*Info from zerotothree.org, endorsed by the AAP
LANGUAGE: Between 13 and 20 months, a toddler’s brain becomes ever more focused in the way it responds to words. This change allows speech to be processed more rapidly and thus makes it possible for toddlers to better understand what is being said to them. It is natural for toddlers to understand much more of what is being said to them than they are yet able to say on their own. Beginning around 12 months, those streams of babbling you have been listening to gradually transform into a toddler’s first “words.” By about 18-20 months, toddlers may be speaking anywhere from 20-50 words, with an explosion of words soon to follow! It is important to remember that some toddlers may say no words at all before 18 months. Toddlers can be very different in terms of when they speak their first words, put two words together, and begin to speak in sentences. This difference is normal, and is not a sign of the amount of language each child understands. Through practice, they become aware of the power of language to both gather information and communicate their needs. When older children are asked to use their words – instead of hitting or taking another’s toy – your conversations will help them learn how to put those feelings and needs into words. Even when you do not always understand what they are saying, you can listen, make eye contact, and respond as best you can. This will send them the message that what they have to say is important, and it will encourage them to continue communicating. Research suggests that talking with toddlers influences vocabulary. The more words a toddler hears while engaged in “conversations” will increase her vocabulary faster. It is important to understand that listening to the TV, or your conversations with other adults, will not do the job. The best support for this kind of language growth is talking directly with toddlers about things that they find meaningful, especially their own actions, feelings, and attempts to speak. You do not need to do anything extraordinary, just talk with them by pointing out and labeling objects, people, and activities that surround them in their daily lives.
MOVEMENT: As babies take those first steps, you may notice that their walking movements are stiff and clumsy: They lift their knees high and step down with the front part of the foot hitting the ground first. By age 2, however, you will notice that they begin to step more smoothly, landing first with the heal and moving to the toe. This improved ease and coordination of step is influenced by practice and also in part by the continuing myelination of the brain’s motor pathways.
COGNITION & LEARNING: By 12 months, an area of the brain called the hippocampus – referred to as the seat of memory and located at a point in the brain roughly between the ears – has matured enough for toddlers to recall actions and events that occurred a few hours, or even a day, earlier. This means that they have the potential to learn from what they have seen others do. You may demonstrate the use of a particular toy, such as banging on a musical instrument or placing a peg in a hole. While he may not repeat the action immediately, he may display it in some form at a later time. Around 12 months, a toddler’s thinking become more complex. They will spend time using objects as tools. If you give them a stick, they may use it to try to get an out-of-reach toy. Toddlers are aware that if they pull on a string attached to a toy, the toy will move in the direction it is being pulled. So pull toys are very popular for this age. Toddlers also will begin to experiment with objects to see what they will do. For example, they’ll throw a ball and see that it bounces and then throw a doll to see what it will do.
SOCIAL EMOTIONAL: Consider the level of frustration toddlers face daily. It can stem from the fact that they are still developing language skills, and thus may have a hard time expressing their needs, desires and emotions, or from being unable to do or have something they want. The 12-18 month period is a time when inhibition, or controlling behavior, is just beginning to take hold. For example, a toddler might “know” that biting is unacceptable but may be unable to override the initial desire to bite. They are notoriously poor at controlling their impulses. This inhibition is probably a function of the brain’s frontal lobes, which undergo a great deal of maturation during this period. They can begin to learn to control some of their more inappropriate behaviors, including biting, hitting, and screaming, when they are consistently shown how to do so. Example: “No Tommy, you can’t hit Joe, but you can tell him your still playing with your toy.” Toddlers can sometimes restrain themselves when told “no,” although they also will want to test their limits. When they are tired, hungry, or upset, tantrums are more likely because it is especially difficult for them to control themselves. Still, not all toddler outbursts can be avoided. In fact, experiencing frustration and tantrums is an important process for toddlers, because it teaches them how to cope with and get through difficult situations. By identifying and acknowledging and toddler’s feelings, the toddler will be able to develop trust in you and that you will be available in times of need.
What you can do: Make eye contact when talking (face to face). Talk about and describe the things they see and hear in the world around them. Talk about what they are doing as they are doing it. Talk about what you are doing. Toddlers love repetition. Repeat favorite songs, thymes, and stories. Expand on what your toddler is saying by labeling objects, actions, feelings, and such. Show your interest and excitement at his attempts to communicate. Provide toys that can be pushed and pulled such as toy shopping carts, strollers, small wagons, and riding toys. Provide plenty of safe low places for climbing under, over, inside, on top of, and around. Place some of their favorite toys in different parts of the room and ask them to bring the toys back to you. Observe your toddler in play and follow his interests. Also provide opportunities for toddlers to play with interesting and challenging materials. Objects that will encourage toddlers manipulate, interact, or figures something out include blocks, puzzles, water and sand play, and props for pretend play. But don’t overload the play environment with too many toys/activities. Keep some put away and rotate what they play with periodically. Allow yourself to be a “secure base” from which a toddler can set off to explore or return to for comfort and emotional refueling before moving out to explore once again. Provide a variety of manipulative materials such as buckets to fill and dump, wooden blocks, puzzles, cooking utensils, and pots and pans. Allow toddlers to make limited choices between two appropriate options. They will delight in the opportunity to decide. Focus on the process of play, not the final product. It is nice to see a painted picture or a completed tower of blocks, but the most important learning takes place during the process! Allow toddlers to make mistakes – they serve as learning opportunities. Offer tools – language in the form of words, gestures, or asking for help – for them to use in frustrating situations as these skills and behaviors of self-control develop. State clear consequences in relation to the toddler’s behavior such “You may not take the toy car from Mark, but you may tell him, ‘I want my turn now.’ If you take the car from him, I will not let you play with it.” Try to show your acceptance of the toddler even as you redirect “unacceptable” behavior. For example, by telling her that you still love her even though I don’t like the behavior.