How Can I Know If My Toddler Is Developing Normally?

One minute your baby is cooing and gurgling and spitting up, and the next, he or she is a toddler, pulling a wagon and throwing tantrums. Where did the time go?

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

The toddler years, generally between 13 months and 3 years, are a time of great cognitive, emotional and social development, characterized by almost daily acceleration in talking and walking. In fact, the word “toddler” comes from “to toddle,” which means to walk unsteadily, much like a child of this age.

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve spent years watching toddlers reach exciting milestones and helping parents negotiate the changes that come with their child’s mastery of those milestones. To learn about all the services we offer parents of infants and toddlers, click here.

Toddler milestones: cause for both joy and worry in parents

During their second year, toddlers move around more and are much more aware of themselves and their surroundings than they were as babies. Their desire to explore new objects and people also increases. During this stage, they show greater independence, begin to show defiant behavior, recognize themselves in pictures or a mirror, and imitate the behavior of others, especially adults and older children. They also should be able to recognize the names of familiar people and objects, form simple phrases and sentences, and follow simple instructions and directions.

However, all children develop at different rates, and we at Westchester Health Pediatrics urge you not to become alarmed if your toddler is a little slow to hit a particular benchmark. Having said that, physical developmental delays, or early motor delays, describe attributes of children who are not meeting critical physical milestones in the first few years of life. These delays can be a sign of a more serious issue, and if this is the case, it’s important for you to talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns. If there are delays in your child’s development, early intervention can make a big difference.

Wondering if your toddler is developing as he/she should? Click here to track his/her milestone accomplishments with these helpful charts by

Developmental milestones for the toddler years

Your child has left infancy and is now moving into the preschool years. During this time, you can expect to see some tremendous intellectual, social and emotional changes.

While there are wide variations of what is considered “normal,” we like to pass along to our parents these helpful guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics which describe what to expect and what to look for as your toddler progresses through his/her second and early third year of life, but keep in mind that these are only guidelines.


  • Walks alone
  • Pulls toys while walking
  • Carries large toy or several toys while walking
  • Begins to run
  • Stands on tiptoe
  • Kicks a ball
  • Climbs onto and down from furniture unassisted
  • Walks up and down stairs holding on to support

Hand and finger skills

  • Scribbles spontaneously
  • Turns over container to pour out contents
  • Builds tower of four blocks or more
  • Might use one hand more frequently than the other


  • Recognizes names of familiar people, objects and body parts
  • Says several single words (by 15-18 months)
  • Uses simple phrases (by 18-24 months)
  • Uses 2-to-4-word sentences
  • Follows simple instructions
  • Repeats words overheard in conversation


  • Finds objects even when hidden under 2 or 3 layers of paper or cloth
  • Begins to sort by shapes and colors
  • Begins make-believe play

Social and emotional

  • Imitates behavior of others, especially adults and older children
  • Increasingly aware of himself/herself as separate from others
  • Increasingly enthusiastic about company of other children
  • Demonstrates increasing independence
  • Begins to show defiant behavior

Developmental delays to watch for

Because each child develops at his/her own pace, it’s hard to predict exactly when your
toddler will master any given skill. However, it’s important to contact your pediatrician if your child displays any of the following signs of developmental delay:

  • Cannot walk by 16 months
  • Fails to develop a mature heel-toe walking pattern after several months of walking
  • Walks exclusively on his/her toes
  • Does not speak at least 15 words by 18 months
  • Does not seem to know the function of common household objects (brush, telephone, bell, fork, spoon)
  • Does not imitate actions or words by 15 months
  • Does not use 2-word sentences by age 2
  • Does not follow simple instructions by age 2
  • Cannot push a wheeled toy by age 2

Things you can do to help your toddler progress through the stages

  • Read to your child daily
  • Talk to your child frequently so that he/she hears the sound and rhythm of language
  • Ask him/her to find objects for you or name body parts and objects
  • Play matching games, like shape sorting and simple puzzles
  • Encourage him/her to explore and try new things
  • Help develop your toddler’s language by talking with him/her and adding to words he/she starts. For example, if your child says “baba,” you can respond, “Yes, that’s a ”
  • Encourage your child’s growing independence by letting him/her help with dressing and feeding himself/herself
  • Respond to desired behavior more than punishing unwanted behavior (use only very brief time outs). In these instances, tell or show your child what he/she should do instead.
  • Encourage your toddler’s curiosity and ability to recognize common objects by pointing them out at home and everywhere you go

Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you raise your toddler

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, you can turn to us for help, whatever stage of development your child is in. We’re parents too, with years of experience helping parents raise their children and we’re ready to help you with yours.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Questions about your toddler’s development? Come see us.

If you’re concerned about the way your child is or is not developing and want to talk to us about it, or have questions about any aspect of raising a toddler, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy toddler and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

by WHA-Admin