20 ways your toddler will surprise you

Your little one changes day by day - and you never quite know what he's going to do next


Taking giant leaps is what life’s all about for a toddler. One minute he’s toddling, then out of the blue he’s running and kicking a ball. Prepare to be amazed…


1. He strips off

Most toddlers go through a phase of parading around naked and it’s common between the ages of 2 and 4. Some enjoy the feeling of being naked, others are learning how to get undressed and for many it’s a way of exerting control – you can’t make him stay dressed if he doesn’t want to!

How can I help? Don’t make a big deal out of it, but involve your child in the dressing and undressing process and explain that he shouldn’t strip in public.

2. He can draw a person (kinda!)

Typically children first draw just a blob. Later they add legs and arms. Facial features appear by their fourth birthday. “Luke only drew straight lines until I was pregnant,” says Danielle, 33, mum to Luke, 4, and Harry, 6 months. “Then one day he said, ‘I’ve drawn a picture of you and our baby.’ Sure enough, he’d drawn me with a big belly, and a baby in it.”

How can I help? Encourage your child to draw and paint, even if he makes a mess, and be enthusiastic about what he produces.

3. He has his own opinion

Most toddlers express opinions by the age of 2½ to 3. “This is all about control,” explains Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby and Child (Dorling Kindersley, £18.99). “If you don’t consider your child’s opinion at least some of the time, he will get frustrated and have more tantrums.”

How can I help? Allow your child to make limited choices, such as choosing between a blue or red top. This helps develop his decision-making ability.

4. He plays an instrument

“Maxwell was so pleased when he could bang a drum with two sticks,” says Jessica, 35, mum to Maxwell, 2. Banging a drum relies on hand-eye coordination and rhythm. These usually develop between the ages of 18 months and 2 years.

How can I help? Find a children’s music group in your area. Children learn faster by copying others.

5. He can tell when he’s doing a wee

Becoming aware of bodily functions at around 20 months old is an important step towards potty training. Before this age, most children can’t control their bladder but as soon as he has a dry nappy after a daytime nap, he is physiologically ready to try a potty.

How can I help? Let your child watch you using the toilet. It’s the easiest way for him to learn what to do.

6. He can build a tower

Health visitors will often check whether your child can build a tower of blocks around the age of 2. “It shows that fine motor control is developing,” says Penelope Leach. By 2, a child can usually balance six to eight blocks.

How can I help? First, build a tower for your child to knock down, and then show him how to do it himself.

7. He can use a phone

“Oliver mastered the phone aged 2. Now he has long conversations with his grandparents,” says Pauline, 40, mum to Oliver, 3. Under 4s may not realise there’s someone on the other end and so listen more than they talk.

How can I help? Buy a toy phone to practise with. When a family member calls, use the loudspeaker so that he can hear both sides of the conversation.

8. He can sing a tune

Singing songs with actions is a fun way to boost a toddler’s vocabulary and improve coordination. But don’t expect him to join in until he’s 18 months old. “Lucy learned the actions to some songs at 20 months,” says Hannah, 34, mum to Lucy, 21 months. “Now she can even sing along with some of the words.”

How can I help? Listen to children’s songs together, repeat them out loud and encourage your child to march, clap and dance in time to the music.

9. She says “I love you”

“Last month Millie said, ‘Mummy, you are beautiful and I love you.’ I felt so special,” says Anita, 27, mum to Millie, 2. This kind of advanced emotional development usually occurs between 18 months and 3 years. The ability to notice how others are feeling develops soon after.

How can I help? Be tactile and your child is more likely to hug and kiss you, too.

10. He can scribble

“Scribbling demands good manual control,” explains Penelope Leach. “First a child learns how to hold a crayon and to understand how to make marks.” At 1, the marks are usually just dots and dashes, but at 16 months these develop into more complex scribbles.

How can I help? Supply crayons that are easy to hold and lots of paper.

11. He’s a mini Beckham

Your child needs to be steady on his feet before he can learn how to kick a ball, so the point at which he can do it depends on when he starts walking. “Most manage to kick a ball between 18 months and 2 years,” says Penelope Leach. “By this time their balance and coordination has improved.”

