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Understanding How Children Mature

A Child's Advancements, Eighteen Months to Two Years

When your child learns to speak it becomes easier to explore the world together.
When your child learns to speak it becomes easier to explore the world together.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Around this time your child learns how to speak. Along with the accomplishment comes a greater sense of individuality -- and some more unwelcome changes. Toddler behavior runs the entire gamut.


When your baby can communicate some ideas to you, your parenting job becomes a bit easier. You can ask what's wrong and your child can respond. His knowledge of just a few words can go a long way. You no longer are required to be a mind reader and try to second-guess your toddler to figure out what is bothering him.


Much younger babies use gestures and single words to make their wants and needs known. Your baby may have developed some of his own unique gestures to express different wants. Many eighteen-month-olds have command over a number of words. These single words can mean whole sentences. Some 18 month olds put words together in two- and three-word combinations.

Wise parents make use of their babies' natural ability to acquire language to make their jobs easier. In one instance, a mother was so quick to get everything for her toddler that he didn't need to talk. All his needs were met without much effort on his part. When his doctor suggested that the mother wait for her son to ask for what he wants, the little boy started talking in five-word sentences. In this situation, the mother had been too good at reading her son's signals.

If you have concerns about your baby's development of language, discuss them with your child's doctor. Babies prone to frequent ear infections occasionally have fluctuating hearing losses. If you suspect your baby isn't listening to you or does not understand what you say, you should check this out. Sometimes children have behavior problems because of poor hearing. Kids can be particularly difficult to manage when they don't hear what you say.

For some babies, having the words in their heads but not having the words come out right can be a very frustrating experience. There is so much they want to say, but they don't know how to say it. To help your child, try not to place too much pressure on your baby to say the words correctly. A lot of internal and external demands are placed on the almost-two year old. Not only are these youngsters trying to master an upright world, they are also trying to become competent users of language. This is a time when gentle encouragement, assurance, and firm limits are needed.


At eighteen months of age, your baby has an egocentric view of the world: She sees herself as the center of the universe and is unable to see the world through other people's eyes. The term egocentric, often used to refer to self-centered adults, also describes a baby's view of her position of power in the world: She, too, believes the world revolves around her.

At this age, your baby recognizes that parents can do everything for her. Adults serve a purpose for babies: They are a means to an end. However, while adults can give babies what they want, they can also make demands and set limits, which can be a source of conflict. For example, a mother can ask her toddler to begin to master independent living skills (such as giving up the nighttime bottle, using a cup and a spoon, and using the potty) before the toddler feels she is ready.

Feeding can be a potential battleground for parents and babies -- with the baby often winning. Babies can use the feeding situation as a way to control parents. A laid-back approach -- allowing the baby some selection of food and not forcing her to eat detested foods -- can prevent later feeding problems. You can also use some tricks, such as disguising the disliked foods with preferred tastes -- dipping a vegetable in yogurt or cheese sauce, for example.

Conflicts about self-care skills often center on dependence-independence issues. Some sort of balance must be achieved between your baby's dependence on you and your desire for your baby's increased independence. It may be best to deal with some of these skills -- such as toilet training -- at a later date since some readiness skills may be needed. There is no single timetable because children master developmental skills at their own rates.


One of a baby's first words is no. Babies often say no to your requests even when they mean yes. Some say it is easier for a baby to shake his head from side to side than up and down, but defiance is certainly also the name of the game. We have all seen many a two year old throw a temper tantrum right in the middle of the store because he didn't get what he wanted. These temper tantrums are disruptive and embarrassing but are all part of growing up. Though never easy to deal with, they are inevitable, and every parent faces them. And yes, the phase will pass!

This stage is characterized by a great deal of opposition. It's as if the toddler has to do the opposite just as a statement of his independence. This is a very important developmental step for your child. It is an assertion of your child's sense of himself as an individual. These difficult times are important for your child to separate from you and move toward becoming a distinct person.

Like everything else in development, the timetable varies from child to child. Some very verbal children don't hit the terrible twos until they are three. This is a consequence of the child's and parents' ability to talk about what the child is feeling, thinking, or wanting. Parents can explain a lot to toddlers, sometimes defusing a potentially explosive situation. Other times, these explanations are totally useless, partly because the baby doesn't have the necessary level of understanding to know what you are talking about. Also, at times your child just won't give in. It is very important for parents to sit down and talk with each other so they can establish priorities as to what's worth a fight and what isn't.

Intense Separation Reactions

Even though your baby has already experienced some stranger anxiety, she develops more intense reactions to separation at this developmental stage. Leaving her with a babysitter or dropping her off at the child care center may be more difficult. Remembering to take a favorite toy or lovey along may help with these leave-takings. Fear of new situations results partly because of your child's inexperience with them.

