2-3 years: Toddler Development


Children come in all shapes and sizes but development at 2-3 years typically has some things in common. Here is what might be happening for your child, how you can help, and when to see a child health professional for a qualified assessment.

Development at 2-3 years: what is happening


This is one of your child’s most important ages for emotional development.

Your toddler is going through lots of emotions, while also learning about other people’s feelings. Temper tantrums are normal, because children often don’t know how to put words to ‘big’ emotions like frustration, anger, embarrassment, guilt and shame.

Your toddler is also starting to understand how her behaviour affects you and how your behaviour affects her. She won’t have as much separation anxiety, and might not get so upset when you leave her.


Around 2 years, your child might be able to use sentences of 2-3 words and even pronouns ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘me’.

Around 3 years, your child will be able to use sentences of 3-5 words or more and learn to take turns speaking when in conversation. Your child may also start forming simple stories to relate some events of the day. For example, ‘I go shop.’ ‘And what did you do at the shop?’ ‘Buy milk.’ Your child will also talk about people and objects which are not present. For example, ‘Grandma at the shops’, or ‘My ball in tree’.


Everything your child has learned so far has developed thinking.

Your child is starting to understand concepts like time and opposites – for example, big/small and day/night. She’ll also start to point to body parts based on what they do, sort objects, and match shapes and colours. And she’s starting to remember what some things look like – for example, apples look red and round.

Your child solves problems by trying things out.

Playing and learning

Play is important because it is how your child learns.

Your child will enjoy playing with others, playing dress-up, having tea parties, finger painting, and rough and tumble play. When your child plays with you or other children, you might find that your child is getting better at taking turns.

Telling stories, singing and reading are also fun things for your child to do at this age.

Everyday skills

Around this time, your child is keen to do more things without help.

Your child can wash hands before meals, bathe, feed and dress with little assistance.

Build confidence and independence by letting your child help you with simple chores.

Your child might even be ready for toilet training and these are some of the signs:

  • can do most things that you ask without your help
  • is interested in watching others go to the toilet – this can be awkward or make you uncomfortable at first, but it is a good way to introduce things
  • lets you know when he does a poo or wee in the nappy
  • can follow simple instructions, such as ‘Give the ball to Daddy’

Observe your child for toilet training readiness – but try not to push it. Going to the toilet is one of the hardest things for your child to learn because it uses so many skills. For example, your child must know when to do a wee or a poo, understand to do wees and poos in the toilet, be able to use the potty or toilet, and pull clothes up or down when using the toilet.

Starting toilet training too early means your child will take longer to learn.


Your child can run and will probably fall less, starting to use the stairs independently with the rail for balance, and is better at throwing, kick and catching items like a ball. Probably even capable of standing on one leg for a few seconds at a time.

Your child will feel ressassured and safe with you around and this builds confidence to try new things and explore independently.

It is a good idea to look into child-proofing your home during this time of active exploration.

At this age, your child might:

  • jump on the spot
  • ride a tricycle
  • recognise objects and name them
  • alternate feet when walking up stairs.

Helping development at 2-3 years

Here are some simple things you can do to help your child’s development at this age:

  • Give your child the chance to play with others: play is a great way for your child to make friends and learn how to be with other children. But don’t expect sharing and taking turns just yet – toddlers think that everything belongs to them.
  • Encourage everyday skills like using a spoon, drinking from a cup and taking off a hat. These skills involve both small and big muscle movements, as well as your toddler’s ability to think about what she’s doing.
  • Talk with your toddler: naming and talking about everyday things – body parts, toys and household items like spoons or chairs – helps develop your child’s language skills. At this age, you can teach your child that a ‘chair’ can be a ‘big chair’, ‘red chair’ or even a ‘big red chair’.
  • Give meaning to your child’s talking by listening and talking back to him. If your toddler says ‘Mama milk’, you might reply by saying ‘You want Mum to get you some milk?’ This also makes your child feel valued and loved.
  • Read to your toddler: you can encourage your child’s talking and imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes.
  • Do some cooking with your child: this helps your toddler to get interested in healthy food, learn some new words, and understand maths concepts like ‘half’, ‘1 teaspoon’ or ‘30 minutes’. You can give her simple things to do, like tossing a salad or putting together sandwiches.

When your child learns a new skill, celebrate his achievements with lots of praise and positive attention. It is also a good idea to help and support him to keep doing the things he has learned, even if he finds them hard.

Parenting at 2-3 years

You will learn more about your child's need along the path of growth and development.

As a parent, you are always learning about your child. While it is okay to be confident with your knowledge, there are gaps of your understanding of your child and you should feel comfortable asking the right questions to fill these gaps.

Your own physical and mental health is an important part of being a parent. But with all the focus on looking after a child, lots of parents forget or run out of time to look after themselves. Looking after yourself will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to be a parent.

Sometimes you might feel frustrated or upset. But if you feel overwhelmed, put your child in a safe place – for example, a cot – or ask someone else to hold him for a while. Take some time out until you feel calmer. You could also try going to another room to breathe deeply or calling a family member or friend to talk things through.

Never shake a toddler. It can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage.

It is okay to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your toddler, talk to your spouse, a family member, friends or seek professional help.

When to be concerned about toddler development

See your paediatrician or General Practitioner (GP) if you have any concerns or notice that your two-year-old has any of the following issues.

Seeing, hearing and communicating

Your child:

  • has trouble seeing or hearing things
  • isn’t using two words together – for example, ‘Red car’.

Behaviour and play

Your child:

  • can’t follow simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’
  • doesn’t copy actions or words – for example, when singing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’
  • doesn’t pretend during play – for example, doesn’t pretend to have a tea party or feed a doll
  • isn’t showing her feelings
  • doesn’t come to you for affection or comfort.

Movement and motor skills

Your child:

  • cannot walk up and down stairs, even if holding on to you or a rail
  • cannot run
  • has difficulty handling small objects like a crayon for example
  • is not scribbling or trying to draw.

Consult your paediatrician or GP if you notice the following issues in your child:

Seeing, hearing and communicating

Your child:

  • does not look you in the eye
  • has trouble seeing or hearing things
  • is not using three-word sentences
  • is often hard to understand when talking to you, family or friends.

Behavior and play

Your child:

  • does not understand simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’
  • is not interested in other children
  • finds it difficult to separate from his primary caregiver
  • does not pretend during play – for example, pretend to play ‘shopping’ or ‘riding on the bus’.

Movement and motor skills

Your child:

  • cannot run
  • is not scribbling or drawing
  • has difficulty handling small objects like a crayon for example.

Consult a child health professional if your child loses skills previously acquired.

Also consult your paediatrician or GP if you notice signs of postnatal depression in yourself or your partner. Postnatal depression symptoms include feeling sad and crying for no obvious reason, feeling irritable, having difficulty coping and feeling very anxious.

Children grow and develop at different speeds so if you worry your child is not development normally, it helps to know ‘normal’ is subjective. Still, if you sense something out of the ordinary, see your paediatrician or GP.

Video: Connecting and communicating (18-35 months)

Watch this video and learn the importance of communicating with your toddler, and how it helps him learn and develop.

Play and learning with toddlers (18-35 months)

Watch this video and learn tips on how to engage and play with your toddler.




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