Giant Steps - Expectations and Challenges in the Toddler Years - Part 1: Expectations
Giant Steps - Expectations in the Toddler Years is the first of a two-part article.
Part 2—Common Challenges and What To Do About Them presents common challenges faced by parents and caregivers during this developmental stage.
As the infant moves into toddlerhood, he masters new capabilities which help expand his horizon. Able to move around more independently, he becomes an active explorer. He can observe his surroundings from different viewpoints and gain a new sense of himself in relation to the world. His cognitive skills are growing by leaps and bounds. He can use language to make his needs and reactions known and to relate to adults and children in new ways. Along with language comes the ability to use imagination and to engage in pretend play, often playing out scenes he’s seen at home or on television.
The milestones listed below are approximate times when certain abilities are observable. There is no fixed timetable for acquiring abilities or confronting different challenges, and there’s a wide range of what’s considered “normal.” Every child grows and adjusts to the world at his or her own pace. Particular issues that confront parents, such as helping the child adjust to limits and to master fears should be understood in the light of the developing child.
Social and Emotional Growth
Kids come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. Inborn characteristics such as mood, soothability and adaptability affect the way they learn to regulate their emotional responses; some are eager, some are cautious in unfamiliar situations; some are more fearful than others. Children’s temperamental styles are reflected in their approach to new situations.
Eloise, 1 1/2 years old, is cautious. She remains on the sidelines in her play group, but after she gets used to the situation, she joins in.
Two-year-old Andy, eager for novel experiences and for interaction with other children, rushes into new situations, but then is apt to become overstimulated and end up in tears.
Lucy, just over 2 years of age, turns away and clings to her mother, and after a considerable time, she joins in the situation. However, she becomes distressed if her mother leaves.
As parents become attuned to their child’s temperament they are better able to provide a safe base for him to explore and to develop a secure sense of self.
By the end of the first year of life, the toddler smiles easily and shows affection for others by hugging, kissing and snuggling. He
- enjoys being around other children; babbles or talks into a play phone and makes pretend conversation
- can play simple interactive games such as chase me/catch me
- imitates simple acts, such as hugging or fondling a doll and can play interactive games such as peek-a-boo, so-big, and pat-a-cake
- initiates interactions such as reaching out to be picked up
- responds to limits set by parents voice or gesture
By 15 months the child
- kisses and greets people
- loves to imitate activities she sees around the house, such as cooking, dusting, hammering
By 18 months the child
- seeks help from adults
- protests or shows anger by using voice and gesture
By two years the child
- is learning that what she does has an impact on the world; she can make things happen
- is becoming aware of herself as an individual
- is developing visual self-recognition (in a mirror) and verbal self-reference (Susie big)
- wants to assert her own independent style. She wants to do things for herself and takes pride in accomplishment. When she falls short however, she can become frustrated and resort to crying or tantrums
- is becoming sensitive to events that violate her sense of the way things are “supposed to be,” such as a doll missing an arm or dirt on clothes
- imitates adults in her play, for example, using a hammer to bang and a spoon to feed herself.
- is beginning to imitate her parents’ tone of voice and gender specific behavior
Between ages 2 and 3 the child
- begins to interact with his environment in new ways. He is becoming aware that the feelings and wishes of others may be different than his own and develops the capacity for empathy. His imagination is flourishing and his world is filled with make-believe
- is learning to master fears through play
- is often assertive, refuses assistance and insists on doing things himself
- is able to explore the world without the physical presence of his mother as he becomes more automonous
- can engage directly with other children, unlike a younger child who tends to enjoy playing side by side with other children (parallel play)
- may have difficulty with sharing and taking turns
Between the years one and three the child’s emotional repertoire broadens beyond the basic emotions of infancy; she can experience emotions like pride in accomplishment, guilt over doing something provocative, and embarrassment in social situations.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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