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Once your little one has hit that two years mark, you now have a toddler in your hands! By this time, they would have already learned how to do many things and perform mundane tasks. As they reach this age, toddlers would have already had some developments that allow them to do more. Even something as simple as jumping, waving their hand, or smiling for the very first time are something to celebrate. These are called toddler milestones.

Developmental milestones refers to the growth of a child in terms of how much they can do things with varying complexities as they grow older. Take note that this is different from growth, which is the literal and physical increase in size of a child. Below are the four toddler developmental milestones you should keep an eye on: 

The 4 Toddler Milestones

Physical Milestones

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Starting from a child’s infancy, they already have an innate need and eagerness to move their eyes, mouth, and other body parts especially with an inclination to objects and people that interest them. As they grow up, they continue to practice these physical skills in order to reach closer to that object of interest and comfort. As toddlers and infants continue to grow, they become much more determined to enhance their movements and balance. 

For toddlers, the following physical skills are much more touched upon and developed as they go through their toddler years: 

Gross Motor Skills are skills that involve the big muscles of the body, which means these are the simple, yet big movements. Some of which include standing, running, walking, jumping, and even just sitting upright. Not only that, gross motor skills also involve the eye and hand coordination skills. You can find these in situations such as playing ball, swimming, as well as riding a scooter or a bike.

These are important skills because it enables kids to do every day activities and functions regardless of how mundane and simple thay may be. These functions range from walking to playing around in the playground. Developing such physical skills would also greatly aid in everyday self care such as dressing  up, climbing onto a car, and getting in and out of bed. Listed below are some more examples of gross motor skills for toddlers: 

  • Walking, running, and jumping
  • Carrying toys while walking
  • Kicking and throwing a ball
  • Climbing on playground equipment and other furniture
  • Walking up and down the stairs

Fine Motor Skills, on the other hand, refers to the skills that are primarily powered by the small muscles found in the hands and wrists. Given that definition, these skills are often overlooked as the activities that we do with them seem so small and mundane. Some of which include writing, typing, drawing, and basically anything that involves our hands and wrists. 

For kids, these fine motor skills are especially important for everyday function as well as for school. A lot of school-related activities and tasks don’t involve much physical exertion especially inside the classroom, and it’s more of the fine motor skills. They would always need to hold a pencil, pen or crayon to draw and write, all of which are filed under such physical skill. Listed below are some more examples of fine motor skills for toddlers: 

  • Brushing their hair and teeth
  • Dressing themselves (pulling pants up and down, zipping up, and snaps) 
  • Turning on the faucet to wash hands
  • Stacking a block tower as high as four blocks
  • Using silverware and other utensils with fingers rather than a whole fist

Cognitive Milestones

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Cognitive milestones, or the thinking skills, as its name suggests, refers to the toddler’s ability to learn, think, and solve problems. Generally, this is seen and developed through how the toddler views and absorbs the world around them. For infants, this may still be counted as curiosity. However, for toddlers, this would also include learning how to count, learning new words and other vocabulary, and naming colors. Moreover, this is how kids show their independence not just in the physical sense i.e. being able to walk by themselves, but as well as intellectually to some extent. Listed below are some ways and instances where you can you see your toddler’s cognitive milestones:

  • Being able to pretend play (pretending that a box is a bus or a spaceship, and assigning roles to characters as part of their storytelling)
  • Remembering and understanding their memory, and being able to talk about it through phrases such as “a long time ago”, “yesterday”, or “the other day”
  • Doing puzzles of three to four pieces
  • Being able to group toys in various categories such as color, size, type, and the like
  • Recite and sing songs and nursery rhymes with you 
  • Being able to follow two-step instructions, such as “take off your shoes and put them on the shoe rack”

Speech and Language Milestones

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Speech and language milestones are skills and achievements that involve the use and understanding of language. These skills flourish best in environments that are rich in sights, sounds, and lots of exposure to speech and language from other people as well. It’s important that infants and toddlers develop these milestones as early as possible because this is when the brain is more susceptible to absorb new information and language. If left undeveloped and unsupported, it would be much harder for them to learn speech and language as they grow older. 

