19 to 24 months Developmental summary

Topic What's going on for baby? How can parents and whānau help?
Enjoying music

During this stage toddlers are likely to respond very enthusiastically to music and songs. They will enjoy moving to music, using simple musical instruments and singing songs.

Music can contribute to a child’s development in many different ways. This includes physical activity, learning by watching, joining in with others, expressing feelings, pretend play, understanding their culture, concentrating, listening and communicating. All of these musical activities will give their brains a great workout in a fun and enjoyable way.

  • Sing together as often as they can — nursery rhymes, waiata, popular songs, action songs and made up songs.
  • Go to a music group together or invite another child and their parent over for ‘music and movement’ play.
  • Dance together and move to music they like.
  • Play songs when they’re travelling in the car.
  • Use songs for specific times — ‘clean up’ songs when it’s pack-up time, ‘wind down’ songs for calming before bed, and ‘goodnight’ songs when it’s time for sleep.
  • Make simple homemade instruments like drums and shakers out of everyday items.
  • Explore sounds through listening games.
  • Encourage toddlers to pay attention to sounds in nature.
Growing up

During this time toddlers can make some decisions for themselves. Their appetite may change and they may eat less as their growth rate starts to slow. They can also learn some self-care skills now, like how to blow their nose.

They generally need about 14 hours sleep in a 24-hour period. Some children may reduce their daytime nap or even give it up altogether.

There may be issues around going to, and staying in, bed at this stage, especially if they’ve moved from a cot to a bed. That’s because they are more able to carry out a plan and to climb, and will be generally more assertive by now.

Think about and agree on what their child can decide for themselves. This works best for options limited to two choices rather than an open ‘What do you want?’ question.

Remember that decisions about safety aren’t negotiable, such as sitting in their car seat. The choice here might be climbing in by themself or being lifted in by dad or mum.

Provide a range of healthy food and let the child decide what to eat and how much. Avoid offering them something else. Have other kinds of food as an occasional treat only.

Think of ways to offer a reasonable choice between 2 alternatives so their child feels they have some power — for example, ‘Toast and marmite, or toast and jam?’ or ‘Raw or cooked carrot?’

Be patient when teaching them how to blow their nose. It’s a bit tricky but it’s worth the effort as blowing their nose can help prevent ear problems.

Make bedtime routines predictable, pleasant and calming. This might include a bath, a story and then bed to help a child wind down and relax.

When a toddler knows there’s a routine that happens before bed, it helps them to expect and accept it. A calming routine helps them prepare for sleep.

Remember that parents can make sure children go to bed but they can’t actually make them go to sleep.

Avoid watching TV before bed because it can be stimulating for a toddler. Instead, sharing a story or listening to quiet music is more likely to help a toddler relax.

Learning how things work

At this age toddlers are becoming more skilled in using their hands and eyes together. They are interested in exploring both objects and relationships by trying out, or testing, what happens when they do or say something.

They’re able to make a plan to solve a problem such as getting something that is out of reach.

They enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together again.

  • Provide paper, big crayons or chunky chalk that doesn’t break easily. The chalk can be used outside on fences or footpaths too.
  • Protect floors and surfaces with newspaper, an old sheet or shower curtain. Taping their drawing paper in the middle can help them to stay ‘on the paper’.
  • Give them other activities to develop and strengthen their hand–eye co-ordination, such as block play, stacking and nesting games.
  • Remember that a toddler’s ‘testing’ behaviour is often their way of finding out about consequences.
  • Think about how they respond to unacceptable behaviours and try to make any consequences:
  • reasonable for their age
  • respectful of the child
  • related to the specific behaviour.
  • Do some activities where the child’s actions have a result — for example, pressing this button makes the bell ring.
  • Understand a toddler is likely to find ways to get to things that are out of reach. This includes moving furniture or pulling drawers open to use as a ladder to get to things up high.
  • Be aware of the changing risks, both inside and outside, now their toddler can climb and move further and faster. Check dangers indoors and out, including:
  •             open windows that could be reached
  •             ladders that might be climbed
  •             gates/fences that they might get over or go under.
  • Join a toy library to borrow puzzles and big toys.

Suggest to others who want to give their child gifts that connecting blocks like Duplo (best for their small hands at this stage) or simple inset puzzles with knobs would be great.

Learning how to focus for longer

By now toddlers are able to stay focused on an activity for longer.

They can be so busy and active that they might need some encouragement to stop what they’re focusing on and listen.

