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Toddler Milestones

At 12 months, Cobi was still my wiggling, crawling, babbling baby. But just six months later, he could stomp over to me, grab my hand, and lead me to the kitchen. “Thirsty. More milk,” he’d say. Suddenly, he seemed like such a big boy.

“More learning and brain development occur during this year than in any other,” says Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “Toddlers develop a sense of self, learn language, and begin asserting their independence.” Check out our chart for highlights. (Though all babies develop at their own pace, talk to your doctor if your toddler doesn’t seem to be progressing or is losing abilities he had already acquired.)

Wobbly to Walking
What’sHappening
If your child hasn’t taken her first steps yet, she’s likely to in the next few months.“Mobility gives your toddler a whole new view of the world, and the ability to act on it,” says Stefanie Powers, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C., resource center on the first three years of life. Instead of hollering or reaching for a toy, she can now go fetch it herself. Toward the end of the second year, as muscles strengthen and coordination improves, most toddlers can run, climb, and jump, as well as lift, carry, push, pull, and throw objects.

How To Help
You’ll need to be extra vigilant now that your toddler can get into trouble quickly. Childproof your home so she has plenty of room to explore and practice her new skills.

When To Worry
Your child doesn’t take her first steps -- even wobbly ones -- by 16 months.

Hands-on Training
What’s Happening
Your toddler is developing greater fine motor control. At 12 months, his most advanced skill with a crayon was probably eating it. But in the second half of the year, he’ll firmly grasp a crayon and press it to paper to make straight and curvy lines. You’ll also notice your child poke his index finger into holes and pick tiny specks of dirt or crumbs off the floor.

How To Help
While you’ll have to continue to be on the lookout for choking hazards, give your child simple objects to manipulate, such as nontoxic markers, nesting cups, lift-the-flap books, and blocks.

When To Worry
Your toddler can’t stack at least two cubes by 21 months.

Word Explosion
What’s Happening
Most toddlers utter their first words by 15 months. A word like “juice” often represents whole sentences such as “I want juice” or “I spilled my juice.” By about 18 months, though, children begin to string together two or more words, creating sentences that link two ideas, such as “Daddy bye-bye.” In addition, vocabulary multiplies in the second half of the year, when toddlers learn as many as nine words per day. Even if your child doesn’t say much at 18 months, you’ll notice her comprehension has blossomed, Powers says. If you mention going to the park, she might grab her shoes and bang on the door. By age 2, she’ll be able to follow two-step instructions, such as “Get your book and bring it to Daddy.”

How To Help
Talk, read, and sing to your child throughout the day to boost her verbal abilities naturally.

When To Worry
Your child doesn’t say her first word by 18 months, and she can’t follow a simple request, such as “Get your ball.”

Milestones of the Mind
What’s Happening
Your 1-year-old is beginning to develop a basic understanding of numbers, which includes ordering, categorizing, and counting, Powers says. He may also become more aware of shapes and colors and be able to name a few.

How To Help
Teach numbers, colors, or shapes in your daily routine. Count steps as yourtoddler climbs stairs, for instance. Or talk about his red shirt and yellow socks as you dress him. Point out the round peas and square crackers at dinner.

When To Worry
These concepts still take a while to master. Most children can name a color or count one object by age 2 1/2.

People Skills
What’s Happening
“At this age, toddlers begin to take pleasure in the company of their peers,” Powers says. Though 1-year-olds are still too young to play games together, they will look at one another, smile, and even gesture. Your child will also start to follow another person’s gaze, which unlocks a whole world of language and emotions, Dr. Meltzoff says. He looks where you look and hears the labels you use. And he’ll turn to you for cues on how to react to things. Your toddler also begins to take the perspective of other people, which leads to empathy. By age 2, he may comfort a crying child with a kiss.

How To Help
Be gentle, patient, kind, and sharing yourself. “Your toddler learns compassion and empathy from you, through your deeds as much as your words,” Dr. Meltzoff says.

When To Worry
Your 1-year-old doesn’t make eye contact or is unresponsive to stimulation from people.

Imagine That
What’s Happening
Halfway through the year, you may see a dramatic boost in pretend play. “Toddlers can now use objects in a completely fanciful and creative way,” Dr. Meltzoff says. “They can pretend a spoon is a banana or a telephone.” At 18 months, when Cobi spotted a picture of cookies in a book, he’d pinch at them and then raise the tasty morsels to his mouth. Simple as it may seem, pretend play is a sophisticated mental feat: It shows that your child can use symbols and understand that one thing (a drawing of a cookie) can stand for another (a real cookie).

How To Help
Give your toddler a few props -- a toy telephone, plastic bowls, dolls, or dress-up clothes, for instance -- and play along in her fantasy world. Follow her lead as you talk with her about what she’s doing and what she wants you to do.

When To Worry
Your child doesn’t imitate simple chores, like wiping a table, by 18 months, or doesn’t pretend to feed a doll by 24 months.