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Your toddler: 18 months old

Photography by Nicole Duplantis/Clothing provided by babyGap and Joe Fresh

At a year and a half old, your baby has become a definite little person with a growing vocabulary (that sometimes only you can understand), tons of likes and dislikes (which seem to change hourly) and lots and lots and (seriously?) lots of energy. It can be a bit of a turbulent time, as 18-month-olds are caught between wanting independence (“Me-do!”) and needing the warm reassurance and safety of your arms. While you may feel a bit wistful for those sweet baby days, it’s also exciting to see your kiddo’s personality becoming clearer, not to mention all the ri-dic-u-lous toddler stuff.

18-month-old development & milestones

Milestone update

little girl helping to feed her dog
An age-by-age guide to what your kid can (and should) do right now
Your 18-month check-up is an important one that covers lots of ground, so be prepared for it to take longer than others. In addition to checking your baby’s overall health, your healthcare provider will be asking questions to see how they are growing and developing. They’ll be looking to see if your toddler can:

  • Identify pictures in a book (“Show me the bird”)
  • Use a variety of gestures, like waving and reaching up
  • Follow directions like “on” and “under”
  • Point to three different body parts when asked
  • Use at least four consonant sounds
  • Hold a cup to drink
  • Pick up and eat finger food
  • Walk up a few stairs while holding your hand
  • Walk alone
  • Squat down and get up again without falling
  • Stack three or more blocks
  • Help you get them dressed by putting out their arms and legs
  • Say 20 or more words (totally fine if the words aren’t that clear)
  • Point to show you something
  • Look at you when you’re talking or playing together

Whew! Remember, of course, that these are general guidelines. If your kid isn’t hitting all of them at a year and a half, that’s probably just fine.

Your toddler also gets their routine immunizations at this appointment, so get ready to pull off some distractions during the shots and snuggle afterwards. If it feels like life is non-stop snotty tissues right now, don’t worry: It’s totally common for your toddler to have eight to 10 colds a year between the ages of one and two.

The “no” phase

Starting at around 18 months, your toddler will begin to use two-word sentences and, chances are, one of those words will be “No!” That little word is actually an important milestone. And, though it can be draining to hear “no hat” 328 times a day, it’s a necessary step on the road to independence. At this age, your kid is just beginning to realize that they aren’t literal extensions of mom and dad but their own person. “No” is a way of testing your limits (What will she do if I say no to this?) and learning how to set their own limits, too (“No tickles”).

All about choices

When it comes to the day-to-day routines of getting dressed, sleeping, eating and bathing, one way to deal with constant refusal is to offer choices (“Would you like to have toys or a story during your bath?”). Another way that a toddler asserts a sense of self is by demanding the same foods or same green pants over and over again, and giving options is a good way to help them feel in control—not to mention give you a chance to wash banana off those green pants.

Separation fears

Some toddlers struggle with separation anxiety, and they tend to outgrow the worst of it between 18 and 36 months—but, of course, it’s really tough for parents to see their little teary faces and outstretched arms (sniff). While it may be tempting to sneak away to spare them the sight of you leaving, it’s actually better to say a short, loving goodbye and make sure they know you’ll be back at a time they can understand, such as “after afternoon snack.” Send a little piece of home along, too, such as a picture or favourite stuffy.

18-month-old sleep and schedule

A mom and a dad with their baby sleeping in between them
How to sleep train your toddler
In terms of their routine, your toddler may have already dropped their morning nap or still be in the process of transitioning to one nap a day. (Early risers tend to still need a morning nap, and oh wow, those early birds can be up at 5 a.m. sometimes. A white noise machine, room-darkening blinds or a toddler clock that shows symbols that signal an acceptable time to get up can help.) Some toddlers will switch back and forth between one and two naps for a while, which can be frustrating for planning activities, but it’s just one of those short-term things, so be ready to roll with it.

Kids this age need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, which usually includes two or more hours of daytime sleep. Try not to let naps go past 4 p.m. or it will be tough to get them to sleep at night.

How about actually staying asleep at night? The 18-month sleep regression is a thing, sorry to say. You can chalk it up to a variety of causes, whether it’s separation anxiety or a sign of that new indie toddler approach to life. No matter what the cause, it could mean that your awesome sleeper is suddenly up several times a night, and it can last for a couple weeks or longer. Or maybe your little night owl never really got the hang of sleep training and has been waking up at night for months and needs help, like a boob, bottle or back rub, to fall back asleep. Either way, now is the time to be more dedicated to consistency, both with the time they go to sleep and the wind-down rituals you do to help them settle. Not gonna lie, it can be a long process sometimes, but hang in there. One other thing: It’s always handy to blame teething for crappy sleep, and it’s true that toddlers can get pointy canine teeth (the fangs) or big molars at this age. Check for signs of teething and offer your usual cold washcloths or painkillers for comfort. But keep in mind that teething usually only lasts a few days and shouldn’t throw off your sleep routine for weeks.

