Your 18-Month-Old: Motor, Cognitive, Verbal, and Social Skills

Skills You Can Expect Kids to Learn by 18 Months

Girl feeding fruit salad to her doll
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So much happens in the first year of life that it's necessary to measure age in weeks and months. After the one year mark, you may stop counting those small spans of time...until you look up one day and you realize that this child is not a "one-year-old." She communicates too clearly (even if her specific words are still a jumble of sounds)and handles herself more steadily (even if she continues to stumble and bump her way around a bit) and, perhaps most noticeable, her fierce desire for independence has multiplied tenfold.

Toddlers hit milestones at different ages, of course, but by the year-and-a-half mark, you will likely see some very common skills emerge in the areas of:

See Also: Toddler Development Age 1 | Toddler Development Age 2 | Toddler Development Age 3

Gross Motor Skills You Can Expect Kids to Master by 18 Months

Your toddler's physical appearance may change significantly between 12 and 18 months of age. You can expect him to thin out and gain muscle tone. This is normal for a child who refuses to be kept still and confined any longer.

Giving your toddler a chance to try out his muscles will improve strength and coordination, which are instrumental to the development of gross motor skills (the skills that involve using arms, legs, and other large muscle groups). Around 18 months of age, you'll be able to notice your child is more skilled in several motor abilities such as:

  • climbing up onto low items (low set couch or other furniture)
  • walking and running steadily
  • catching himself with his hands if he falls
  • spinning

Highlight: Many a parent has been stunned to discover an 18-month-old trying to climb out of the crib (and many have been even more stunned to see that toddler succeed). Like many of his other efforts at this stage, your 18-month-old is not likely to be dissuaded from scaling the crib if that's what he really wants to do. If you see your child attempting to climb out of the crib you certainly can try to discourage him with firm commands that this is not allowed. You can also try a crib tent, which might at least temporarily prevent him from making it out. However, you should also accept that your toddler will continue to try and get over that side. Thus, focusing on creating a safe environment for a determined climber and explorer will go a long way.

Fine Motor Skills to Look for by Age One and a Half

As your toddler demands more and more autonomy, she will by necessity need to build her fine motor skills, which control finger and hand movements.

Some of the skills you will see become better developed at this stage include:

  • the use of eating utensils (spoon, toddler-friendly fork)
  • maneuvering of crayons and other writing instruments
  • painting with fingers or brushes
  • stacking items one on top of another

Highlight: If you can get past the mess, letting your child feed herself with a spoon or fork may be the best way to entice a fussy eater to finish her meal.

Intellectual or Cognitive Skills That Develop by Age 18 Months

It's hard not to think that your child is brilliant at 18-months-old. A short time ago, it seemed all she could do was sit in her bouncy seat, and now, she's building towers with blocks, rattling off familiar tunes, and imitating animals. The more you interact, read, and point things out, the more your toddler will soak up new skills and knowledge like a sponge. Some of the things you can expect your child to begin to do around 18 months of age include:

  • play simple make-believe games
  • begin to explore cause and effect
  • understand differences between similar objects such as pictures of different animals
  • remember familiar songs or parts of a book and react to them, in the same way, each time

Highlight: Toys that deliver a "payoff" when your toddler takes action (music that plays when you press a button, balls that cascade down a ramp when you flip a switch, etc.) will probably be your child's favorite things around this age. Just as fun, the "drop the cup" game so many toddlers think is a pure joy (and mothers find so tedious). Your child may drop his cup once, twice...ten times an evening. To satisfy your toddler without going crazy, you can try giving the cup back twice. If she drops it a third time, simply put the cup away without too much drama. Eventually, she should learn that throwing things on the floor isn't acceptable behavior.

Verbal Skills Commonly Mastered by Age 18 Months

By 18 months, many children are able to say a fair number of words, but it's not unusual for those words to be difficult for strangers to understand. The process of learning to talk takes much time and energy. And just when you feel that your toddler is not making any progress, you might wake up one day to a child who addresses you in full sentences. The important thing to remember is that there is a wide range of normal at this age when it comes to verbal development. Give your child lots of time while interacting with him and reinforcing language, and you'll begin to see some of the more common verbal skills such as:

  • identifying members of your family with verbal sounds that are similar to each person's name ("na" for nanna; "da" for daddy, etc.)
  • using gestures and pointing while making sounds to communicate what she wants or needs
  • pointing to specific items in a book when they are named
  • singing along with the rhythm and tone of a song like "The ABC Song" even if the specific words aren't clear

Highlight:It's often assumed that children raised in homes where more than one language is used will begin to speak later than children raised in a single language home, but it's not necessarily true. However, if you are raising a bilingual child you shouldn't be surprised if your child isn't speaking much by 18 months or if she uses words from each language together. Eventually, she will be able to separate the two and shouldn't suffer any speech or vocabulary delays in the long run.

Social Skills That Children Develop by Age 18 Months

Eighteen-month-olds often are fiercely independent, which can lead to some tantrums and battles of wills when they don't get their way. Offering clear and firm guidelines along with a willingness to let your toddler explore more things independently will actually help you teach your toddler good behavior and appropriate ways to interact with others. As your toddler begins to understand that there are boundaries and expectations for acceptable behavior, you can expect to see him do things such as such as:

  • saying "no" in an effort to test boundaries and get her own way
  • crying or showing signs of frustration when he doesn't get his way
  • sharing with others (although she may demand what she shares back immediately since she doesn't fully understand the idea of giving things to others unconditionally or permanently)
  • taking turns with others in simple games such as roll the ball

Highlight: Sometimes the 18-month mark may feel like emotional extremes. Your child will one minute be throwing himself on the floor screaming and the next he could be giggling with delight. Part of these extreme reactions is due to the fact that your child is becoming more and more aware of what it means to interact with others. She is learning that not all the toys are hers as well as the fact that she can make someone laugh with a silly face. But sometimes, the "rules" of this social world are confusing to her. So have patience and understand that she's still just starting to realize the idea that she's not the only person who matters around here.

"Developmental Milestones: Toddlers." Web. October 10, 2011.

Powell, J. and Smith, C.A. "Developmental milestones: A guide for parents." Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service. Web. October 10, 2011.

Shelov, Sreven P. M.D., M.S., F.A.A.P., et. al. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age 5. Banatam Book, 2009. Print.

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