Home is an active place. Your 18 month old scatters her toys everywhere. She is an expert climber, opens doors with child locks, and moves fast. Safety is your biggest concern for this curiosity stage. This is not the time to strive for an award for good housekeeping.
What Your Toddler is Learning
At 18 months, she is walking well and may even be running. She may start taking some steps backwards while keeping her balance. This skill will develop over the next few months. She loves to walk while pushing or pulling toys. Some 18 month olds can kick a ball if they concentrate. Most don’t have enough coordination to actually kick, but they sort of walk into the ball. She will begin to throw a ball overhand.
Fine motor skills are developing. These small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements need to develop as well as the large arm and leg muscle skills. She is learning to hold a fork and spoon between her palm and fingers while she controls the motion of her hand and wrist. These are complex skills only developed with lots of practice.
She can speak about 10-12 words clearly with many more words she still pronounces poorly. She understands about 100 words now. She babbles a lot imitating the adults around her, but more and more often clear words are distinguishable in her babble. She makes her wishes known with her few words plus intonation and gestures. Some 18 month olds are beginning to string two words together in simple sentences.
She has learned that everything has a name and wants to learn the name for everything she sees.
She is able to follow a two step command like, “Get the broom and bring it to Mommy.”
Your 18 month old can picture objects and events mentally now. She knows something exists even if it is hidden from her view. She will stand in front of the cabinet and ask for a cookie or look for a particular toy in her toy box. She knows who to look for when she hears the key in the door lock.
She may begin pretending one action at a time, like giving her favorite toy a sip from her cup.
At 18 months, your toddler begins to take an interest in establishing relationships with other children her age. She still is very curious about them. She will want to touch, poke, and push them to learn all she can about them. She doesn’t know yet how to really play with other children, but she will enjoy playing together side-by-side in parallel play. The more chances she has to interact with other children her age, the sooner she will develop social skills.
“No” seems to be the operative word these days. She says “no” when she doesn’t want help or when she doesn’t want what she is being offered. You say “no” to keep her safe and within limits. It can be a frustrating time until she can speak more words more clearly and until she understands more of what is being said to her.
She wants the attention of mom and dad. She will show off her new skills to see what is your reaction. If she is getting lots of positive attention from you, she will tend to do things that please you. If she doesn’t feel she is getting enough of your attention, she may do naughty things even if it gets her negative attention. Your attention is her major goal.
Ways You Can Help
An Abundance of Energy
She is full of energy and is constantly curious. Staying home with her all day can be very taxing. First, you will need to keep moving so that you can keep your eyes on her to keep her safe and out of trouble. Second, you will have to keep coming up with new things to occupy her mind and use her energy.
Here are some ideas for around the house:
- She will enjoy craft projects– Remember, her attention span is about 2 minutes at a time. You may do a little and then return to it later. Try crayons, water color paints, washable markers, soft clay, finger paints, stamps and stickers.
- Make an obstacle course for her to climb over, under, around, and through. This uses up some of the excess physical energy.
- Use some of her excess energy and get some exercise for yourself by making up some new dance steps to peppy music.
- Let her try some “adult” gadget for a special treat. Introduce her to a light switch or doorbell. Lift her up so she can push the button. She will enjoy her new “power” and you can use it as a treat for good behavior.
- Give her a child-sized version of equipment you use around the house and get her to do chores with you. She can sweep with a little broom or polish a window with a rag.
Play with other children:
Find some other moms with children about your child’s age. Form a play group that meets on a regular basis. Go to “hands-on” children’s museums, playgrounds, petting zoos, and even malls with play areas. 18 month olds don’t know how to share, so you will all need to help your toddlers to learn how to play. Don’t intervene too quickly, let them try to settle their squabbles themselves.
When to Stop Her and When to Let Her Try
This is a tricky balancing act. She wants to do most everything herself. She wants to put on her own shoes, zip her coat, and climb into her highchair. She needs lots of opportunities to try to do things for herself and you need to step aside and let her try. It will take her longer to do things for herself than for you to do it for her, but be patient as she learns. She won’t be able to do most of what she wants to without help, at least for a while. She may get quite frustrated when faced with her inabilities and melt down before she gives you an opportunity to help her. But let her try.