Growth and weight gain

That rapid growth your kiddo had as a new baby slows down in the second year. In fact, they’ll usually only gain about three pounds between ages one and two, so their appetite slows down, too. Plus, they are often too involved in the world around them to eat much—until the day they put away as much as you do at a meal, of course. (Seriously, how can one toddler eat that huge bowl of fried rice?) Generally, though, toddlers need about one-quarter to one-half of what adults eat, so there’s no need to stress out if they seem to be eating so little. Offer small portions of healthy foods at meals, plus two or three snacks a day.

Picky eaters

Starting around 18 months, toddlers may get super-interested in drinks instead of food, but you can’t let them overdo it or they’ll miss out on nutrients, particularly iron, from whole foods. Offer two cups (500 mL) of whole milk (not formula) a day, and don’t go over three cups (750 mL). If they’re not really into milk, offer water or breastmilk if you’re continuing to nurse, along with calcium-rich foods like cheese and yogurt. A small amount of juice as a treat once in a while is fine (you can even water it down), but it shouldn’t be a daily thing.

If your toddler is deeply into beige foods, it’s important to keep offering small portions of protein and veggies often, without making a big deal about it. Some toddler-friendly approaches are fried or baked patties made with grated vegetables; small, tender pieces of roasted veggies topped with small amounts of butter, apricot jam glaze or maple syrup; and teeny pieces of meat for dunking in unsweetened applesauce or hummus. Or skip the meat entirely and try more eggs, cottage cheese, lentils and beans. If they prefer fruits to vegetables, that’s OK, too (but keep on making veggies part of the plate).

The toddler room

Another milestone to keep in mind is moving from the infant room (or home) to the toddler room at daycare, which can be a pretty big adjustment for some kids (and, let’s face it, parents, too). Find out what your daycare’s policy is (they may want your little one to be drinking from a cup and taking an afternoon-only nap). Talk about making a gradual transition, with lots of chances to get to know new caregivers and still touch base with former ones.

Potty training

illustrated child standing in front of a toilet
Should you try 3-day potty training?
We’ve all heard those magical online stories about the toilet-trained 18-month-old—are they for real? While it’s true that some kids that age are developmentally ready to use the potty (their diapers stay dry for two hours or more, they’re interested in the potty, they don’t like being in wet or dirty diapers and they show they’re aware they need to go by telling you or hiding to poop), most kids won’t be consistently toilet trained any time soon. The typical age for potty training is between two and four years of age. But you can bring out the potty so they get used to the idea and, hey, if your toddler is down with it, high-fives!

Your life after baby

Your little person is starting to develop some strong opinions on everything from socks (instruments of torture) to crackers (never the square ones), and that means you’re going to butt heads sometimes. Being annoyed or frustrated with your toddler is a normal human reaction, but it can also make you feel like a totally awful parent, too. There are ways to deal with it, though: By putting some good habits in place now, you can be proactive about handling things that make you stressed. If your shrieking toddler chucks the scrambled eggs onto the floor because they don’t want them on their plate, try a different kind of communication. Teach them thumbs up or thumbs down, which allows them to express an opinion without wailing. Pay attention to what sets you off and figure out how to get around it. If getting out the door in the morning is a sweaty ordeal and you feel like your head might explode, pick out kid clothes the night before and have some distracting activities in the car.

Stuff no one tells you

Playing with your mini-me is the best, but there are times when you want to go wild and, you know, make a meal or answer an important call. Fortunately, there are lots of fun ways to buy yourself a little time and keep your toddler busy and entertained for 10 whole minutes. Try these: Toss a sheet over a table and put a couple of pillows underneath to make a fort, hand them some flyers to tear up, or pop a couple of ice cubes into a resealable plastic bag. Another win is a busy board that only comes out at certain times (you can make your own with a board that has items like latches, a calculator, an old push-button phone or a remote control and casters affixed to it).

Just for fun

The reasons behind toddler tears are often equal parts baffling and LOL (their shadow is following them, you wouldn’t let them play with the pizza cutter and they really, really wanted to get that soiled diaper out of the garbage). It helps to remember that this is just their thing at the moment and you’re not alone. Check out the “wrong” way to slice a muffin and other reasons why your toddler is freaking out right now.

Read more:
Your toddler: 19 months old
When toddlers are really attached to caregivers

About admin

I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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