Accepting the challenges of this age is the first step toward maintaining your sanity—patience and a good sense of humor also help. Understanding what is happening inside the minds and bodies of these little people will also give you the support not only to survive this part of child development but also to enjoy life as a parent of a two-year-old.
Longer, Leaner, More Energetic
Have the lovely folds on your child’s legs and arms just about disappeared? Is her head starting to look more in proportion to the rest of her body? During this year, her legs and trunk will start to lengthen. That pudgy belly that seemed to always hang over her waistband will flatten—helping her develop a straighter-looking back. Overall, she’ll look more like a preschooler with a leaner, longer body appearance.
Despite these changes in appearance, your child may appear to be eating relatively less than when she was a baby. Relative to body size, her caloric needs are fewer. Some days she’ll devour her meals and other days she’ll push food away. Don’t worry—her growth will be well maintained by your consistent offering of nutritious meals and snacks.
To support the changes in physical appearance, make sure she has plenty of time to stretch her legs. Besides releasing bound-up energy, she’ll be practicing her motor skills—learning to run smoother, turn corners easier, go up and down stairs, and jump. Put her in a room or outside and she’ll find things to do that are challenging and interesting.
See our toys and games shopping tips for playthings appropriate for your toddler.
Language—The Big Leap
During the previous year, gross-motor accomplishments—sitting, crawling, standing, and walking—were the obvious developmental milestones. This year, your child’s language development will astound you. There are two different language skills at play—receptive (language she can demonstrate she understands) and expressive (language she can actually speak herself).
By now, your little one can understand just about everything you say to her. She can follow commands and understand your questions (though she may at times pretend to not hear you). Expressive language skills, though, vary according to the individual child. It is very hard not to compare with other kids her age—but try once again to respect her individual path of development. With most kids, all of a sudden in this year, there is an explosion of language. You may hear her practicing to say some of her favorite words—words that are based on her individual interests—when she is by herself. And soon she’ll start putting two words and simple sentences together.
What you can do to support language development is continue the routine of daily reading. Have your child select the books that she wants to be read. Talk about what is happening on each page. This sort of loving interaction cannot be replaced by any educational videos or flashcards. Most of all she wants to share her discoveries, including learning words, with you. Even five or 10 minutes a day of lap-time reading will be an enormous support to her language refinement and overall brain development.
What’s Happening Cognitively?
The best way to understand what is ticking in your toddler’s mind is by watching her play. You may have noticed that her play has become more complex. She also may be able to stick with one activity that interests her for a longer period of time. Her thought process has shifted from learning about the world through physical and sensory manipulation to mental concepts, thoughts, and ideas.
Her job this year is centered on independence. She probably displays behaviors characteristic of this age that may at times push your buttons but demonstrate her exercising of new mental skills. Some of these behaviors include:
- Rituals and Repeating Actions or Words: This is important for her to master a new skill. Even when it seems quite obvious that she has learned the skill, she’ll still enjoy and take great pride in repeating a particular action for you to watch.
- Testing Limits: It may seem that your independent child will do anything not to hold your hand when walking down a busy sidewalk, but she really wants to know that she is safe. Her feelings of security come from established limits and rules that cannot be broken—even with her continually challenging behavior.
- Me Do It! Your child needs to challenge to establish herself as separate from you. Her achievements give her great confidence and set the stage for positive self-esteem.
- Exploration and Then Clinginess: Her goal is to become a separate individual, but every now and then she needs to refuel in the warm arms of a loving caregiver. Also, she may revisit feelings of separation anxiety as her abilities to remember you and hold a picture of you in her mind sharpen.
Puzzles and manipulates are perfect activities to hone fine-motor skills and eye-hand coordination, and challenge young minds with new ideas. Check out these ideas for more toddler toys.
(Failed) Attempts at Sharing
At this age, your child is able to remember peers and show preferences for other children, but she is still what the child development experts refer to as ego-centric. The world revolves around her. For this reason, she still may not understand concepts about sharing.
When there are conflicts over toys, describe to her what is happening. “Allison, Eric was holding and playing with the cup. See how upset he is because you took it. Let’s give it back to him and find another cup for you.” She is interested in playing beside peers but still hasn’t developed the skills to play cooperatively. This will be a big year for her to learn about the feelings of others, develop the important skill of impulse control, and use language to communicate with her peers. If she is not in childcare or around other kids her age, try these tips for starting a playgroup.
This is an exciting (and sometimes trying) time for you and your child. Hang in there! You both have much to explore, enjoy, and learn from one another.
More Development Help
As you’re considering your child’s development, keep in mind that all children are unique. Whether your child reaches milestones early or late, she has her own developmental path to follow. The dividing lines between these months are very fuzzy. If you have any concerns or questions about your child’s development, please check with her healthcare provider.