From Baby to Toddler

Physical Development – Your Growing Toddler (Chapter 1)

Once your baby learns to pull up and walk (or “toddle”), the world will never look the same to her. Nor will she look the same to you. The snapshot you take on her first birthday will show a round-cheeked plumpkin whose rubbery legs dangle from the high chair while she mashes cake with her hands. She is transfixed by the candle, though you have to help her blow it out. She likes the singing, loves the crackling colorful wrapping paper. Despite the celebration, to her the day is like any other, although the grown-ups might seem especially cheerful.

Maybe she can say a few words: “Mama! Daddy! More!” Maybe she likes to practice standing, or has already taken her first tentative steps along the sofa or across the floor. A year later, the photo album will show a giddy 2-year-old dazed by the sight of a cake, candles, and presents. She’ll look enormous in the old high chair, the safety belt pulled out to its largest size, her long legs perhaps reaching the footrest. Her still-chubby face is smeared with icing, although she managed to get most of the birthday cake into her mouth with her own spoon. She can sing “Happy Birthday,” or at least a recognizable rendition, right along with you, and after she blows out both candles she applauds and commands, “Do it again!” Another year later, a lean, leggy 3-year-old grins back at the camera.

She has picked the cake decor, the ice cream flavor, and the party theme. She’s dressed herself in her favorite outfit because she knows it’s her special day. She’ll be the center of attention! She’s been counting down the days all week. Since sunrise, she’s been asking how long until dinnertime, so she could get at those coveted presents. By her third birthday, she’s become a bona fide preschooler, a toddler no more.

WHAT IF… My 15-month-old isn’t walking yet?

Nine months to 18 months is the general window considered normal for a child’s first steps. A 1½-year-old who has yet to take his first solo steps may a contented whiz-bang crawler or have a generally tentative, low-key personality. Heavy children tend to be slower walkers because they require stronger muscles to support their weight. Late walking does not mean your child will be athletically inept or otherwise slow. Some children skip crawling and simply stand up one day and take off.

Give your child plenty of opportunities to move around freely, and help him to stand or practice walking holding your hands. There’s some evidence that overreliance on stationary walkers (more than one or two hours a day) holds kids back. Wean your child off this device by early toddlerhood. Never use a mobile walker, which have been condemned by pediatric experts because of their high association with accidents.

By now, you’ve probably compared enough notes with other parents to know that there’s a huge range of what’s considered normal in terms of children’s growth and development. What was true of infants is also true of toddlers. Be careful to resist the temptation to measure your child’s size or skills against those of his companions at the sandbox. An 18-month-old who seems too chubby is probably just fine, for example, and his weight will naturally fall into proportion with his height by his third birthday. Or you may notice a neighbor’s 30-month-old hopping on one foot, something your child has never even tried. Make note of your child’s overall progress to reassure yourself that he’s reasonably on track, but don’t obsess about it. Physical development isn’t rigidly predictable. Every child is different.


By the mid-1990s, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had become a wildly popular and controversial pediatric diagnosis. ADHD is not a disease but a syndrome of related symptoms, including hyperactivity, impulsiveness, forgetfulness, and an inability to pay attention or concentrate. The cause is uncertain, possibly a combination of biological and environmental factors. No one knows how many children actually have it, but two-thirds of those diagnosed are boys. If your toddler is especially boisterous, active, and nonstop, you may wonder if ADHD is the reason.

It’s not. Toddlerhood is too early to diagnose hyperactivity. All 1-and 2-year-olds are extremely active, and all of them have short attention spans. In fact, many cases of ADHD are believed to be mislabeled. Some children are simply more restless, impulsive, and wiggly than others—a result of their natural temperament rather than a function of their brains.

Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on medication (particularly Ritalin) for ADHD each year in the United States, it remains a questionable diagnosis. Some experts believe it is a legitimate syndrome but is grossly overdiagnosed in a country that wants a quick fix rather than being willing to invest the time and attention many high-need children warrant. Diagnosis requires a battery of evaluations and tests by physicians, psychologists, and educational specialists. But, again, toddlerhood is too early to worry.

Here’s an overview of the physical changes that occur during toddlerhood: Growth. The fantastic rate at which your baby grew from birth to 12 months slows in the second year. You won’t be replacing shirts and pants quite as often as you did in infancy, but it’s unlikely that a 1-year-old will still be wearing the same clothes six or twelve months later. Between 1 and 2, the typical toddler grows five inches and gains four to five pounds. Between 2 and 3, she’ll sprout up an additional two to three inches and add up to five pounds.

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