-18 months your toddler has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating
Your child:

  • 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
Your child:

  • isn’t walking by himself
  • uses one hand a lot more than the other (usually children don’t use one hand more than the other until closer to two years).

You should see a child health professional if you notice your child has lost skills she 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.