25 Questions First-time Parents Ask About Their Toddler's Development

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Just when you think you're starting to get the hang of this parenting thing, the toddler years hit. The first year is more like a warmup: food, diapers, sleep deprivation, first scares, etc. But once your little one starts walking, everything changes!

The toddler years are challenging for first-time parents because toddlers have more complicated skills, are more independent, get into more trouble, and feel bigger feelings but don't have the ability to identify or express them yet. No surprise, parents have questions about toddler development.

Here are answers to 25 of those questions (plus a few more). Let's get into it!

1. When Should My Toddler Start Walking?

Most toddlers begin walking between 9 and 15 months old but may start as early as 8 months or as late as 18 months. Roughly half of all children are walking by 12 months, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has shifted the milestone of "independent walking" to 18 months (source).

Typically, babies progress from rolling to pushing up to hands and knees to rocking to crawling to pulling up to cruising by their first birthday. Those first independent steps often happen between 12 and 15 months, but if your tiny tot isn't following suit, don't worry! Every child develops at his own pace!

2. How Many Words Should My Toddler Be Able to Say by Now?

Toddlers vary drastically in when they start speaking and how many words they use. Toddlers with older siblings talking for them tend to speak for themselves later, while firstborns typically speak earlier. However, linguistic ability usually levels out over time (source). 

Around her first birthday, a toddler typically waves "bye-bye," calls parents "mama" or "dada," and understands "no." By 15 months, a toddler usually tries to say one or two words for favorite things, like "ba" for ball, "da" for dog, or "my" for mine. However, her understanding of physical vocabulary around your home is decent (source).

18-month-olds can typically string together three or more words to get their point across and understand simple instructions without hand gestures. By 24 months, a toddler can point to things you ask about, say things like "more food," and use several simple gestures to communicate (source).

Language skills explode over the next year. By 30 months old, a toddler usually says about 50 words, pairs nouns and verbs to make a simple sentence, and begins using pronouns like "I," "we," and "me" (source).

This progresses to short and sweet conversations, questions, and descriptions that others can somewhat understand at 36 months old (source).

3. When Should My Toddler Be Able to Follow Simple Directions?

Every toddler is different, but you will likely not see your toddler display a consistent ability to follow simple directions until she is around 24 to 30 months old (source). 

Happy baby playing with toy blocks

Before this, she may understand routine directions or your hand gestures ("Look at that!"), but don't expect her to clean her room without you there.

Expectations are a significant hurdle for first-time parents because they can be too advanced or lax. Work with your toddler early on by explaining what you are doing simply around the house. This will likely help her learn vocabulary and associate words with actions sooner.

4. How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?

Toddlers need significantly more sleep than adults do, but some toddlers manage to run on less. The main thing is ensuring they don't have habits that hinder sleep, like having a bright night light, drinking lots of fluid before bedtime, having sugar before bedtime, or watching a screen within two hours of bedtime.

Here is a quick reference chart for toddler sleep in a twenty-four-hour period (including daytime naps) (source):


Hours of Sleep in 24 Hours (including naps)

4-12 months old

12-16 hours

1-2 years old

11-14 hours

3-5 years old

10-13 hours

5. When Should My Toddler Stop Using a Pacifier?

You should start weaning your toddler from a pacifier or sucking on his fingers between 12 and 18 months of age because these habits may increase the chances of ear infections (source).

Beyond a year and a half of age, sucking habitually on pacifiers or fingers can impact dental health. For example, jaw alignment and crooked teeth are more likely for long-term sucking habits (source).

To break a pacifier habit, you can offer a replacement comfort, like a stuffed animal, security blanket, or a favorite book. You can even let your little one pick out a new toy to replace the pacifier or throw away all the pacifiers in your house. A more gentle break is rewarding your toddler every time he removes the pacifier.

Sucking fingers is an admittedly more difficult habit to break because their fingers are always available. You can try weaning with a combination of the following:

  • Apply a bitter-tasting nail polish to fingernails

  • Give him a "busy toy" that requires both hands

  • Keep a book nearby that requires both hands (flaps, textures, slides)

  • Make a goofy game up to play that distracts his sucking

  • Ask him to stop sucking and give a reward for obedience

  • Do a dance together during times he tends to sit still and suck his fingers

  • Give him a comfort item for stressful times when he tends to soothe himself by sucking his fingers

6. When Should My Toddler Be Potty-Trained?

Potty training is a difficult process that varies greatly from child to child. Most parents begin asking their 18-month-old toddlers if they have a wet or dirty diaper and start training them around 24 months old. 

