Milestone – Guide to Your Toddler

Your Growing Toddler (Chapper1): Physical Development

FIRST SHOES (12 months) Shoes protect a beginning walker’s feet when it’s not possible to go barefooted. So choose your child’s first pair soon after the first steps.

The most important feature is flexibility, to allow normal foot motion. Quick test: Try to bend a shoe in the middle— it should fold easily. Canvas or buttery leather are good choices, as they are both soft and porous, minimizing rashes. Look for shapes that are boxy, like a toddler’s foot, not pointy. Choose soles with just a bit of traction; smooth or soft leather bottoms are too slippery, and gym shoes with an exaggerated tread will hinder his gait.

It doesn’t matter so much whether they’re high-tops or low, so long as they stay on. For that reason, select Velcro straps or lace-ups. (Thread shoelaces through lace keepers, available in dime stores, so they can’t be untied by chubby fingers, or double-tie them.) Cheap brands that meet the above criteria are just as good as pricier models. Exception: Avoid well-worn hand-me-downs, which have already been molded to the shape of another child’s foot and won’t give the proper support.
Loaners that have been barely used (such as dress shoes) are fine, though.

It helps to have your child’s foot professionally measured at a shoe store the first time. Err on the side of a little too big rather than too tight. But don’t buy more than a size too large, expecting her to “grow into them.” Recheck the fit every three or four months. All that said, going barefoot is the best way to practice muscle control and surefootedness. It’s perfectly fine for a walker to go shoeless indoors.


12 months Crawls well or stands without support; may cruise furniture or walk.

14 months Uses gestures, such as an index finger to point.

15 months Scribbles, feeds self with hands.

17 months Walks well unsupported; climbs; can roll or throw a ball.

18 months Stacks blocks; uses a shape sorter, holds a cup and drinks without spilling.

20 months Throws a ball overhand; climbs well; may kick a ball accurately.

24 months Pushes a wheeled toy; runs without falling; strings beads; can copy a circle.

30 months Balances on one foot briefly; builds a five-block tower; begins working simple puzzles well.

36 months Navigates stairs; pedals a tricycle; helps put thing away.

Eager to practice, your child will want to walk all day long. And if he’s sitting, he’ll get up to walk the moment you sit down. Once his gait becomes more confident, around 15 to 18 months, the rambunctious “into everything” stage begins. Your toddler will be able to squat down to inspect something, or pick up an object and carry it off while walking.

Twirling, climbing, and walking backward follow. The ability to get around where he desires dovetails with an increased curiosity about everything he sees. By 18 to 24 months, he’s on the run, although still a bit shaky when it comes to stops and turns. After 2, a toddler’s random meandering begins to become a bit more orderly. He still loves to run around, but he can also sit and look at a book or play with a toy for short spells. Again, realize that walking is a skill with a huge range of normal.

Your 15-month-old may be a runner or may not yet have taken his first steps.

After the second birthday, coordination steadily improves. Now a toddler can jump, dance, go up stairs with one foot on each step, and run faster than ever, and with better control over direction. In fact, toddlers’ nonstop squirming and general inability to sit still very long are normal. They help your child’s muscles to learn and practice overall coordination.

By the third birthday, a child moves assuredly. She can probably skip, gallop, stand on one foot, hop, throw a ball somewhat accurately, and change directions and stop confidently.


My toddler is bowlegged or flat-footed?

A crook-legged cowboy stance is natural until around 18 to 24 months. If the legs don’t appear to be straightening by 2 or 2 1/2, ask your pediatrician. Bowlegs rarely indicate a physical problem. As for flat feet, that too is absolutely normal until age 2 or 3.

Fine motor skills. Between 12 and 15 months, your child will be able to make her first marks on paper. Until around 30 months, these “drawings” will be mostly random lines and scribbles. Eventually your toddler may be able to draw a recognizable circle, rainbow, or simple stick figure. At first she will use her whole fist to grip the crayon.

Around 2 1/2, she may begin holding it between her thumb and fingers.

Hand-eye coordination doesn’t really take off until the third year of life.

Everyday activities help a child practice dexterity and coordination.

Examples: picking up food for self-feeding, turning doorknobs, zipping zippers, buttoning clothes, manipulating simple puzzles, turning the pages of board books.


My child still sucks her thumb (or a pacifier)?

Relax. Few pediatricians or dentists worry about thumb sucking until age 5, if then.

There’s little evidence it can ruin teeth before the permanent pearlies appear.

Usually the behavior persists into toddlerhood either out of habit or because it provides comfort. If there is a fear or stress triggering the habit, show your child other ways to confront it. But if the thumb sucking is an old habit and not constant, the best approach is to ignore it. Don’t nag.

Opinions are divided on pacifiers. Though not harmful, they’re associated with a higher incidence of ear infections, can hinder speech, and cause night waking if the tot can’t locate one in the middle of the night. Some doctors believe that a child who relies on a pacifier is less likely to mouth objects, an important way babies explore their world. Most children give them up by the third year. But if they make you uncomfortable, gradually restrict their use, first to home, then to bedtime.

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