Cathy Malley
Cooperative Extension Educator, Child Development
Cooperative Extension Office
University of Connecticut

Copyright/Access Information


  • what to expect from toddlers.
  • that toddlers grow and develop at their own rate.
  • some activities that toddlers enjoy and that help them grow and develop.


When children learn to walk, they are called toddlers. Usually this term is applied to one and two-year-old children. This is a stage in the growth of a child and not a specific age. The toddler stage is very important in a child's life. It is the time between infancy and childhood when a child learns and grows in many ways. Everything that happens to the toddler is meaningful. With each stage or skill the child masters, a new stage begins. This growth is unique to each child. Children have their own time-table. During the toddler stage, most children learn to walk, talk, solve problems, relate to others, and more. One major task for the toddler is to learn to be independent. That is why toddlers want to do things for themselves, have their own ideas about how things should happen, and use “no” many times each day.

The toddler stage is characterized by much growth and change, mood swings, and some negativity. Toddlers are long on will and short on skill. This is why they are often frustrated and “misbehave.” Some adults call the toddler stage “the terrible twos.” Toddlers, bursting with energy and ideas, need to explore their environment and begin defining themselves as separate people. They want to be independent and yet they are still very dependent. One of the family day care provider's greatest challenges is to balance toddlers' need for in-dependence with their need for discipline. Toddlers are very concerned with their own needs and ideas. This is why we cannot expect them to share.

Toddlers sometimes get frustrated because they do not have the language skills to express themselves. Often they have difficulty separating themselves from their parents and other people who are important to them. Adults who work with toddlers often find it helpful to appreciate toddlers' need to do things their way.

Usually between two and one half and three years of age, children begin to take an interest in being toilet trained, and by age three they are ready to be known as preschoolers. By this age, most children are toilet trained, have developed verbal skills, are continuing to be more independent, and are taking an active interest in the world around them.

The toddler stage can be a difficult for adults and toddlers. An understanding of this stage of development can make it more fun for everyone. This fact sheet lists some of the characteristics of toddlers. These characteristics are listed for three main areas: physical (body), social (getting along with others) and emotional (feelings), and intellectual (thinking and language) development. Remember that all toddlers are different and reach the various stages at different times.



  • They may grow less quickly than during infancy.
  • They may eat less, but they tend to eat frequently throughout the day.
  • Most walk without support by 14 months.
  • Most walk backward and up steps by 22 months.
  • They get better at feeding themselves, although spills should still be expected.
  • They drink from a cup with help.
  • They can stack blocks.
  • They can scribble.


  • Children are generally more active than at any other point in their lives.
  • They walk, run, climb, walk up and down stairs alone, and dig.
  • They throw balls and kick them forward.
  • They jump with two feet together.
  • They stand on tip toes.
  • They take things apart and put them back together. They like to screw and unscrew lids.
  • They feel discomfort with wet or soiled diapers.
  • They start to show an interest in toilet training.



  • They want to do things independently.
  • Temper tantrums are common.
  • They enjoy playing by themselves or beside (not with) other children.
  • They have difficulty sharing toys. They may be possessive.
  • They cannot remember rules.
  • They view themselves as the center of the world.
  • They become increasingly more self-aware. They begin to express new emotions such as jealousy, affection, pride, and shame.
  • They show increasing fears.
  • They may continuously ask for their parents.
  • They have rapid mood shifts. Their emotions are usually very intense but short-lived.
  • Routines are very important.


  • They begin to play simple pretend games. Their fantasy play is very short and simple. It does not involve others.
  • They are generally very self-centered and sharing is still difficult. They enjoy playing near other children.
  • They try to assert themselves by saying “no.”
  • They sometimes do the opposite of what is asked.
  • They like to imitate the behavior of adults and others. They want to help with household tasks.
  • They become frustrated easily.
  • They refuse help.
  • They still need security.
  • They are more sure of themselves than one-year-old children.



  • They are curious.
  • They point to objects that they want.
  • They imitate animal sounds.
  • They name familiar people and objects.
  • They combine two words to form a basic sentence.
  • They use the pronouns me and mine.
  • They use “no” frequently.
  • They name body parts and familiar pictures.
  • They use objects for their intended purpose.
  • They begin to include a second person in pretend play.
  • Their attention span is short.
  • They can hold a pencil and scribble.
  • They are very active.
  • Because of their developing imagination, they have trouble knowing what is real and what is pretend.


  • They follow simple directions.
  • They use three or more words in combination.
  • They express their feelings and wishes.
  • They use objects to represent other objects.
  • They still have a very limited attention span.
  • They can memorize short rhymes.
  • They join in simple songs.
  • They begin to think about doing something before doing it.
  • They have trouble making choices, but they want to make choices.


1. Take some time to watch your toddlers playing. Notice the differences in their physical development: height, weight, how they relate to you and to other children, and their energy levels. Some children seem to never sit still, while others seem happy to sit down with a book.

2. Toddlers learn by exploring and experimenting. They love to do things over and over. Some activities that toddlers enjoy are listed below.


  • Roll a ball to them to catch.
  • Provide blocks for them to build with.
  • Provide safe mirrors for them to look at themselves in. Talk with them about their reflections in the mirror.
  • Let them fill containers over and over again.
  • Have them listen and move to music.
  • Play hide and seek.
  • Let them push or pull a favorite toy.
  • Provide wheeled toys without pedals.
  • Look at picture books with them and talk about the pictures.
  • Talk about the size, shape, and texture of everyday objects.
  • Make comparisons such as “this ball is bigger than that ball.”
  • Talk about cause-and-effect relationships such as “if you push this block, the whole pile of blocks will fall over.”


  • Encourage toddlers to run, jump, and climb outside.
  • Sing simple songs with them.
  • Sing and act out songs with simple movements.
  • Play pat-a-cake.
  • Teach them simple finger plays.
  • Tell them simple, short stories (especially those about themselves or other two-year-old children).
  • Let them pound a toy workbench.
  • Let them play in a sandbox. Give them water to measure and pour.
  • Let them stack blocks and other objects.
  • Provide things that can be taken apart and put back together (such as pop beads).
  • Ask children to name things in the pictures of picture books. Give them the correct word if they cannot think of it.
  • Give them simple directions to follow.
  • Play matching games and use simple puzzles with them.
  • Encourage pretending by providing dolls, housekeeping toys, dress-up clothes, and toy telephones.
  • Introduce art activities such as scribbling and/or painting with crayons, chalk, and paint.
  • Provide play dough and finger paint.
  • Begin toilet training when the toddler is ready. Also, begin teaching hand washing and tooth brushing.
  • Encourage the development of routines.


*1 2 3 Grow!*, a newsletter for parents of toddlers, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011.

*Discipline For Young Children Series* by Elaine Wilson, Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078.

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