Home is an active place. Your 18 month old scatters his toys everywhere. He 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, he is walking well and may even be running. He may start taking some steps backwards while keeping his balance. This skill will develop over the next few months. He 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. He 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. He is learning to hold a fork and spoon between his palm and fingers while he controls the motion of his hand and wrist. These are complex skills only developed with lots of practice.
He can speak about 10-12 words clearly with many more words he still pronounces poorly. He understands about 100 words now. He babbles a lot imitating the adults around him, but more and more often clear words are distinguishable in his babble. He makes his wishes known with his few words plus intonation and gestures. Some 18 month olds are beginning to string two words together in simple sentences.
He has learned that everything has a name and wants to learn the name for everything he sees.
He 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. He knows something exists even if it is hidden from his view. He will stand in front of the cabinet and ask for a cookie or look for a particular toy in his toy box. He knows who to look for when he hears the key in the door lock.
He may begin pretending one action at a time, like giving his favorite toy a sip from his cup.
At 18 months, your toddler begins to take an interest in establishing relationships with other children his age. He still is very curious about them. He will want to touch, poke, and push them to learn all he can about them. He doesn’t know yet how to really play with other children, but he will enjoy playing together side-by-side in parallel play. The more chances he has to interact with other children his age, the sooner he will develop social skills.
“No” seems to be the operative word these days. He says “no” when he doesn’t want help or when he doesn’t want what he is being offered. You say “no” to keep him safe and within limits. It can be a frustrating time until he can speak more words more clearly and until he understands more of what is being said to him.
He wants the attention of mom and dad. He will show off his new skills to see what is your reaction. If he is getting lots of positive attention from you, he will tend to do things that please you. If he doesn’t feel he is getting enough of your attention, he may be doing naughty things even if it gets him negative attention. Your attention is his major goal.
Ways You Can Help
An Abundance of Energy
He is full of energy and is constantly curious. Staying home with him all day can be very taxing. First, you will need to keep moving so that you can keep your eyes on him to keep him safe and out of trouble. Second, you will have to keep coming up with new things to occupy his mind and use his energy.
Here are some ideas for around the house:
- He will enjoy craft projects– Remember, his 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 him to climb over, under, around, and through. This uses up some of the excess physical energy.
- Use some of his excess energy and get some exercise for yourself by making up some new dance steps to peppy music.
- Let his try some “adult” gadget for a special treat. Introduce him to a light switch or doorbell. Lift him up so he can push the button. He will enjoy his new “power” and you can use it as a treat for good behavior.
- Give him a child-sized version of equipment you use around the house and get him to do chores with you. He 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 Him and When to Let Him Try
This is a tricky balancing act. He wants to do most everything himself. He wants to put on his own shoes, zip his coat, and climb into his highchair. He needs lots of opportunities to try to do things for himself and you need to step aside and let him try. It will take him longer to do things for himself than for you to do it for him, but be patient as he learns. He won’t be able to do most of what he wants to without help, at least for a while. He may get quite frustrated when faced with his inabilities and melt down before he gives you an opportunity to help him. But let him try.
You need to know when to stop him, too. You must keep him from dangers he cannot be aware of, like a hot oven or a street crossing. And you must make him stop opening the safety latches and seat belts. But if you discourage him from trying many of the things he attempts, he will become timid and unwilling to try new things in the future.
18 month olds understand that everything and everyone has a name. He is dependent on you to label all that is in his world. His favorite first sentence may be, “Wha zat?” He may not be able to repeat the new word, but he will begin storing them in his memory for later use.
Since he doesn’t know pronouns, he may refer to himself by his name. The one exception to this is the word “my,” which most children learn among their first words.
Encourage his growing vocabulary by applauding any words he says rather than correcting his pronunciation. Say something like, “OK, here’s your ball.” Don’t repeat a mispronunciation, just say it correctly. And don’t try to force him to say it correctly before you give him what you know he wants. Over correcting may contribute to stuttering later on.
He will be trying to say a lot of words that have meaning to him, but you cannot understand. Try echoing. Echo the part you understand and ask a question. It works like this. He says, “Want szods.” You say, “You want what?” A fill-in-the-blank sentence gives him another chance to try to pronounce the missing word, yet lets him know you understood at least part of his sentence.
Expand his vocabulary by repeating what toddler has said and adding a word or phrase to it. When he says, “Daddy eat.” You say, “Yes, Daddy is eating chicken.” Elaborating is another technique to try. When he 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 job 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 his attempts and when to limit him. 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.
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