What Is the Definition of a Toddler?

Age is Only One Way to Define the Toddler Stage

toddler with mother
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There's no shortage of child development experts, but opinions about the definition of when a child shifts from an infant to a toddler vary. There's simply no consensus about what constitutes a toddler. That said, rough estimates about when toddlerhood begins abound and are widely accepted in the medical literature. Familiarize yourself with the various definitions about when toddlerhood starts and ends.

The Origins of The Term "Toddler"

The term toddler comes from the way that children first walk, which is at first unsteady and more like a toddle than actual walking. Given this, some people define a toddler as an infant who's able to walk. Of course, children walk at different ages, some before they turn 1 year old and others after this age. Accordingly, experts have different, and sometimes conflicting, opinions about when toddlerhood actually begins and ends.

The Medical Definition of Toddler

The American Academy of Pediatrics book "Caring for Your Baby and Young Child" indicates that toddlerhood begins with the second year of life, after a child's first birthday.

"Your baby enters her second year and becomes a toddler, crawling vigorously, starting to walk, even talking a little," the book states. "Caring for Your Baby" notes that toddlerhood also includes children between the ages of 2 and 3 years old.

"Although your toddler's growth rate will slow between his second and third birthdays, nevertheless he will continue his remarkable physical transformation from a baby to a child," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

At age 3, "Caring for Your Child" states that a small child is "no longer a toddler." Instead, a child of this age is considered a preschooler, even though children younger than 3 often attend preschool.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is not the only organization to define toddlerhood in such a manner. Books about parenting toddlers, such as "What to Expect During the Toddler Years," also state that toddlerhood includes the second and third years of a child's life.

How the Mainstream Media Defines Toddlers

Additional publications, especially British newspapers, sometimes use the word toddler to describe children as old as age 4. British television programs do the same, but it's important to note that British English differs from American English in far more ways than the definition of toddlerhood.

Wrapping Up

The Baby Parenting site uses the American Academy of Pediatrics definition of toddler but keep in mind that children develop according to their own schedules. That means that some 1 year olds may not have reached the developmental milestones expected of toddlers. Parents should feel free to describe transitioning toddlers as they see fit. 

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