You officially have a one-and-a-half-year-old! For many parents this means you’re living with a busy, independent, and often opinionated toddler! At 18 months their verbal and comprehension skills may be exploding, they’re starting to run and climb, and they even may have opinions on how to dress and what they want to eat. While temper tantrums and frustration may be common, it's important to remember they are still trying to understand the world around them and soon they’ll be able to better communicate their feelings.
At the 18 month check-up pediatricians will often look at 18 month developmental milestones to gauge how your toddler is growing and learning, but don’t fret if your child isn't meeting every milestone. All children develop at their own pace. For more on what to expect at this age, read on.
Life With an 18 Month Old
Life with a toddler can be both rewarding and challenging. Here's an idea of what yours may look like during this stage of your 18 month old’s development.
- Physical Skills Are Improving by the Day. 18 month milestones include continuing to master walking, and even running! Motor skills such as climbing, stacking blocks, and scribbling are also improving.
- You May Start to Understand What They’re Saying. Your 18 month is likely saying more and more words and might even be able to form simple sentences. They may still be struggling with pronunciation of some words, but their communication skills are noticeably improving.
- How They Play May Start to Change. 18 month milestones may include starting to show interest in other children. However, sharing still may be a challenge. How they interact with toys can start to evolve, too. They likely are more curious and active, so keep an eye on them—they may view something that is not a toy as a toy.
- It Can Be an Emotional Rollercoaster. While 18 month milestones include becoming more independent, there still may be moments of clinginess. Emotions also may flare as they continue to build their communication and physical skills. You may see everything from joy and curiosity to frustration and temper tantrums—in a short period of time.
- Picky Eating Begins. At the beginning of eating solids, many babies have a diverse palate. But as they grow up your toddler's appetite may start to change, and they might become picky eaters. Continue to offer a variety of nutritious foods, even if they reject them, to encourage healthy eating habits.
- A Sleep Regression May Be Looming. Most 18 month olds still need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, including a daytime nap. However, around this age, because of all the 18 month old developmental milestones, a sleep regression may begin. With all the excitement and new abilities, sleep becomes boring! Be patient; like with all regressions, stick with their routine and it’ll pass.
While it can be a demanding time for parents and caregivers, cherish the special moments with your 18 month old, as they're growing and changing quickly. If you’re concerned about any 18 month old milestones red flags, talk to your pediatrician. Remember that every child is unique, and development varies from one to another.
Sleep and Nap Tips for 18 Months
Most 18 month olds will be down to one nap at this point. While you may have a solid 11-14 hours of sleep a night and a working bedtime routine, there is another sleep regression around 18 months. This is because there are a lot of verbal, emotional, and physical changes going on, and your little one may want to use the nights to practice these new skills! Teething may also be to blame. Luckily there are ways to keep their sleep at 18 months old on track and get them through the regression with ease.
- Stick With Their Bedtime Routine. Even if bedtime is becoming a struggle, a predictable routine helps reinforce when it’s time to go to bed. Also, with all the changes going on in their little bodies, a bedtime routine can provide comfort and reduce any stress, helping them quickly and easily get through the 18 month sleep regression.
- Let Them Self-Soothe. Even though the 18 month sleep regression can be as long as a few weeks, your toddler likely won’t be awake all night or completely skip naps. 18 month olds going through a sleep regression often wake up and can self-soothe. If they wake up, wait a few minutes to see if they can put themselves back to sleep. If your baby has never been able to fall asleep without your help, you can teach them that skill! Sleep training with an app like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ will give them the knowledge of self-soothing.
- Limit Screen Time. Television, tables, and phones can be stimulating for everyone. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend toddlers avoid television in the evening hours. AAP studies shows exposure to screens may lead to fewer amounts of sleep a night!
- Remind Them You’re Nearby. With their language skills and comprehension evolving by the minute, remind them and reinforce that you’re right down the hall or downstairs if they need you. This reassurance can help them feel comfortable and safe, so they can fall back asleep.
Motor Skills at 18 Months
Motor skills development in an 18 month old include both fine motor skills (small muscle movements) and gross motor skills (large muscle movements). Toddlers are constantly refining these skills as they grow, and at 18 months they may already have made great strides!
Fine Motor Skills:
- Pincer Grasp: Your 18 month old may be able to pick up small objects using their thumb and forefinger, a skill important for self-feeding and drawing.
- Scribbling: They may be able to make marks with crayons or markers. You’ll have some lovely scribble drawings to hang on the fridge!
- Stacking Blocks: Your toddler may be starting to stack and balance a few blocks on top of each other.
- Turning Pages: Your 18 month old may be able to turn the pages when you read! Board books make this easier.
Gross Motor Skills:
- Walking and Running: At 18 months, most toddlers can walk independently and may even start running (or attempting to).
- Climbing: Toddlers start becoming more confident with climbing stairs, furniture, and playground structures at 18 months. Some even try to jump! Make sure to keep an eye on them as they attempt new fetes!
- Kicking and Throwing: They may show an interest in kicking a ball or attempting to throw objects. Introducing soft toys may be a great way to foster this skill, since throwing hard toys is never a good idea!
