Q & A: Toddler Milestones

Childhood Development expert, Anastasia Moloney, answers your questions on toddler milestones

toddler sitting on potty with toys

Toddlerhood is a brief but significant time for childhood development with a host of significant milestones. Toddlers are constantly exploring, growing, changing and challenging us. It’s a truly exciting and sometimes trying time. Because every child is so different, this can lead to questions about how your child is progressing. Childhood development expert, Anastasia Moloney, answers your most pressing questions.


Q: What’s the appropriate diet for a toddler? 

A: Food can be challenging to introduce especially at this age as children often show pickiness or preferences as they are growing their diet and variety of foods. At meal time, it’s best to offer three or four options on the plate from different food groups, for example cut up grapes, chicken, peas, and some yogurt. If your child doesn’t show interest in something the first time you put it on their plate, try again. Kids often need to see a food several times often before wanting to try it.

As for amounts, each child is different. They will typically eat what they need. As long as your child is happy during meal time, engages with you and has energy for play, they are typically getting enough to eat.

Q: When is the right time to introduce a sport as a regular activity? 

A: To be honest, there is no set answer. It is up to you to decide to try different activities and to see how your child responds. Some families love starting soccer early, which is great for body control and coordination. Swimming can be a great place to start, as it’s important to teach water safety early on. Many swimming classes require parent/child involvement to begin with which can be a nice way to connect. Pay attention to what your child enjoys and then go with it. You don’t want to force them to play sports at this age but rather establish a fun and healthy routine.

Q: Any secrets to making potty training easier? 

A: Potty training can be a real challenge. At first it’s often hard for children to get into the routine of stopping whatever it is they’re doing to go to the bathroom. A few ideas, are to give a special reward every time she goes to the bathroom. This needs to be a reward saved just for going to the potty. Sometimes the extra motivation helps to take that break to go to the toilet. It’s important to stick with it and slowly fade out the rewards once your child is consistently using the potty.

For more tips, see our article on 10 signs your child is ready for potty training.

Q: What’s the best way to react do we stop the tantrums? 

A: Tantrums are very common for toddlers, especially because they don’t have the words to express what they want or need. Often we know what our toddler wants, and we can provide the words, “you are mad because you wanted…” At this age, the best thing to do is to model the words, if it’s appropriate you can help give them the item, if it isn’t then redirect them to something they can have. Giving them a choice of items (first chosen by you) often helps to redirect them as it gives them the power to decide.

As a preventative measure, you can give your child warnings and set routines, which can help them know what to expect and will decrease tantrums. This is especially important as they get older. Tantrums will continue to happen as they learn how to respond to the various emotions they feel.

Q: At what age does it become easier for children to be apart from their mothers? 

A: Some children have a harder time separating than others. The good news is that she can quickly move on once you’re gone, so the focus is on the drop off. I would recommend creating a special routine specifically for drop off. This can be as simple as singing a song to distract, or having a special hug together. Try to involve her incoming up with whatever it is you decide to do, so that she feels more in control of the situation. Find out more in our article on How to help your toddler with separation anxiety.

Q: How do you help your toddler with their newly developed fear of the dark?

A: Toddler fears can be difficult to address because they can feel very real to them. It is important to acknowledge their fear and work together to find strategies to feel safe. Continue to remind your child that they are safe and that you are here to help them. One of my favorite strategies for addressing fears is to read stories about being afraid of the dark or creating a story together about the fear and then come up with ideas about what would make it not so scary for them. For fear of the dark, allowing them to use a flashlight to play and explore in the dark can be fun and help them to feel less scared. You could also choose a night light together that may help them feel safe in their room when it’s dark.

Q: How do I transition my 13 month old from using a bottle for his morning and night milk? 

A: This transition can be hard for some kids because they have a strong preference to the bottle or breastfeeding because the sucking motion can be soothing. I would experiment with different cups to see what he is most successful with. It will definitely take some practice. Some kids prefer straw cups, while others prefer sippy cups. There are so many different types of sippy cups so try using one that slows down the flow of the milk to begin with. There are different ways to transition, but as long as he is eating other solids and consuming some milk without the bottle, it may be a few tough days, but transitioning completely to a different type of cup would probably best. See our article for more information on How to wean your toddler from a bottle.

Q: Do you have any tips for fostering a healthy relationship between your toddler (mine is 3.5) and their newly arrived baby sibling? We are trying to include him in helping with the baby, but he is showing very little interest.

A: Introducing a new baby into the family can be challenging. In time their relationship will grow, especially once they can interact more. Including your toddler to help with baby or other big boy chores will help him feel empowered as the big brother, this however needs to be accompanied with a lot of praise. Some other ways to encourage him to get used to the new baby is to whenever possible, (and where it isn’t taking away attention) include baby in the play or have baby play near him.  This allows him to get used to baby being in his space.

Some other things that will help over time are reading stories about being a big brother, spending special one-on-one time with his brother and continuing working on building and encouraging him when he’s willing to help as a big brother. It will take time for him to adjust, but keep working at it!

Q: What age can a child be expected to use a fork or spoon? Anything we can do to help improve his motor skills around this? 

A: Positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage utensil use and very important as they develop these independence skills. Some foods are hard to get on a fork or spoon, so those will naturally be messier as the skill develops. Try for example when serving pasta, find noodles that might be easier to pick up with a fork to eliminate mess and let them practice. Feeding is a self-help skill that children develop along with other self help skills such as using the bathroom, getting dressed, and washing hands-these develop at different rates for different children and are usually developed by age four.

Q: Realistic guidelines for screen time? And ideas to incorporate or limit it? 

A: The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a new study suggesting children between 2 and 4 should spend no more than an hour in front of the screen, which is similar to what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at this age. The WHO in the same article recommends 180 minutes of physical activity a day for this age group as well as sleep guidelines. This is to guide us to make sure we are creating a proper routine to encourage a balance between, sleep and physical activities. You can find out more in our article about the impact of excess screen time on kids.

With this guideline set, as you mentioned technology is hard to avoid in our daily routines. Some ways I like to use technology for the toddler age group is interactive songs, kids yoga, etc. For ideas on screen-free time, see more in our article on 20 picks for screen-free fun.

Q: How many words should a toddler be able to articulate properly and what are the signs their language is progressing appropriately?

A: This is a common question especially since kids develop language at their own rates. But as a parent, it is hard not to compare your child to other children the same age as some kids talk a lot more or less.

By the end of 12 months, your child should try to imitate sounds and say some words like “mama” or “dada,” and recognize simple, common words like “hello,” “yes,” “no,” etc. By the end of 18 months, you should see them using up to 10 words, recognizing familiar people, objects and body parts, and following simple directions. By the end of 24 months you should begin to see them using simple 2 word phrases, speaking about 50 words that you can understand at least half of the time, and following and understanding simple commands and questions. They key is to treat your child like a conversationalist. Talk to them, read to them, point things out, talk about what you’re doing, even if they don’t seem like they’re listening, they will begin to pick things up. Readingrockets.org can give a more expanded version of these milestones.

Q: What’s the best way to tell an exploring little child that doing certain things (like going down the stairs) is not safe given that they don’t fully understand you?

A: You don’t want to feel like you are saying “No,” all day, but you also want to keep them safe. The best way to do this is to keep their exploring areas as safe as possible, such as putting a gate on the stairs, locking up what they cannot have, anything you can to make it a safe exploring area. Then you can take some time teaching them how to do certain things safely.