You need to know when to stop her, too. You must keep her from dangers she cannot be aware of, like a hot oven or a street crossing. And you must make her stop opening the safety latches and seat belts. But if you discourage her from trying many of the things she attempts, she will become timid and unwilling to try new things in the future.
18 month olds understand that everything and everyone has a name. She is dependent on you to label all that is in her world. Her favorite first sentence may be, “Wha zat?” She may not be able to repeat the new word, but she will store it in her memory for later use.
Since she doesn’t know pronouns, she may refer to herself by her name. The one exception to this is the word “my,” which most children learn among their first words.
Encourage her growing vocabulary by applauding any words she says rather than correcting her pronunciation. Say something like, “OK, here’s your ball.” Don’t repeat a mispronunciation, just say it correctly. And don’t try to force her to say it correctly before you give her what you know she wants. Over correcting may contribute to stuttering later on.
She will be trying to say a lot of words that have meaning to her, but you cannot understand. Try echoing. Echo the part you understand and ask a question. It works like this. She says, “Want szods.” You say, “You want what?” A fill-in-the-blank sentence gives her another chance to try to pronounce the missing word, yet lets her know you understood at least part of her sentence.
Expand her vocabulary by repeating what toddler has said and adding a word or phrase to it. When she says, “Daddy eat.” You say, “Yes, Daddy is eating chicken.” Elaborating is another technique to try. When she says, “Pat kitty.” You say, “Yes, pat the kitty gently. She likes to be patted gently.” Expanding and elaborating help children learn more vocabulary earlier than their peers who have no one to help them with their speech.
What to Expect Next
- Throwing a ball overhand
- Enjoying helping around the house
Healthy Gender Identity
Does it sound like it is far too early to think about? With homosexuality, teen promiscuity, and sexually transmitted diseases increasingly in the news, it is helpful to know what happens to our babies and toddlers that can make a difference to healthy sexuality later in life.
In their infancy and toddler years, as parents, we lay the foundation for their healthy gender development. Unconditional love, trust, and self image have already begun the foundation for strong, healthy sexual relationships later in life. (Refer to ‘Belonging’ in First Steps for 16 months for more on these early steps.)
Both boys and girls are usually more attached to their mom in the first year and a half of their lives. Mom usually meets more of their everyday needs and spends more time with them. But at around 18 months, boys realize they are more like dad than mom. They begin to shift their interest and allegiance to dad. They want to do what dad does, be with dad, and they crave his attention. This is normal and vital to later healthy sexual identity.
Mom needs to encourage this to happen. This is no time to feel self-pity and try to keep your son’s affection. He still loves you, but he needs to identify with dad. Allow your little boy to spend more time with dad, help him dress like dad, and affirm him as being “like daddy.” Grandpa and uncle will also hold a fascination for him. Allow him time with other important men in his life.
Dad has a vital role to play. The son needs to know that dad accepts him, affirms him, and includes him as a male. Dad is his role model! Rejection or abandonment of a toddler boy, can cause him to spend the rest of his life looking for the affirmation he missed at this early stage of his life. So Dad, spend time with your son. Take him to do “male” things like going to the barber shop for a haircut, washing the car, and playing ball. Your work is important, but don’t let it keep you from spending valuable time with your son.
Don’t call him “sissy” or “mamma’s boy.” Labels like that may never be lived down. Remember he is a very little boy, but he is your son. He can’t do every male thing well, but he will learn if you give him enough time and attention. He may not be interested in the same male activities you are, but it is important that you find some way to affirm him as a male in whatever he takes an interest in. An example may be the boy who loves cooking. Note that most of the chefs in the world are men. He can be all male and still spend time in the kitchen. He needs to know you are proud of him as your son.
Girls usually love their daddy and want his attention. But for now, she will identify with mom as her role model. Only in her teens will she declare her independence from mom.
For more resources on this topic see: Healthy Gender Development
If you want further clarification on any of this information, please feel free to email: Diane
Heavenly Father, we need so much wisdom! We need to know when to encourage her attempts and when to limit her. We need to know what to say, when, and how. When we do it wrong, please help us learn and help us make it right with our child. In Jesus’ name, Amen.