15-18 Months: Self-Competence

Your toddler's personality is becoming more evident every day.




Your child is now a toddler! The word refers to his new walking skills, but what's even more important and interesting than his mobility is the little person who is emerging. Your toddler's concept of self takes a big leap forward as he begins to understand himself more fully as a separate being. He becomes more sophisticated in his awareness of how other people respond to him and how he can cause predictable responses from others.

He will work vigorously to consolidate all of his learning and his newly acquired physical skills. Naturally, he wants to test all of these abilities, just as he has practiced everything else he has learned. You will see whole new patterns of behavior emerge as a result.

Your baby's rapid gains and integration of achievements are wonderfully entertaining. His every success will prompt a big grin and a delighted "See!" for you to applaud. His personality is taking shape.

Jump to the best toys and activities for your toddler.

Physical Growth and Movement

As she masters walking, your baby's newest project will be climbing. This is an exciting new challenge for her, but one that needs careful supervision to assure safety both indoors and out. Her desire to imitate may lead her to scary new territory, such as the top of a slide, from which she will want to be rescued. Fearless youngsters may attempt feats beyond their skills. If they become hurt or frightened, they may shy away from repeat encounters for months. The challenge for parents is to allow their toddler's skills to develop safely.

Toddlers are extremely sensitive and receptive to fine detail. You can encourage your child's sensory capabilities by pointing out details and asking her to point them out to you, in items that involve virtually all the senses.

Cognitive and Language Development

You will see big gains in your child's memory during this period. Not only can she remember increasing sequences of actions and events, but she is also developing the ability to mix and match those memory bits into more complex actions. Where a baby was previously content to bang items together, a toddler will increasingly imitate her parents in using them. She will use a brush to brush her hair, stir the imaginary contents of a bowl with a spoon, and so forth. Moreover, she's beginning to think through, in advance, what she must do to achieve a goal.

Your child will add many more words to her spoken vocabulary throughout this period, and her learning rate will grow rapidly. She may show that she understands an increasing number of words, even if she says little or nothing. It is not uncommon for children, even highly intelligent ones, to delay speaking well into their second year. If your child speaks less than the norm, you should not be concerned as long as you have ruled out any physiological cause for the delay.

Still, most children this age begin to use words to describe or ask for things, and to state what they want. Encourage your child's vocabulary by naming objects, playing word games, using short sentences, and reading.

It takes longer before children begin to combine words into sentences. Children can learn many words before they start constructing sentences. They may memorize and say short phrases. However, they will not initially be able to recombine the words of that phrase into different phrases.

Emotional and Social Growth

Socially acceptable behavior and self-control require patience and teaching on your part. Your child will not learn these essential skills on his own. It is easier to teach good behavior and self-control now than at any other time in your child's life. This is the prime time to firm up the social contract you have with him.

Imitation: Your baby is as attentive to you now as he will ever be. He will copy your moves, mimic your expressions, and follow your actions. Telling him what to do isn't enough. He needs to see you following your own advice and instructions. He'll pick up everything, from saying "please" and "thank you" to waiting his turn, from smiling when people are nice or helpful to showing affection. If the general disposition in your home is warm and sunny, it will be reflected in your child's attitudes and behaviors as well.

Desire for approval: Your toddler is also increasingly aware of and enjoys all the attention he can attract. Your responses should encourage the traits that will be most enjoyable for everyone and most useful to your child as he grows up.

Positive reinforcement: When your child learns something new and behaves the way you want and you smile, hug, and show approval, you send powerful signals to keep him doing more of the same. This kind of positive teaching is every bit as important as consistently maintaining limits when your child misbehaves.

Independence: Using her new abilities to move, communicate, and explore, your child will increasingly want to exert her independence and to do things herself. Whenever possible, let her do as many things as her skills allow. Her ambition will often exceed her dexterity, and her efforts will often be slow. But your encouragement will provide a great boost to her confidence, and with practice, her efforts will speed up.

Her independence can cause problems when she insists on doing something she is unable to do. When this happens, try to keep the event as uncharged as possible, rather than allowing a prolonged conflict or making a big fuss.

Negativism: Beginning at around 13 or 14 months old, your child may begin to try the three variations of negativism: not wanting to do what you want, doing what you don't want, and being very choosy about some things.

All babies go through this stage to one degree or another. But if you are consistent in maintaining the limits you set, in praising your child's achievements, and reinforcing her desirable behaviors, she will emerge from this phase in about six months, secure in her understanding that you mean what you say and of her place in the household. This is the first, best, and easiest shot you will have to achieve these important ends. If you succeed, everyone wins.

Temper tantrums: Your child may explode occasionally into temper tantrums. Your response should be calm and firm. You can either ignore the episode or move your child to a different location. If the tantrum is caused by frustration, your child will stop on his own when he is finished. If the tantrum is designed so he can get his way, your child will learn that this tactic won't work. Use the same calm firmness to confront anger and aggression.

Activities and Toys

Toys and activities for this period should encourage your toddler's quest for independence. They should allow him to imitate grown-up activities, to figure things out on his own, and to solve or complete some action.

Provide access to equipment that allows your toddler to practice his walking, climbing, and balancing skills. Pillows, climbing blocks, balls, indoor gyms, and playground equipment geared to toddler size are important for physical development.

Perennial favorites and good toys include the following:

  • Blowing bubbles and blowing out candles
  • "Grown-up" items such as keys, handbag, pens, comb, etc.
  • Games that include getting, hiding, retrieving objects
  • Make-believe games and fantasy toys, include soft dolls and puppets
  • Reading, singing, rhymes, clapping hands, etc.
  • Riding toys
  • Music and rhythm toys, including instruments, music boxes, and music tapes
  • Peg boards and toy work benches
  • Art supplies for scribbling and drawing
Social & Emotional Skills
Attention and Focus
Independent Thinking
Self Control
Motor Skills
Age 1
Games and Toys
Motor Skills
Following Directions
Five Senses
First Words
Child Development and Behavior
Social and Emotional Development