Potty Training

However, potty training is a long process, with full daytime success between 30 and 36 months and nighttime success between 3 and 4 years old (source). Some kids struggle with nighttime accidents until they are 7 or 8 years old!

What Are Some Signs That My Toddler Is Ready for Potty Training?

Your toddler is ready for toilet training when she consistently communicates full diapers or says she needs to pee or poop before it happens. Likewise, you want to ensure she is able to get to the toilet, pull her pants down, and sit on the toilet herself to avoid failing right next to the toilet.

Your toddler may also be ready when she expresses an interest in trying or sitting on the toilet like mommy.

How Can I Make Potty Training More Doable for My Toddler?

The best thing you can do to make potty training easier for your toddler is to stay calm. If you blow up in anger, frustration, or annoyance whenever your little one has an accident or "doesn't do it right," you will crush his confidence to even try.

Logistically, buying a stool and a kid's portable toilet or a toilet seat will give your toddler easy access, and switching to pull-ups will help, too! You can even do a "potty dance" or give a big high-five every time your toddler successfully uses the toilet. Celebrate wins!

What Should I Do If My Toddler Is Not Potty-Trained By a Certain Age?

If your toddler is three and a half or four years old and not interested in potty training, contact your pediatrician for advice. Some toddlers just need to hear instructions from another authority figure they don't see that often.

You can also try using a watch with a timer reminding your toddler to use the bathroom every hour or two. If your child persistently resists potty training beyond four years old (and there is nothing medically hampering her ability to use the toilet), teach your child to clean up after himself.

7. How Can I Help My Toddler Learn to Share?

The first and best way to teach your toddler to share is by showing her what sharing is often. Share with your partner, share with other adults, and share with other kids. If you know other families that practice sharing well, let your toddler play with them so she can experience it. Kids learn by watching.

Sharing is a big theme in TV shows like Bluey and Daniel Tiger, but key body language is missing from cartoon animation. So, though your toddler will hear the concept of sharing in these shows, she needs to see it happen in real life to learn how to practice it.

8. When Should I Start Disciplining My Toddler?

Discipline is such a touchy topic because everyone has had parents or guardians who messed up at some point and acted in anger. Discipline should never be an angry act by parents or a fearful event for children—ever. It should be a learning opportunity.

an attractive young woman sitting on the sofa in her living room and comforting her baby daughter

Babies and toddlers have no idea if their actions are right or wrong, pleasant or painful, helpful or harmful. Parents must teach them by rewarding good behavior and punishing wrong or harmful behavior. Doing so lovingly is discipline.

Start disciplining your child gently from the beginning. Not by smacking, but by saying, "No baby, that's not for you" or "That hurts, baby; please stop" and moving the baby or the item from the problem.

How Can I Discipline My Toddler Without Spanking?

Independent toddlers are far more testy than clingy ones, so simple reinforcement like this is not always enough. Swatting a hand that is reaching for something dangerous or getting into something the toddler has already been warned about is acceptable in the first year.

The swat should be gentle, but your toddler will likely cry from hurt feelings or a surprise. Comfort him and explain in a sentence or two that he is not supposed to have that item because it's dangerous or for someone else. If the forbidden item is not immediately dangerous or breakable, you can say so first and smack his hand later.

When your toddler is around two years old, you can try using a time-out chair and setting a timer for two minutes. Any longer, your toddler will likely forget why he's there and start playing with toys.

Anytime you instruct your toddler or try to give simple instructions, say his name and look right into his eyes. Your toddler is off in his own world most of the time, so he likely doesn't hear you unless you come into his view and engage with him. You should never yell or jerk your toddler for not responding immediately.

The hardest thing with any kind of discipline is tying the consequence to the action; it must make sense. Young toddlers won't understand how a punishment fits the crime, but they understand far more with consistency by three years old.

9. How Can I Help My Toddler Get Used to a New Sibling?

Adjusting to a new sibling is one of the sweetest times! Don't worry; most toddlers adjust naturally. The main thing you can do to help her adjust is give her a job to help the baby.

Two toddler children playing at home

Giving your toddler a job related to the baby will help her feel involved and provide a sense of responsibility. However, the job you give must be simple and supervised to avoid misunderstandings or mishaps. Here are a few options:

  • find the pacifier

  • grab a spit-up cloth

  • find a blanket

  • read a book to the baby

  • hand baby a rattle

  • do tummy time with the baby

  • tell you when the baby spits up

Don't ask your toddler to put a blanket on the baby, wipe spit up, lift the baby up, or feed the baby a bottle of milk because these situations can quickly turn disastrous or dangerous.

