Your toddler: 16 to 18 months

Inquisitive minds
Inquisitive minds 

Your little baby is becoming a toddler and all sorts of exciting things are happening. Find out more about changes at this age including new teeth, growth, speech and becoming more mobile.

Behaviour: Feeling safe
Our children deserve to feel they live in a safe world, yet we all need a certain amount of fear to protect us. Fear is what makes a child stay away from the traffic or the growling dog; childhood fears are normal. Even as adults, we are all afraid of something-dogs, strangers, spiders, thunder. Anxiety is more of a feeling of uncertainty, and it may not be clear what we are anxious about.

Babies are naturally afraid of loud noises, heights, movements and anything strange. The only way a baby can tell you he is afraid is by crying. Most babies are afraid of being left alone when they are around six or seven months. Around 15 months, a toddler's perception of others has developed enough to recognise strangers and then a new fear arises. Children who have had little contact with outsiders are more likely to be afraid of strangers than those who have spent lots of time around others. At this age, a stranger can be anyone they don't see every couple of days, including grandparents.

It is not unusual for toddlers to be worried about being left at their child care or kindergarten. An understanding and caring child care centre will recognise this and the child's fear will disappear as he becomes more comfortable with his new surroundings. They will give you advice on helping him to get through this time. As your child grows he will experience new fears and you will find that you need to establish new strategies for helping him to cope.

How they grow

Your toddler should have four teeth by now, if not then you need to visit your dentist. The average toddler will have eight teeth and will get four more sometime in the next three to six months. If teething is uncomfortable, try rubbing ice on his gums or give him a cold teething ring before you try teething gels or paracetamol.

Caring for toddler's teeth is very important. We know that toddlers with decayed teeth are likely to develop decay in their permanent teeth. Be sure you know how to clean your toddler's teeth and that you do it at least twice a day. Sit your toddler on your lap facing away from you and gently brush his teeth with a toddler toothbrush. Toddlers don't need toothpaste and they generally dislike the taste of it.

Growth: Not eating enough?
It is normal to worry that your toddler is not eating enough. In the second year there is so much else to do, they are learning new things every day and they are also learning to say "no!" Here are two simple nutrition guidelines: (1) offer a variety of healthy foods every day; (2) keep sugary snacks off the menu as much as possible, offer juice and milk instead. Doing this will mean that your toddler will want to eat nutritious food when she is hungry. Some parents worry about their toddler eating too much, not too little. Obesity can be a worry. But following these two simple suggestions will help you to keep your toddler's weight in check.

Like most of us, toddlers love music and they love singing. Make music part of your day by singing to your toddler in the bath, when you are out driving, when you are changing a nappy, when you are doing chores. Encourage your toddler to join in. A few popular children's CDs will give you some material, and probably refresh your memory. You'll be surprised how many of the words come back to you from your own childhood!

Moving along
By 18 months most children can walk, climb onto low levels, push a toy such as a brick trolley, put one block on top of another, make marks or scribble with a pencil and pick up small objects. If at any time you are concerned that your child may have a problem it is reassuring to seek expert advice from your doctor or your local child health centre.

Sleep: Naps
Many toddlers are not getting enough sleep, according to a study published in March 2006 by the University of South Australia's Sleep Study Centre. Toddlers of this age still need their daytime naps, though by the time they are 15 months many may no longer have a morning sleep. If your toddler only needs an afternoon nap, it's best to have it soon after lunch to minimise the effect on sleeping at night. Read more about Infant and Children's Sleep.

At 18 months your child may need to have his chickenpox vaccine.

Every day caring

How safe is your home?
One of the best ways to check for dangers in your home is to get down on your hands and knees and take a look around. Now think about what you can see. Are there stairs with no gate? Low tables with sharp corners? Glass surfaces or low windows? Unprotected power points? Fires without guards? Bowls of pet food? Cupboards containing things that could harm your toddler or be damaged by inquisitive little hands? The home is the most dangerous place for a toddler and most accidents happen at home. The most dangerous spots are the pool, the driveway, fireplaces, stairs, the bathroom, and the cupboards where you keep medicines and cleaning stuff. You can take precautions to protect your child from injury or accident in the home. Find out more from about making your home safe for toddlers with Kidsafe.

Playtime: Six games to play outdoors

If you don't have a backyard hopefully there is a park or a beach nearby where you can play with your toddler. Here are some simple games you can enjoy together.