- Riding Push Toys: Some 18 month olds may start using push toys that help with balance and mobility. Their balance may be getting better but keep an eye out when they attempt to climb—they still may be wobbly!
Keep in mind that all children develop at their own pace and every toddler is different. If you’re curious about 18 month old milestones red flags, talk with your pediatrician.
Communication Skills at 18 Months
Many 18 month olds are getting better and better at understanding what you're saying to them and talking more themselves. From expressing themselves to responding to your requests, communication is key in their development.
Here's a list of what you may expect at this age:
Expressive Communication Skills:
- Vocabulary Expansion. 18 month olds may be able to say around 50 words or more, although their pronunciation may not be perfect.
- Simple Sentences. They may start forming two-word sentences, like "more juice" or "mommy help".
- Imitation. Your toddler may try to mimic the sounds and words they hear. This is why reading is so helpful for language development!
- Naming Familiar Objects. 18 month olds often know the name of common objects at this age, such as utensils or toys, family members, and even some of their body parts.
- Making Their Wants Known. Toddlers often know how to communicate their wants and needs more clearly with words, reducing frustration for you both. Even if they can’t use a certain word, they may use gestures such as pointing to clearly communicate their desires.
Receptive Communication Skills:
- Understanding Simple Instructions. Your child may be able to understand and follow simple one-step instructions, such as "Please come here" or "Please give me the ball."
- Responding to Their Name. Most 18 month olds know their name and will respond when it is called.
- Recognizing Familiar Words. Many toddlers can recognize and respond to familiar words and phrases that are relevant to their everyday, such as "milk" or "bedtime."
- Understanding Emotions. 18 month old milestones may include the ability to recognize and respond to emotional cues, like a sad voice or happy tone of voice with something like a smile or a hug.
- Pointing and Showing Interest. 18 month old toddlers often point at objects or pictures to express interest or something they want.
It's important to remember that language development varies widely among toddlers, and some 18 month olds may be more advanced in their communication skills than others. Encourage their language development by talking to them, reading to them, and providing opportunities to chat about the world around them.
18 Month Old Mealtime Ideas
Mealtime with a toddler can be frustrating at times—and not just because of the mess. At this age pickiness becomes real, and they start rejecting foods they may have previously enjoyed. Here are some ideas for how to make mealtimes more pleasant and nutritious for everyone.
- Set a Routine. Establish regular meal and snack times so that eating becomes a predictable part of their every day.
- Offer Small, Frequent Meals. Give your 18 month old small portions at mealtime to avoid overwhelming them and allow them to ask for more if they're still hungry. Toddlers have small stomachs, so smaller, more frequent meals and snacks prevent them from getting too hungry or too full.
- Be Patient. Expect messes and slow eating. Allow your child to explore their food, even if it gets messy. It's part of the learning process and makes them have more fun eating. Don't turn mealtime into a power struggle. If your child refuses a particular food, try offering it again another time.
- Avoid Distractions. Turn off the TV and other distractions during mealtime to help your toddler focus on eating.
- Respect Preferences. It's common for toddlers to be picky eaters. Offer a variety of foods and respect their preferences without pressuring them to eat. Even if they reject something, you can keep offering it to them though—preferences at this age can be fickle.
- Be a Role Model. Make mealtimes pleasant by sitting together as a family, having conversations, and making it an enjoyable social experience. Children often mimic the behavior of adults, so model healthy eating habits by eating a variety of nutritious foods.
Remember that every child is unique, and it's normal for them to go through phases of picky eating. Be patient and flexible with your 18 month old's eating habits, and consult with a pediatrician if you have questions about any 18 month old red flags.
How to Support 18 Month Old Development Milestones
When you have an 18 month old it’s important to do what you can to support their physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Some ideas to incorporate into your day-to-day include:
- Encourage their budding independence by allowing them to make their own choices when safe and appropriate, such as choosing from two outfit options or an array of healthy foods.
- Foster their communication skills by engaging in conversation, talking them through anything you're doing or seeing (cooking, cleaning) and reading with them every day.
- Embrace their curiosity and provide them with age-appropriate toys and activities that stimulate their motor skills. Ride along toys and balls are great toys for this age, and setting up little obstacle courses outside is always fun (and lets them practice their running and climbing!)
- Respond to their emotions with empathy and patience. If they are showing frustration with a toy, show them how to use it yourself.
Ultimately, supporting 18-month-olds involves a balance of guidance, love, and encouragement as they continue to grow and develop. Enjoy the ride, it goes by fast!
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
- CDC, “How Much Sleep Do I need?”
- American Academy of Pediatrics, “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5”
- American Academy of Pediatrics, “The Wonder Years”
- American Academy of Pediatrics, “Media and Young Minds”
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, “Toddler Bedtime Routines and Associations With Nighttime Sleep Duration and Maternal and Household Factors”
- Behavioral Sleep Medicine, “The Family Context of Toddler Sleep: Routines, Sleep Environment, and Emotional Security Induction in the Hour before Bedtime”