The toddler period generally encompasses development during the second and third years of life. Strang (1969) has labeled this period “the first adolescence.” It is a transitional time between infancy and early childhood, just as adolescence links childhood to adulthood. The toddler period is characterized by a slowing of physical development, although the toddler maintains a growth rate faster than any subsequent period except adolescence. At age 2 the average toddler is 81 to 89 cm (32 to 35 in) tall and weighs approximately 11 to 14 kg (25 to 30 lb). The child now is capable of maintaining an upright physical posture, and development in all areas becomes more refined. Bones continue to calcify and harden, with the composition of wrists and ankles changing from cartilage to bone. Nonetheless, the toddler still has a larger proportion of cartilage than hard bone, making possible skeletal damage resulting from disease or poor diet. A toddler normally has a full set of baby teeth by age 2. Muscle and fat tissues develop slowly during this period, with fatty tissue growth actually decreasing up to about age 30 months when it again begins to increase. Motor development improves, and well-balanced walking, jumping, and climbing without adult assistance are common. In the case of Nathaniel, he is unable to walk at 23 months of age and may be as much as one year behind in his gross motor development. Fine muscle control is evident in the child’s finger coordination in learning to handle pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes.
Memory and language skills also show significant gains during this period. The child learns the names of people, objects, and places and can recall them for later use. In the language domain, the child moves from word combinations at age 2 to sentences at age 3. With only one-word utterances, Nathaniel is showing very few of these language related behaviors at 23 months of age. Words and actions become more coordinated near the end of the toddler period. Social-emotional development moves from adult-assisted activities to more independent social-emotional activities, with play being exploratory and egocentric in nature. Self-help and adaptive behaviors also emerge during toddlerhood, with the major one being toilet training. In general, the toddler begins to use thought, language, movement, and emotions in a coordinated fashion and is learning to gain verbal control over actions (Tinsley & Waters, 1982).
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