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Toddler Care: Your 18 Month Old Toddler

Feb 28, 2022

Your toddler is one-and-a-half years old now and it may not seem like all that long ago when they were a tiny baby. This can be a complex age for parents who, on one level, see their toddler as being almost grown up; and who, on another level, see them as still so very young. Your toddler will surprise you with what they can recall and how excited they become by the smallest things. Something new brought into the house will be cause for the most minute examination and prodding—but don’t expect your toddler to understand what “don’t touch” means! They are driven to learn about their world through touch and feel so to try to suppress these instincts will be almost impossible. Some toddlers even love to lick or taste objects to obtain maximum sensory input.

Your toddler will still need lots of emotional support from you when they are feeling afraid. Although they are driven to explore their surroundings, they also need to feel secure enough to venture away from your side. They can only do this if their emotional reserves are full. Try not to interpret your toddler as being needy or fragile when they want to cling to you. A change of routine, a move, a new baby in the family, and other events can all bring a temporary change in an 18-month-old’s behavior.

Growth and development at 18 months old

Your toddler should be able to walk completely unaided by now and might have even progressed to running at times. If they’re being chased as part of a game, they may easily lose their balance, especially if they’re laughing at the same time. It will still take a fair amount of concentration to coordinate walking, running, and climbing, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly your toddler develops their gross motor abilities. Look for outdoor toys which promote climbing, such as swing sets and age-appropriate jungle gyms. Investing in one of these will bring hours of pleasure and will help build your toddler’s physical strength and agility.

Your toddler will be linking body parts to names around now, so play the “where’s your eyes, nose, mouth, or tummy” game. You can also play this with a teddy or a doll and ask them to point to the correct feature. At 18 months they are likely to be saying some clear words—as many as 20–but this won’t reflect their understanding of many more. Ask your toddler to bring you something and watch them carry out the task. Their comprehension won’t match their verbal ability just yet.

Play and interaction at 18 months old 

Have plenty of non-toxic crayons, paints and brushes, and paper around. It’s equally important to encourage your toddler to practice their fine motor skills and discover their creative side. Making collages, drawing art, finger painting, and Play-Doh sculptures will all be popular activities. Set up a play table at their height which they can freely access and know they’re welcome to use. Avoid cleaning up too quickly. Your toddler’s attention span will still be very short, and they are likely to jump between one activity and another. Show them how to use the crayons and brushes a couple of times and then encourage them to try themselves. This is a independent stage and you’ll find your toddler will want to have a turn at whatever you’re doing. Praise their efforts and let them know how clever they are. Your attention and positive feedback is so important for them to build self-esteem and confidence.

Keep reading to your 18-month-old every day and let them choose the story they want you to read. You’ll find they develop favorites and will return to them again and again. Although you may feel utterly bored reading the same old story, they will love the predictability and reassurance of it. Watch your voice as you read and inject as much animation into your voice as you can. Your toddler won’t be critical of your attempts and will even mimic you. Watch them as they turn the pages, not one by one just yet but in clumps. Show them that you read from left to right and track the words with your finger. Although they won’t understand what this means quite yet, daily exposure and repetition will eventually help your actions make complete sense.

What you can expect at 18 months old

Your toddler may not agree, but most still need a daytime nap at this age. An average morning wake-up time is around 6:30AM or 7AM, which means most toddlers are ready for a nap after lunch. If you find they’re too tired to eat lunch, consider giving them an earlier lunch or a late morning snack. Then they can have lunch when they wake up. Implement the same bedtime or sleep routine during the day as you do at night. If you find your toddler is reluctant to sleep during the day, try making their room a little darker.

Your toddler will be able to bend over now and pick things up off the floor without losing their balance. Watch them as they spot the smallest little bit of fluff on the ground and home in on it until they can pick it up for closer examination. If you find your toddler is not focusing on objects, has an unusual appearance to one or both eyes, or turns their head in order to see objects more clearly, have their vision checked as soon as possible. Vision problems, when treated early, have significantly better outcomes than when treated later.

Food and nutrition at 18 months old

Let your toddler help you with food preparation when possible. Putting cherry tomatoes in a salad, ripping up lettuce leaves, and mixing ingredients are all suitable entertainment for toddlers. Even the simplest food preparation will help your 18-month-old learn about what is involved in putting together a meal. Let them help you set the table and get the cutlery ready. Pull their highchair or booster seat right up close to the dining room table and make them an integral part of the family gathering.

If you’re finding they don’t want to eat much, give everyone at the table an empty plate and let them serve themselves from the serving bowls on the table. Give little or no attention to your toddler other than their own plate, and when they indicate they want some food, too, then portion some to them. Giving less attention rather than more, playing it cool when they don’t eat, and just getting on with general conversation can change the dynamics of toddlers seeking attention during mealtimes.

Keeping your toddler healthy at 18 months old

If your toddler is out in the sun, don’t forget to protect their skin and eyes. Your toddler has thin skin which will burn easily. Avoid being out in the sun between 10AM and 3PM and remember that the sun is equally damaging in the winter as it is in the summer months. Don’t forget to protect your toddler’s eyes as well. Consider your own health care too and role model sun protective behaviors.

Don’t forget to brush your toddler’s teeth twice a day with a soft, small-headed toothbrush and a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Encourage them to spit out the toothpaste when they have finished brushing but don’t be alarmed if they swallow it. Fluoride works both topically—when teeth are exposed to it—and systemically—when the child swallows it.

General tips

  • If your 18-month-old toddler is still waking in the night to feed, think about your response to their waking up. Feeding, lots of hugs, or ending up in your bed are all likely to be interpreted as a reward for their waking.
  • Don’t trust your toddler to know how to gently handle the family pet. At 18 months they are still too young to have learned gentle handling and the skills involved in being careful with animals. Don’t leave your toddler alone with a dog, no matter how much you trust the animal.
  • Put shoes on your toddler when they go outside, especially if you are not in your own yard. Their feet will still be soft and need the protection of shoes from hard stones and the ground. Don’t worry if their feet are still flat. With time, they will develop an arch and a more mature appearance.
  • If you are still breastfeeding your toddler and you are both happy to continue, don’t feel any pressure to stop. The choice of when to stop is entirely yours so don’t feel as if you need to justify this to anyone.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.