Let's Get Physical: 7 Toddler Development Milestones

Walking isn't the only exciting motor skill your kid will master this year. Help him run, jump, and climb with these tips.
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When our son Jackson started to walk at 12 months, my husband and I cheered him on and called him a "big boy." But as we began chasing after an increasingly confident -- and speedy -- little tyke, we realized that walking was just the first of many exciting physical developments.

"Parents understandably get excited when their baby takes his first steps, which typically occurs within a few months of his first birthday," says Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park. "But the other motor milestones in the second year of life can be even more exciting." Why? Because these achievements, such as running and climbing, mean your child is becoming increasingly independent and expanding his capacity for play and learning. (Don't panic if he is on a slower track -- it doesn't necessarily mean that he'll be any less coordinated than other kids.) Read on to learn what you can expect in the coming months.

Pushing and Pulling (12 to 18 months)

Toy strollers and vacuum cleaners are fun to push around and will help your toddler get comfortable on her feet, says Parents advisor Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital. Once she's a confident mover, pulling a toy (like a small cart on a rope) will help her learn to manipulate objects as she goes, which will give her more independence and freedom to explore.

Climbing (12 to 18 months)

Is your toddler constantly trying to summit the bed or the dining-room table? If so, know that it's an important physical milestone. Encourage him to climb when you're there to watch him, says Michelle Macias, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. To keep your toddler safe, childproof your home; anchor heavy furniture to walls; keep chairs pushed into desks; and always supervise him closely.

Running (15 to 16 months)

As soon as kids learn to walk, they want to sprint too. "Toddlers can go from walking to running in a matter of weeks or even days," says Dr. Swanson. Inspire your child to run by running after her and then having her chase you. Also help build her leg muscles by getting her to reach up for toys on her tiptoes. Be sure to play where falling won't hurt, like on the grass.

Throwing and Kicking (18 to 26 months)

Around this age your child will become interested in playing with balls. Start by showing him how to toss a tennis ball, and cheer him on after he imitates your throwing motion. And to develop your future soccer star's skills, roll and kick balls in his direction. (Make sure you use a light, soft ball that won't hurt, like a Nerf ball, says Dr. Swanson.) If he has trouble balancing when he lifts his foot to kick it back, have him hold on to a coffee table or your partner's hand while he takes aim.

Jumping (24 months)

Around her second birthday, your child might start jumping up and down when she gets excited. To encourage her, try playing music: Jumping is a precursor to dancing, and some good tunes will get her bouncing along, says Dr. Adesman. Don't forget to hop to the beat yourself. Your kid might enjoy imitating your moves.

Development Milestones: Age12 Months
Development Milestones: Age12 Months

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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