For infants, these would be their cooing and babbling. The first signs of these in infants is them crying for food, companionship, and comfort. As they grow older, these would include how they understand other people’s words and then using them properly as well to communicate back. Listed below are some instances where you will see these speech and language milestones manifest: 

  • Understanding the words assigned to people familiar to them, objects they see everyday, and the different body parts
  • Using various words in their 18th month, being able to speak whole sentences of about two to four words in their 24th month, and by their 36th month, they would have a wide vocabulary of about  200+ words
  • Repeating words that are said to them or that they hear
  • Beginning to ask questions such as “why?” and “what’s that?”
  • Being able to use the plural of words and basic pronouns, such as “me” and “you”

Social and Emotional Milestones

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With all of the previously mentioned milestones put together, the social and emotional milestones are now much more attainable and easily developed for toddlers especially as they grow older. This type of milestone refers to their experiences, management, and expression of the emotions that they have. This is also their ability to form relationships with others that are positive and rewarding. 

For infants, this would be them smiling at others and babbling as a form of communication and expression. For toddlers and older children, this would be their ability to ask for help, express and show their emotions, and forming friendships with others. Listed below are some of the ways you can see your toddler’s social and emotional milestones: 

  • Being able to repeat what adults and other kids say and do and how
  • Feeling happy to be with other kids
  • Realizing that they can do things without an adult’s assistance or help
  • Being able to disobey just to see what happens
  • Having tantrums
  • Exhibiting an increase in separation anxiety by their 18th month, and then becoming more independent and self-aware by the 24th to 36th month

Developmental Delays in Toddlers

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There may be instances where toddlers won’t develop at the same pace as other kids. However, this is not a cause for concern most of the time; there are no strict timetables or standards for meeting toddler developmental milestones. For instance, there are babies that are able to walk by their 9th month, while some can only take their first steps by their 15th month. Despite that seemingly large time gap, these two babies are still within the normal and standard range of development. 

Given that, developmental delay is when a child does not attain their developmental milestones at the time they expect. It can happen to one or more of the major development areas that have been listed above. However, if it is only a temporary lag in development, that is not considered a developmental delay. Rather, this condition is diagnosed by professional doctors according to their strict guidelines. If you’re starting to notice or worry that your child might not be developing at the pace they should be, it’s best that you consult with your doctor about it before taking any steps further.  

Developmental delays have a variety of causes that are usually beyond our control. So if you feel that it is your fault or  anyone outside of your child’s fault, it’s best to not point fingers until a professional doctor has made their diagnosis. As mentioned, there are various causes behind developmental delays. Listed below are some risk factors that you should consider: 

  • Complications at birth
  • Environmental factors
  • Other medical conditions 

Developmental Delay versus Developmental Disability

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As similar as they may seem, developmental delay and developmental disability are not the same thing. 

To reiterate, developmental delay refers to the child’s inability to reach developmental milestones at the same pace as other children. This could include various areas such as physical, cognitive, speech and language, and social and emotional milestones. These can be either permanent or just temporary. 

On the other hand, developmental disabilities cannot be outgrown by the child. Some of which include Down syndrome, autism, Angelman syndrome, brain injuries, and FASD or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These are not the same as learning disabilities, but they can both make such activity difficult. A permanent developmental delay can also be considered a developmental disability, which is typically a sign of an underlying illness such as hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, autism, and the like. 

What to do about developmental delays

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If you are already starting to suspect that your child might be experiencing a developmental delay, you should take them to a pediatrician especially those that specialize in behavior and development in children. Alongside this, it is also recommended that you work with your child’s school in order to formulate the best possible plan for their education. The sooner that you take your child to a doctor and have them checked up, the earlier you can treat this condition and the better your child will be able to progress. However, you must also take note that bringing them to the doctor is the only way you can help your child. Below are some parenting tips and tricks to help support your child’s developmental stages, regardless of whether or not they have a developmental delay. 