While they’re exploring they’ll notice details such as colour, size and shape.

  • Allow their toddler to choose from 2 or 3 activities.
  • Limit distractions like TV.
  • Choose toys and activities that can be used in several ways. Blocks, balls, empty boxes, play dough, water and sand are good examples. These types of activities can help a toddler to keep exploring possibilities for longer.
  • Get down to their level when you want their full attention, talking face to face with eye contact and using a calm voice.
  • Check their child has heard them and understands what’s being said, especially if it’s something they may not be keen on hearing like ‘Time for bed’.
  • Understand that ideas about same and different colours, sizes and shapes are the beginning of maths learning.
  • Use colour, size and shape words as part of everyday conversations when talking about clothing, food and toys.
  • Model phrases to them that combine words using adjectives (describing words) and nouns (people, places and things). Talk about difference such as ‘big red car’ and ‘little red car’.
  • Ask questions that are easy to answer, such as ‘Where’s the red car?’ Many toddlers won’t be ready yet to use the colour, shape and size words themselves.
Needing help with emotions

During this stage toddlers will become more assertive. They’ll want to make decisions for themselves and will often resist when their parents try to get them to do things.

This is part of the process of becoming ‘their own person’, separate from their mum and dad. It is part of normal, healthy development, and is not something children do to annoy their parents (even though it can feel like that some days).

They will have challenging behaviours such as tantrums, refusing to do as asked, saying ‘no’, whining and grizzling. Again, these are normal and expected behaviours during this stage. They want to have a say in what happens to them.

They will be happy spending time with people they know and trust. They may experience stress at times when they feel like a ‘big person’ but are not able or allowed to do everything they want.

They won’t have the language to tell whānau how they feel, so they express their feelings through their behaviour instead.

At this stage toddlers are likely to find it difficult to take turns or share with other children. They don’t always understand that they’ll get that thing back or have another turn.

  • Be patient and try seeing the funny side of things.
  • Allow enough time. Being hurried doesn’t help a child of this age to co-operate.
  • Tell them about an upcoming event and make sure they hear you — for example, ‘When we’ve finished this …, we need to go’.
  • Give them 2 choices that parents are happy with. Letting their toddler choose can help with their willingness to co-operate.
  • Let them do as much for themselves as possible. This helps them to feel like a ‘big person’.
  • Remember, some things are not negotiable — for example, being in their car seat when travelling in the car.
  • Have a small number of family rules based on what is safe and appropriate for their child’s age and what is acceptable in their whānau.
  • Be consistent about helping their child to keep the rules and show appreciation when they do. Thank them for being co-operative — ‘catch them being good’.
  • Be firm and calm, without being harsh, when they don’t do what’s expected. Show them that having a tantrum, grizzling and whining doesn’t change the rules.
  • Tell their child they understand how they’re feeling, and name their emotions for them, so eventually they can say ‘I’m angry’ instead of having a tantrum.
  • Remember, tantrums can be as stressful for the child as they are for the parent. They may be­ feeling like a ‘big kid’ one minute and then anxious and upset the next. At these times they need dad or mum to stay calm and to reassure and comfort them.
  • Enjoy activities like ball play where they learn to take turns. Using words like ‘your turn’ and ‘now my turn’ helps toddlers understand that sharing means having turns.
  • Use a timer when there are more people than things and everybody wants them. When the timer rings, it’s changeover time.
Talking and understanding more

During this stage toddlers will understand more and more language. They will continue to understand more than they can say. They will also use ‘body language’ to get their messages across.

They will express themselves using words and parts of words, and are likely to start to speak in 2-word sentences.

Children exposed to 2 or more languages are able to continue to understand more than 1 language and they are likely to start using words and phrases in their family languages.

Toddlers enjoy and are able to follow a story.