Established sleep patterns may be disrupted in this stage. So much time during the day is spent in motor activity -- walking and running -- that by the time evening rolls around, your toddler is likely to be too overtired to go to bed easily. In addition, you shouldn't be surprised if your baby starts to wake up again in the middle of the night. This may be because your baby is afraid of being alone. Night fears begin around 18 months of age. They may continue through the third and fourth year, changing in intensity and content. Three year olds can often tell you about dreams that wake them up.

At these early ages, your baby doesn't know what's real and what's fantasy, so nighttime, being alone, and dreams can be frightening experiences. You can relieve some of your baby's tearfulness by comforting her and telling her you are there and will protect her. On occasion, even letting your baby crawl into bed with you can give her a sense of security and you a good night's sleep.

Children's fears can be lessened through imaginative play and books. Play is a terrific means of working out difficulties your child may experience. Some of your baby's fears and worries can be worked out through your playing together. Each of you can take turns pretending to be the scary monster, which the other one banishes. Some delightful children's books cast triumphant little boys or girls as conquerors of nighttime monsters.

In addition to books, parents can use puppets to engage their toddlers, and older children, too, in lively reenactments of daily concerns and fears. Playing with puppets removes some of the tension associated with real-life discussions about upsetting issues. By giving the worries to the puppets in the realm of your play, some forbidding topics are no longer as unthinkable.

Toddlers need a regular bedtime routine. Many parents use the hour before bedtime to read books with their children. Reading to your child encourages her to read, and eighteen month olds find the same routine night after night comforting. Thus, a consistent bedtime ritual is good for your child's emotional and cognitive development and may provide a better night's sleep for both parents and child.

New Advances

As a parent, your role is to support your baby's move toward independence while at the same time recognizing his need to be dependent on you. Some children have great difficulty struggling to reach the next developmental milestone. Others make smooth transitions from milestone to milestone. Some experts believe development depends mainly on the child's growth or maturation, with maturation moving in an upward, cyclical manner. Occasionally, peaks and valleys do occur.

With this cyclical view of development, parents can see how new advances can upset children. Thus, with advances to each new stage of development, notably with walking, your baby's behavior may seem disorganized until he is sure of himself and has consolidated his new skills.


Neither eighteen-month-olds nor two-year-olds are very good at sharing toys. This, too, is a part of normal development and should be accepted as such. From your baby's perspective, her toys are an extension of herself. For someone to take a toy from her is a direct affront to her integrity. It's as if a part of her has been taken away. Parents are probably unrealistic to request a child of this age to share with other children. You can start to work toward that goal, but it may be too soon to reasonably expect to achieve it.

One helpful hint is to have a special set of toys designated for the play group. This way the toys don't seem to belong to any one person. You can also reduce aggression and fighting over toys with planned activities. The activities should be ones that are creative, messy, and fun, such as fingerpainting, or playing with blocks, sand, and molding material.

Difficulties With Changes

The toddler can get very upset if you do not carry out routines in exactly the same way.
The toddler can get very upset if you do not carry out routines in exactly the same way.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Eighteen month olds are very ritualistic. The toddler can get very upset if you do not carry out routines in exactly the same way. Recognizing this, you can help your toddler by maintaining as consistent a routine as possible; then your toddler doesn't have to try to figure out what will happen next. You can also ease transitions by telling children what to expect.

A toddlers' typical ritualistic behavior may be due to his limited understanding of language. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking that eighteen month olds know more than they do. On occasion, parents should stand back and reevaluate why the child acted the way he did. Perhaps he did not understand what was said or asked. While toddlers understand a great deal, not all ideas hold the same meaning for eighteen month olds as they do for adults.

Because of this, your child's reactions to disruptions in his routine are likely to be more intense than they were earlier in his life. The toddler's distress and obstinacy are said to be, in part, related to the beginning development of his sense of self. To the toddler, parent and child are becoming two separate people, which may be a stressful adjustment.

The emotions of fear and worry may seem more apparent with toddlers than with young babies. Some two year olds appear quite wary when confronted with new situations. In particular, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and other loud noises can be pretty frightening. Toddlers don't understand the relationship between cause and effect yet and may attribute magical or lifelike properties to noises and machines. The toddler may even think these strange occurrences happened because of something he did.

Some children hold onto their parents until they are comfortable and secure in a new setting. Yet at home, if all is going well, your child should be able to leave your side to play by himself in another room. Your child's caution and his checking in on you represent a beginning sense of reality. It is part of the normal developmental process, without which your child would not develop into a healthy, independent person.

Although at times your toddler will be difficult to manage, this is the age when it is even more important to be firm in setting limits, consistent in your demands, and nurturing during the bad as well as the good moments. Your role is to balance the toddler's desire for independence with his continued need for reassurance, love, and affection.

Your child's road to independence does not end at age three, but that time does contain many significant changes. Learn about what to expect in your child's third year in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.