  1. Sand play is great fun. If you don't have room for a small sandpit then a small plastic basin or even a cardboard box lined with newspaper is ideal-and if you don't want to use sand, then rice can be almost as much fun. You can put your sandpit on the balcony or on sheets of paper or plastic on the floor. You don't need a fancy plastic container for your sandpit; a small hole in the ground lined with paper will make a reasonable temporary sandpit.   Fun things for the sandpit: Plastic cups and takeaway food containers, plastic soap powder scoops, a wooden spoon, and a brush and pan (children often enjoy sweeping up the sand as much as playing with it). Don't forget a towel and water to clean hands afterwards.
  2. Finger painting. Although this needs a bit of extra work and supervision on your part, it's worth it for the fun factor. Use our "fake paint" so you have no worries about toxicity. Mix up your finger paint and then find some plain paper or a cardboard box. Prop it up on an easel or take a small table and chair outside. Or simply spread some newspaper on the ground. Then pass your child the paint, give it a little stir with your finger and stand back and watch. You may need to do a couple of dabs to get him started but your role is to be an appreciative audience.
  3. Fake paint: There are some sophisticated recipes available that use corn-flour, but a packet of instant pudding mix is the best thing for this age group as some will inevitably go into the mouth. You only need about ¼ of an average packet.
  4. A tea party. All you need to host a fine toddler tea party is to set your toddler's table (or the coffee table) with a few plastic cups, plates and a plastic jug. Then invite a favourite teddy or doll to sit on the other chair. Water in the jug is fine for pouring and a few grapes or sultanas are ideal food. Ask your toddler if Teddy would like a drink, would he like a plate to eat from, what would he like to eat, and so on. Then let your toddler lead.
  5. Post the pegs. When you are out by the washing line, put a small box with a hole in the top next to the peg basket. Posting the pegs will keep your toddler happy while you deal with the laundry. You can also play pass the peg, asking him to pass you a blue peg, or a red peg.
  6. Take a nature walk. Walk slowly round the garden or the park and talk about what you see. "This is a tree", "This is the bark on the tree", "Here is a leaf from the tree". Involve baby by asking her to find more leaves or another piece of bark. Talk about the weather as well.
  7. Water play is always fun. Start with a plastic basin, some lukewarm soapy water and a few dolls' clothes. Rig up a little clothes line and provide some pegs for hanging out the washing. Remember you must supervise water play all the time, but let your child play in his own way. Toddlers also love painting a wall with water. Put a couple of drops of food colouring in the water to give it a bit more character. The only other thing you need is a large old paint brush and a wall.


Outwitting the fussy eater
A non-fussy eater is a rare gem. Most toddlers have very definite ideas about what they will and won't eat at some stage. But parents often make it more difficult for themselves. Here are some strategies to get you through this period.

  • Rejecting a new food is perfectly normal. It can take up to eight tries before a child will eat a new food.
  • Fussy parents will have fussy children. If you don't eat a variety of foods then your children are not likely to either.
  • Toddlers need to eat small and often. Offer healthy snacks, such as fruit, wholemeal breads, cheese slices, vegetables and dips. Toddlers should only drink milk, water or a 50/50 water and juice mix.
  • Don't expect your toddler to eat a big meal. Offer small portions and let your child decide how much she will and won't eat.
  • Never give soft drinks and avoid sugary, fatty and fast foods.
  • Don't rely on commercial baby foods. You can feed your baby more nutritiously and often more cheaply on readily available foods such as yoghurt, baked beans, canned corn, ricotta, bananas, avocados, mango or an egg.
  • Be ready to throw away the left-overs.

Sand play is great fun.

Recipe ideas
Find great Toddler friendly recipes to keep your toddler happy and healthy.

Discuss your toddler with other parents
Visit our forums for great parenting tips on Toddlers aged 24-36 months.

Toddler news, features and factsheets
Read articles, tips and information on all things relating to your toddler.


Find out more:
The Parent Easy Guides from Parenting SA, a government organisation and the fact sheets from the Children, Youth and Women's Health Service are amongst the best and most up to date sources of information for Australian parents. Here you will find PDFs on all these topics and more.


Sign up for the Toddler Quarterly Guide email - covering development, sleeping, toddler care, immunisation reminders, food and more.

These guides are written for Essential Baby by child care author, Carol Fallows. Carol established Australian Parents magazine in the early 1980s as Australia's first parenting magazine and managed it for nearly 18 years. She continues to write about and for parents. Her most recent title is Having a Baby. The essential Australian guide to pregnancy and birth. (Random House, 2005).

This information is not a substitute for professional advice.  If you have any concerns about your child's health or wellbeing it is important that you seek help from your doctor or a health professional.

Unless otherwise indicated the pronoun he or she refers to either sex. We have chosen to alternate.

Discuss your toddler's development with Essential Baby Mums.