  • Look out for signs their child understands. For example, they may point at what parents talk about or go and get something that is mentioned.
  • Comment on these signs and affirm them — ‘Yes, that’s Nana in the photo!’
  • Listen and watch carefully to what their toddler is trying to tell them and be aware of what their own body language might be ‘saying’.
  • Share books to explore their child’s understanding and have conversations like ‘I see a cat. Can you? Where’s the cat?’
  • Encourage their child’s attempts to communicate by looking at them and listening to them. Eye contact is a sure sign someone is listening.
  • If they’re unsure what their child is saying, try saying it back in a questioning way, or try pointing to what they think their child is talking about.
  • Celebrate their first sentences. Encourage more talking by saying ‘yes’ and repeating what their child said, and adding another word or words.
  • This is called ‘stretch talk’. For example, if a child says ‘cat milk’ the parent can say ‘yes, the cat’s drinking her milk’.
  • Speak clearly and face to face in whatever language is being spoken. Check with the child that they’ve understood. If need be, show their toddler what they mean.
  • Have fun with language by sharing books, rhymes and songs.
  • Remember that many repetitions are needed for language pathways in the brain to become permanent. Parents need to keep talking and listening and being patient.
  • Make simple books with and for their child and make book sharing a part of every day.
  • Enjoy looking at, and talking about, family photos together.
  • Be happy to read their child’s favourite book — over and over again.
  • Join the local library.
  • Use SKYPE to read books with whānau who don’t get to visit often.
  • Suggest family members might give books as presents for their child.
Watching and learning

During this period toddlers are very likely to copy what they see and hear. They are very responsive to praise and positive attention.

They are able, with encouragement, to help with jobs around the house such as tidying up toys and sorting the washing.

  • ‘Catch them being good’. Notice when they’re behaving well, and comment on it. For example, ‘I liked the way you let Rosie have a turn with your toy. You’re great at taking turns.’
  • Notice if they’re finding themselves saying ‘no’ a lot, yelling or getting angry with their toddler. Remember to ‘take a breath’ and find something positive to say. Five positives for every negative works well.
  • Think about whether their child is getting enough of their attention. Could their toddler feel getting growled at is better than being completely ignored?
  • Be good role models for their child by watching their own behaviour. If parents swear, yell, hit, kick and slam doors, their child is likely to do it too. Talk to family and friends about how their child will copy what they do and encourage them to be good role models too.
  • Make it fun to be a helper by working together. ‘Let’s drive the toy cars/blocks home’ or ‘You put the big ones away and I’ll do the little ones’ or ‘What colour shall we tidy up first?’
Being physically active

During this stage toddlers become very active and energetic and need to ‘blow off steam’. They also need to be closely supervised to keep them safe.

They are learning to run, jump, climb, walk upstairs holding on to a hand or a rail, ride a ride-on toy, and to throw and kick a ball.

The combination of assertiveness, growing motor skills, curiosity, interest in copying and the ability to strategize all increase the need for parents to watch what their child is doing.

  • Give their toddler regular playtime outside.
  • Take their toddler to the park to play on the big apparatus such as swings, slides and see-saws.
  • Have a ride-on toy (no pedals) for their toddler.
  • Play outside together with a ball to kick and throw.
  • Play ‘jumping’ together using a low step — holding hands and ‘1, 2, 3, jump!’
  • Plan active time every day with their toddler.
  • Have active play ideas for inside and outside.
  • Watch for signs that a change in activity might be needed.
  • Invite another child and their parent over for a play.
  • Use ‘wind down’ activities such as book sharing before rest and sleep times.
  • Understand how much is changing for their toddler and what this means for their safety. Toddlers are moving further and faster and reaching higher levels. They are full of curiosity and they want to be more independent. They watch and copy what others do. They can make a plan to get what they want and they are likely to be assertive with it!
  • Accept that their toddler needs someone to supervise them closely to keep them safe.
  • Understand their toddler needs a small number of limits or family rules that all the adults in their life consistently help them learn to keep.
Developing imagination

At this age pretend play will be interesting and fun for toddlers. Toddlers can try out being different people or animals. They can also act out situations they’ve experienced.

Toddlers can use pretend play to rehearse something that’s going to happen. It can help prepare them for things like health checks, dental visits or starting at a new early childhood centre. 

They can also pretend play to retell stories from books they enjoy and to ‘work through’ things that might be troubling them.

Pretend play strengthens problem solving, co-operation and communication skills, and self-care skills like dressing and undressing.

  • Collect hats, bags, scarves, ties and shoes for a little ‘dress up’ kit. Ask family and friends for their ‘rejects’ or buy items from second-hand shops.
  • Make simple tails or ears for animal roles. Tails can be made from old ties, or stockings stuffed with paper or fabric. A headband with a couple of ears taped on can make an easy pretend animal.
  • Be ready to join in the pretend play.
  • Dolls, soft toys or old phones can all help dad and mum talk about some of the ‘tricky’ things.
  • Store everything in a bag, drawer or suitcase for easy access and clean up.