An Overview of Toddlers

Are the twos really that terrible? The toddler stage can be a trying one for parents, but also fun and rewarding—your child is continuing to develop emotionally, cognitively, and socially, making them curious and eager to explore, and, at times, prone to testing boundaries.

The toddler stage is named for the term “toddling,” the way children move when they first learn to walk. It is also commonly referred to as the “terrible twos." However, most parents and experts actually consider the toddler stage to span roughly from ages one to three—a wide range in terms of child development.

You can expect your child’s progression from infancy through the toddler years and into the preschool years to include plenty of transitions. And, while the leaps may not be as obvious as crawling to walking, your child will still be changing (and moving) at a rapid pace.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to keep up with your little one:

Developmental Milestones

As a parent, it’s important to remember that children develop at their own pace—there's no need to become too caught up in exact ages and stages.

And your pediatrician is a great resource if you have specific questions about your child.

While there is a range of what is considered “normal” development during the toddler years, there are common gross motor, fine motor, language, social, and emotional skills that parents can expect to see children develop during these toddler years. Understanding what is happening developmentally can help you support your child's new skills and manage the inevitable ups and downs of those transitions.

More on Specific Milestones

During these two years, your little one will go from taking a few tentative steps to running, jumping, and moving with increased coordination; from using a handful of words to having a broad vocabulary (and talking up a storm); and from being able to focus for three minutes or less to having an increased attention span that opens the door to all kinds of new toddler activities.

Activities

For toddlers, play is work. The simple act of playing helps toddlers further develop motor skills, learn important concepts like colors and numbers, and sharpen skills like problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and more. 

Toys for Children Three and Under

A busy toddler is always on the go and keeping them interested and focused can be difficult. As your toddler’s attention span increases and their behavior becomes more predictable and manageable, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to try new activities.

Different activities, both individual and group, are also a great way to help your toddler learn new skills, to add structure to your toddler’s day, to promote gross and fine motor skills, and to support cognitive development.

Toddlers are naturally curious, which makes this stage a perfect time for some parent and child classes. From soccer to yoga, foreign language to art, and music to movement, there’s something for every toddler.

Classes to Enroll Your Child in

If organized activities aren’t your thing (or aren’t offered in your area), there’s plenty you can do with your child at home and around your neighborhood.

It’s important to incorporate plenty of play as well as physical exercise into your young child’s day.

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, toddlers should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day as well as an additional hour or more of unstructured physical activity. These activities don’t have to be complicated—spending time at the park or simply taking your toddler out for a walk around the neighborhood are good options.

More on Physical Activities for Toddlers

Nutrition & Mealtimes

Now that your child can eat all the same foods you can (with some exceptions), it’s time to start focusing on feeding them a well-balanced, healthy diet. The toddler stage is a perfect time to introduce your child to new foods, create healthy habits, and help them learn how to feed themselves. 

What You Should Be Feeding Your Toddler

Unfortunately, while some toddlers are adventurous at mealtimes, it’s not uncommon for toddlers to be picky eaters or go through a picky phase.

It’s important to ensure that your toddler is getting enough nutrients, but there’s no need to panic. Keep in mind that while your toddler may be refusing dinner, they are probably still getting plenty of calories. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that a good guideline for toddler portion sizes is that they should equal about a quarter of an adult portion size.

Coping With Picky Eaters

Allowing your toddler more independence during mealtime may also help ease mealtime meltdowns and food refusals. Toddlers learn by mimicking mom and dad—and meals are no different.  

More on Toddler Independence at Meals

Sleep

While many toddlers are sleeping through the night, sleep issues are not uncommon and some young children still experience night waking. Lack of sleep can lead to toddler tantrums and general crankiness. Keep in mind that your toddler still needs up to 15 hours of sleep a day, so it's important that you stick to routine that includes plenty of naps and an early bedtime.

 

How to Manage a Nap Strike

The toddler stage also typically includes the transition from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in big kid bed, though parents shouldn't feel pressured to make the switch at a certain age. If your child is still comfortable in a crib, there's not usually a reason to move them until they are older. 

Transitioning From Crib to Big Kid Bed  

Potty Training

Two words that strike fear in the hearts of toddler parents everywhere—potty training. Potty training is a huge milestone for toddlers and, while it's a challenge for parents, most moms and dads are looking forward to life post-diapers.

Potty Train in Three Days

Pushing a child to potty train too soon can backfire. Plenty of potty training methods promise results, but these techniques don’t work unless your child is ready. There are specific developmental milestones that your child should reach before you tackle potty training and you should also consider whether or not your toddler is actually interested in the potty to begin with.  

Is Your Child Ready to Potty Train 

Once you've determined that your child is ready to ditch the diapers, make sure you've armed yourself with the right gear to get the job done. 

Essential Potty Training Gear

Discipline

Toddlers are notorious for testing boundaries with mom and dad. Disciplining toddlers can be very frustrating for parents because toddlers cannot always fully communicate why they misbehave or fully understand what they are doing wrong. And, because toddlers are still learning how to interact with others, they require discipline that helps teach them socially appropriate behavior. 

Strategies for Toddler Discipline 

Keep in mind that a toddler may have a tantrum or misbehave because of a number of factors, including exhaustion, hunger, frustration, or a change in routine or a major transition. Parents need to be mindful of why a toddler is having a tantrum, not just focus on discipline. 

Understanding the Root of Toddler Behavior

More from Verywell in Toddlers

Learn more about Toddlers