How can I help? Practise with soft, inflatable balls.

12. He can pedal

There’s a lot of coordination involved in learning how to pedal, along with some understanding of cause and effect. Most toddlers manage at 2½ to 3 years old. “Freddie loves his trike. He mastered the pedals just before his third birthday and now he’s a real boy racer,” says Charlotte, 34, mum to Freddie, 3.

How can I help? Buy a ride-on toy that he can push along with his feet. When he gets the hang of that, try a trike with a detachable handle, so that you can push him along to start with.

13. He questions you

Your toddler’s likely to start to question around his second birthday. Often he’ll ask ‘why?’ even if he knows the answer as he just enjoys the process. But don’t worry about the endless questioning, as his communication skills develop, they’ll be replaced by more varied conversations.

 How can I help? Don’t get frustrated, but do try to answer questions. Remember, this is how your child learns about the world.

14. He can sprint

Most toddlers love to run, but it can be a difficult skill to master. The majority of toddlers start running between 12 and 18 months, but it depends on when they start walking, as they need to perfect balance before they can pick up speed. The most common problem is not being able to stop once they get going, so be prepared for a few accidents!

How can I help? Go to the park and encourage him to run around with you. Stay on the grass so it won’t hurt if he falls over.

15. He can recognise pictures

Improving vision and memory skills from 9 months mean children start to recognise pictures in books. “Violet pointed out pictures at 12 months, and now she can identify objects and animals,” says Rosie, 34, mum to Violet, 20 months.

How can I help? Share books and talk about the pictures. Join the local library so you have lots to choose from.

16. He copies you

Children learn by imitation, so copying your actions is a sure sign your child has been taking notice of what you do. “A baby learns to imitate very early on,” explains Dave Munday from the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association. “He’ll copy a parent sticking their tongue out a few minutes after birth, imitate feeding a dolly at 18 months and start cleaning the house when he’s developed enough to carry out the actions.”

How can I help? Play copying games and praise him when he gets it right.

17. He can jump

Jumping is an exciting skill, as your child gets the sensation of being airborne, even if just for a second. “Children need improved balance, coordination and strength in the legs before they can learn to jump,” explains Dave Munday. “This usually happens when they’re around 2 years old.” Most children will practise in their cot or on your bed before they get the hang of jumping on solid ground.

How can I help? Show your child how to jump in puddles on a rainy day. Or introduce him to an indoor baby trampoline.

18. He can feed himself

“The first time I gave Toby a spoon I was amazed he knew what to do with it. He’s now using a fork and eats everything he can stab,” says Justine, 36, mum to Toby, 17 months. Self-feeding requires hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity, so it is hard to master. Most children try to use a spoon before their first birthday, but are unlikely to get to grips with simple cutlery until 2 or 3.

How can I help? Offer finger foods to improve your child’s coordination. Give one spoon to your child and keep one yourself. That way he can practise while you make sure some food actually goes in his mouth.

19. He can get upstairs

“When Sophie was 19 months old she started kicking and screaming whenever I tried to carry her upstairs. I decided to let her try walking up, and she managed it first time,” says Amy, 35, mum to Sophie, 2, and Jake, 4 months. Going up stairs is easier than coming down, and most children master it by the age of 2, when their strength and balance has improved. Once they’ve got the hang of it, it’s important to show them how to come down safely, too.

How can I help? Fix your downstairs stair gate three steps from the bottom, so your child can practise on the bottom steps first. Then open the gate so he can tackle the whole flight while you stand behind.

20. He’ll do what you ask (when he wants to!)

Your toddler is capable of following instructions long before he begins using sentences – but whether he chooses to follow them is a different matter! He’ll usually respond to a simple instruction by 17 months. At 22 months, most can follow a two-step request, such as, “Please find your cup and bring it to mummy.”

How can I help? Make a habit of talking through everyday activities with your child. When he responds to a simple instruction, give lots of praise and encouragement.



Every child develops differently, which is all part of the fun, so don’t worry if your child isn’t doing everything his friends can do.

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