10. How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for My Toddler?

Children under 18 months of age should not have any screen time (other than video chats with family) because it hampers their linguistic learning and social skills (source). Even educational programming has not been proven to benefit toddlers and babies this young, so avoid it.

It's even better to keep screen time nonexistent or heavily limited between 18 and 36 months of age, even though the AAP says you can give them 30-60 minutes.

With 1 million neural connections being made in a baby or toddler's brain per second before 36 months old, a ten-minute TV program affects 600,000,000 neural connections! Your toddler will make much better connections by playing with toys, going outside, or talking with you.

11. When Should My Toddler Start Going to the Dentist?

As soon as your baby grows teeth, you can take him to the dentist. Most first dentist visits happen sometime between 12 and 24 months of age.

However, call ahead to ask if your dentist works with children under the age of two. Most dentists will see kids and adults but don't have the smaller equipment for toddlers. Most cities and towns have a dentist who will see toddlers; you just need to ask.

12. How Can I Help My Toddler Cope with Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a natural developmental milestone in toddlers before their second birthday. You can help your toddler cope by staying calm and creating a "bye-bye" routine that you do every time you leave.

We broke down several methods for handling separation anxiety in How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Your One-Year-Old. Check it out!

13. When Should I Start Teaching My Toddler to Read?

You likely won't teach your toddler to read so early, but you can certainly fuel a love for reading by reading books to your child often, making special library trips, and regularly reading yourself.

You can start teaching your toddler to spot numbers and letters between 18 and 24 months. If your little genius is absolutely enthralled with books and identifies letters and numbers by sight and phonetics, then you can start teaching sound combinations and sight words.

There are loads of resources online for teaching 3-year-olds sight words, letters, and numbers, so check them out!

14. How Can I Make Learning Fun for My Toddler?

Learning is fun for your toddler if you are having fun! You set the tone and the atmosphere with your enthusiasm and curiosity. Learning will also be fun if it involves sensory stimulation.

Beautiful teacher and toddler boy building pyramid with hoops bolcks at kindergarten

Think of sensory toys, bins, and experiences, like a bin full of dried beans and scoops or hands-on exhibits at the science museum. We gave some pointers and preschool sensory activity ideas you can do at home in this article: 7 Unique Preschool Sensory Activities for Homeschool.

15. How Can I Help My Toddler Develop Skills?

Toddlers build skills by following the "monkey-see-monkey-do" method. You are teaching your little one skills by interacting with your toddler, your environment, and others. 

So, your child will naturally learn skills by mimicking you, but there are other things you can do as well.

Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving is best done by playing with non-electric toys or doing activities with other kids. Sure, you can play with your child, ask questions, and talk through solutions as your toddler listens, but actually sorting out the problem and communicating with other children works wonders for a toddler's social and problem-solving skill development.

Between 3 and 4 years old, some toddlers branch into doing simple puzzles, mazes, or building paths for cars and balls, which is fantastic for building problem-solving skills.

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Again, playing is the way to go for building fine and gross motor skills. Throughout the first year, your baby naturally progressed through the foundational walking, talking, and reasoning skills. 

The same skills will continue to develop and be refined in the toddler years, albeit gross motor skills are easier for parents to watch. Sensory toys and activities are helpful for developing fine and gross motor skills, as is playing with other children.

Language Skills

Linguistically, the silent period ends around 24 months old, which is why the floodgates of babbling, talking to oneself, and asking billions of questions typically open before the third birthday.

Not to sound like a broken record, but language skills are best developed by playing and doing activities with others. Your little one will do lots of imaginative communicating naturally, which is excellent for practicing communication in situations (memories or imagined), adding vocabulary, and sorting out feelings.

For more on how crucial play is in language development, read The Importance of Play in Language Development: Best Activities for Babies. You can easily play the games described there with your toddler.


A toddler develops creativity on her own, but you can support her by getting involved in her games, taking her to experience different places, reading to her, and giving her plenty of passive, open-ended toys to play with.

Passive toys require no batteries. Without a child playing with them, they do nothing. Open-ended toys are things like blocks, stacking cups, and building toys--there's no one way to play with them, so children have to get creative.

16. How Can I Encourage My Toddler to Be Physically Active?

Toddlers are usually busy running around, getting into things, and learning by doing. But how can parents encourage their toddlers now to keep up that physical activity throughout their lives? It starts with YOU.