Parenting Tips for Toddlers

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As parents, it is our responsibility to aid our child in growing up and reaching their developmental milestones as best as we can. You should be able to identify and recognize the various developmental milestones that have already been discussed in the previous sections. Doing so would help you find the right ways and techniques in how to successfully support your toddler. Below are some of the major tips that you should follow: 

Reinforce child safety first and foremost

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By now, your toddler is now able to walk around, jump, climb on things, and other rather chaotic movements. Although they are able to perform such actions, that doesn’t automatically mean that they are able to control them in a way that is safe for both them and their surroundings. With their newfound skills, not just in terms of physical milestones, dangerous situations are now much more likely than before. Follow the following tips to ensure your toddler’s safety at all times: 

  • Never leave your toddler unattended especially near or around the water such as pools, lakes, the ocean, whirlpools, and even your bathtub. Drowning is one of the most common causes of death and injury among toddlers and those near their age group. 
  • Always block the top and bottom of your stairs with a fence or a small gate. 
  • Always lock the doors of potentially dangerous areas inside the house such as the basement and garage. 
  • Place plug covers over all the unused and unsupervised outlets and sockets. 
  • Place kitchen appliances, heaters, and irons in areas that are out of your toddler’s reach. 
  • Hide sharp objects, such as pens, scissors, and knives from your toddler at a safe place. 
  • Keep medicines, poisons, and household cleaners out of their reach.
  • Never leave your toddler unattended inside any kind of vehicle even just for a few minutes. 

Interact and play with them

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We, as parents, are the first people that they would spend their time with the most. Aside from keeping your homes toddler-friendly and safe, you should also take steps in forming a deeper  bond with them. All of their toddler developmental milestones need the presence and support of an adult that would take care of them in order for it to truly flourish properly. The following tips are some of the ways you can help your toddler: 

  • Read to them everyday
  • Play with them by asking them to name objects, body parts, and find objects
  • Play other games with them such as matching games, like simple puzzles and shape sorting
  • Encourage your toddler to try new things and explore
  • Talk to your toddler everyday and support their babblings by adding words to what they are saying
  • Let them dress and feed themselves to also foster independence
  • Respond and react to wanted behaviors more than punishing unwanted behaviors. Instead, tell them what they should be doing instead of reprimanding them harshly. 
  • Take field trips once in a while, no matter how simple or grand it is, in order to engage their curiosity and ability to recognize and acknowledge objects. It could take in the form of going to the park or a bus ride. 

Nutrition for toddlers

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Another essential element of a toddler’s milestone is their health and nutrition. It’s important that we take care of their bodies as these are the major components that work within their development. Below are the following steps you can take in order to give your toddler a healthier body and lifestyle: 

  • Instead of sugary beverages, give your toddler plain milk and water. Still retain breast milk as part of their diet after their first year even when they are already consuming solid foods. 
  • Don’t force your toddler to eat, especially when they grow to be picky eaters. Toddlers normally don’t need as much food as we think because their growth is slowing down by this time as compared to their earlier years. Keep trying new foods that are both healthy and tasty until they take their pick. Remember, it will definitely take some time for them to get acquainted with these foods so be patient!
  • In this digital age, it’s hard not to incorporate gadgets into our daily lives. However, for the sake of our toddlers, ‘try your best to limit your family’s screen time, and not just your toddlers, as much as possible. The AAP, or the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that toddlers of 18 months should not use any screens other than for video chatting. 
  • Keep your toddler active especially now that they’re exploring their newfound physical skills such as kicking, running, jumping, and climbing. 
  • Ensure that your toddler is getting a sufficient amount of sleep every night. Toddlers of 1-2 years old should have 11-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps. 

There’s a lot of stuff to learn and explore especially when our kids reach their toddler milestones. Remember, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician!