13 to 18 months Developmental summary

Topic What's going on for baby? How can parents and whānau help?
Becoming more independent

By this stage a child has realised they’re a separate ‘being’ from their parents and may want to do things for themselves and in their own way.

They might be saying ‘No!’ often, sometimes even if they mean ‘Yes!’ Often this is about their wish to be independent and make some personal decisions for themselves, rather than a way of annoying their parents.

  • Understand and respect their child’s growing need to make decisions and do things for themselves.
  • Offer them limited choices (‘this or that’) so they experience some personal power within the limits dad and mum have given them.
  • Let them know in advance when something is going to change — ‘It’s bath time soon, are you going to play with your boat or your cups in the bath tonight?’
  • Keep a sense of humour. Understand that why they say ‘No!’ is because they can, they’ve heard it and know what it means, and it feels powerful.
  • Turn saying ‘no’ into a game. Hold up dad’s shoe and ask, ‘Is this your shoe?’ or ‘Does a dog say “meow”?’
Enjoying books

During this period a child is likely to enjoy books, and may begin attending to stories more — but that usually depends on how much ‘book time’ they’ve had already. Some can’t sit still for a whole book, but are interested in the pictures and are likely to find details in them.

Stories and books can be a way to talk about things that may be scary or unknown, from the safety of a parent’s knee.

Book sharing also builds both ‘receptive’ (understanding) and ‘expressive’ (speaking) language, and increases the child’s understanding of people, places and things.

And if books are part of a child’s life now, they’ll develop a love of books that will later build strong reading skills.

  • Share all sorts of books — fact and fiction — with their toddler every day, and talk about what’s on the pages.
  • Keep reading even if their child (or their child’s focus) has wandered away — they might come back.
  • Enrol their toddler in the local library so they can ‘bring the whole world home’.
  • Ask at the library for ideas on books that cover potentially scary topics for their child — for example, dogs or sirens. Parents can read the books with their child and talk about the topics.
  • Introduce more books with paper pages, but be prepared to supervise — especially if the books are borrowed or precious ones.
  • Watch and learn what books and topics their toddler is interested in.
  • Add words to their child’s vocabulary by naming what they can see in the pictures, or what sounds and feelings might be associated with them.
Experiencing emotional challenges

During this stage, temper tantrums will be common. With limited ability to say how they’re feeling, toddlers will instead show their feelings with their behaviour.

Toddler tantrums are signs of their stress and frustration, but may also mean they’re not feeling heard. So throwing a ‘wobbly’ will be how they get some attention.

They’re learning a lot at this age, and will want to copy what they see others do — often without the necessary skills or knowledge to do so.

They’re also just at the beginning of developing early empathy, as they begin to understand that other people have needs and feelings too.

  • Try to keep calm during the tantrum. Remembering to breathe slowly and evenly can help.
  • Name their child’s feelings. This helps the child learn to say how they feel, rather than acting out.
  • Show they understand how their toddler feels by offering a cuddle or empathising without ‘giving in’ to a tantrum. Help the toddler to learn tantrums don’t get them what they want.
  • Reconnect with their child after a stressful episode to help build their child’s emotional resilience. Talk with them about what happened and what to do next time they feel that way. Remember that toddlers understand much more than they can say.
  • Avoid activities like shopping when their child is tired, hungry or sick.
  • Allow enough time — toddlers don’t like to be rushed.
  • Have a balance of active and quiet times during the day.
  • Provide ‘messy’ play with water, sand and playdough that can help soothe a toddler’s stress.
  • Talk about feelings — their toddler’s and other people’s — and share books that deal with a range of feelings.
  • Encourage and praise kindness, and be specific. ‘That little boy feels happy because you let him play with your truck.’
Learning everyday

Every experience a child has is a learning experience and the best learning still happens when it involves more of their senses at a time.

For example, everyday activities like a trip to the shops can be a rich (multi-sensory) learning experience for them. With parents alongside talking, listening, encouraging and sharing in their learning, the experiences are even richer. They’ll use ‘trial and error’ for solving problems. Like little scientists, they’ll test and experiment, finding out what happens when they do something and whether it happens every time.

Toddlers are able to make a plan and carry it out to achieve something, like dragging the chair so they can climb on it and reach something up high.

Learning during outings

  • Make sure their toddler is fed and rested before a shopping trip, and remember to take along a snack.
  • Use a shopping list if time is a factor — it can help get the job done faster, and the toddler can hold onto it, helping them to feel involved.
  • Use self-talk, saying out loud what they’re looking for. Give a running commentary — this can help their child stay interested.
  • Look for a confectionery-free lane at the checkout.

Learning by playing at home

  • Put together a ‘sensory box’ collection for them to explore, with various items that all look, feel and smell different from each other.
  • Make up other types of collections, such as:
  • natural resources — leaves, shells and bits of wood
  • different objects of one colour, shape or size
  • items that float or sink (this could be a bath activity)
  • a variety of objects that are hard, soft, heavy and light.

Make sure that all items are safe: big enough that they aren’t a choking hazard (they won’t fit inside a cling wrap roll) and have no sharp edges.

  • Choose toys and playthings that their toddler can use in a variety of ways: water, sand, dough, blocks, balls and boxes.
  • Give their toddler time and support to help them problem-solve on their own, but always supervise and be ready to intervene if their child is getting frustrated or their safety is at risk.
Talking and listening

At this stage a child can understand more and more of what’s said to them — much more than they can say. And the more words they hear, the more they’ll learn.

They’ll show they can follow instructions with 1 or 2 steps, and will use a variety of ways to get their message across to their whānau.

They’ll also communicate using sounds, parts of words, some words, gestures (especially pointing), facial expressions and body language. As their vocabulary increases, they may start joining 2 words together.

  • Pay close attention to their toddler’s efforts to communicate.
  • Check with their toddler that they have understood — ‘You want a drink?’
  • Repeat what their child has said back to them with the correct version, so they hear the right way — and in a tone that sounds encouraging rather than critical.
  • Use language-building strategies such as:
  • labelling things, actions and feelings
  • having conversations with them, reading and telling them stories
  • sharing waiata-ā-ringa, rhymes, songs and fingerplay.
  • Use parallel talk — describing what the child is doing as they are doing it.
  • Use self-talk — describing what parents are doing as they’re doing it.
  • Use stretch talk — extending what they’ve heard their child say. For example, the child says, ‘Doggie gone’, and the parent says, ‘Yes, the dog’s gone home now.’
  • Be encouraging of their toddler’s efforts to communicate.
Using big muscles

During this stage toddlers are likely to be very active. Parents can expect them to be moving faster and further away from dad and mum. They’ll be walking, running, reaching higher and trying to climb.

They’ll want to explore whatever they can see or get access to, and won’t be aware of any dangers.

They’ll also be interested in being outdoors and will enjoy vigorous outside play. This will help them release energy and can also help relieve any stress from the normal frustrations experienced at this age.

  • Revisit safety around the house and increase supervision in response to their toddler’s increasing strength and motor skills.
  • Get down to their child’s level to check for hazards. Include checks in the laundry and outside sheds for any dangers, including poisons, and move them well out of reach.
  • Install stair gates and fireguards to protect their toddler from falls and burns.
  • Plan for some active physical play every day, with opportunities for:
  • running, jumping and climbing
  • throwing and kicking balls
  • riding a ride-on toy
  • playing on playground equipment.
  • Enjoy some active play themselves to help with their own stress levels and enjoy sharing time and attention with their child.
Using hands and fingers well

By now, children can efficiently use the pincer grasp, where their thumb and index finger are used in opposition. They’ll easily pick up small objects, which is a base skill they’ll need for activities like drawing, painting, writing, using scissors and tools, and playing musical instruments.

They’ll be interested in scribbling and drawing, and may be able to copy circles and lines. This will further develop the pincer grasp and encourages cause-and-effect learning — for example, ‘When I move the crayon this way, I can make a line.’

They’ll enjoy pulling things apart and may try to put them back together again, and will be interested in objects they can fit inside each other or stack and balance on top.

  • Give their child finger food to eat.
  • Provide opportunities for block play. Wooden blocks stack and balance well, and plastic ones can be joined and separated.
  • Give them chunky crayons and chalk for drawing, and thick brushes for painting.
  • Make and play with playdough.
  • Protect surfaces from damage by taping newspaper to the table or the floor. The child’s paper could be taped down in the middle of the newspaper, too.
  • Provide chalk to draw on fences and paths, which their child could wash clean with water later — or it could be left for the rain to wash away.
Enjoying music

A child this age will enjoy any form of singing or musical activity, such as waiata-ā-ringa (action songs), rhymes and fingerplay. And the more physical it is, the better.

Singing is a great brain-building activity through language learning, listening, copying, remembering, participating and enjoying.

When shared with others it can also strengthen relationships between toddlers and their community and family cultures.

  • Sing with their toddler as often as they can — for example, when they’re:
    • getting dressed — ‘This is the way we…’
    • in the bath — ‘Rub-a-dub-dub’
    • in the car — ‘Ngā wīra ō te pahi’ (‘The wheels on the bus’)
    • going to bed — ‘Moe, moe pēpi’ (‘Sleep baby’)
  • Make simple homemade musical instruments:
    • Make shakers from empty tins or containers by filling them with stones or shells and taping the lids securely closed.
    • Make drums from empty tins, buckets or containers, and use hands or rolled newspapers for drumsticks.
    • Make rhythm sticks from rolled and taped newspaper. Cut the ends into thin strips for shaking.