Kid playing with mother in public park

If you are living a healthy, active lifestyle, your toddler will accept that as normal. But if you are living a stressful life and crashing on the couch whenever you have time off, your child will likely grow to do the same (source).

17. When Should My Toddler Start Playing with Other Children?

Right away! Toddlers and babies need to connect with others their age to learn valuable communication, sharing, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. However, it will take until around two years old before your toddler grasps these concepts well enough to play more freely with others.

Keeping a close eye on littles playing together is a good idea. Anything can happen, and they don't fully understand what hurts others.

18. How Can I Help My Toddler Develop Empathy?

Speaking of not understanding others' pain, empathy is difficult to learn. Empathy is the keen ability to recognize, understand, and share another person's feelings. Getting your toddler to think about how others feel when things happen to them takes time and consistent reinforcement.

Your toddler will begin to understand that others have unique feelings, thoughts, likes, and dislikes around three years old. Some toddlers quickly understand that their actions can impact others' feelings (source). However, your child will still need a few years to develop clear communication and deep empathy.

Helping your toddler develop empathy starts with your example, particularly how you react and name your child's feelings. Reading books and pretending also helps "show" and "act out" empathy, but how you handle and talk through real feelings will teach the most.

19. How Can I Help My Toddler Grow a Positive Self-Image?

The easiest way to help your toddler develop a positive self-image is to praise him for his effort and accomplishments--not only when he does things perfectly. Praising effort in doing something is the best way to avoid implying that you expect perfection.

Another way you can do this is by thanking your little one for helping, listening, or giving you things. Making your toddler feel like he contributes to you and the family is a wonderfully grounding reinforcement for littles.

20. When Should My Toddler Start Using a Booster Seat in the Car?

You should never put your toddler in a booster seat. Wait until she is 4-7 years old and maxes out the height and weight limit of your forward-facing car seat before shifting her to a booster seat. 

a happy little boy looking at camera while his mother buckling him in a car seat

She should remain in that booster seat until she reaches its height and weight limit, sometime between 8 and 12 years old (source). It seems like these restrictions last forever, but following these regulations will give your child the best chances of survival in a car accident.

21. How Can I Help My Toddler Cope with Stress?

How to help your toddler cope with stress depends on the source of the stress. Is the stress from a dramatic change in your family, such as divorce, a big move, or a relative's death? Or is the stress from the environment, such as lots of noise, angry neighbors, tons of clutter, or a dirty living situation?

Assuming the stress is nothing you can change, the first way to help your toddler is to manage the stress you feel and ensure it doesn't affect your child in the form of being easily annoyed, having a short temper, lashing out at, yelling at, or ignoring your toddler.

Second, make space and time to comfort your toddler and do a calming activity together. Maybe it's cooking, kneading bread, reading a book, playing with cars, or coloring. It doesn't matter what it is; just do something together to reassure your little one's heart of your love, care, and genuine desire to be together.

22. How Can I Help My Toddler Develop a Love for Nature?

By loving nature yourself! If you love being out in nature, the odds are that you will bring your toddler along to enjoy it with you. Sharing your hobby with your toddler will likely contribute to bonding and feelings of nostalgia down the road.

Another thing you can do is make time to go to the zoo, camping, visiting national parks, swimming, canoeing, and anything else nearby. Talking to others about the experiences you two had outdoors will also encourage a love for nature.

23. When Should My Toddler Start Learning a Second Language?

Now! Young children are remarkably capable of picking up a second language. However, they need lots of listening practice in their environment. Perhaps you can speak or play games together using the target language or spend an hour every day quietly playing while listening to a podcast in that language.

Finding ways to connect your family with speakers of the target language is also essential. We discuss this more in From Babbling to Words: A Comprehensive Guide to Baby Language Development.

24. How Can I Help My Toddler Develop Good Manners?

Good manners come with seeing parents behave with good manners daily and giving consistent consequences for behaving rudely. The greater struggle here is keeping your expectations in check. Toddlers will eventually exhibit the manners you display; the earlier you start, the better.

Mother and toddler playing together

Manners you can start reinforcing by example from the beginning are saying "please" and "thank you," sitting at the table together to eat, taking turns to share, and showing respect to others (no pushing, snatching, biting, or screaming at others).

You can teach the sign language for "please" and "thank you" along with the words for manners and make it a rule to wait until you or your toddler are done eating before leaving the table.

25. How Can I Help My Toddler Develop a Sense of Responsibility?

Involving your toddler in what you do to maintain the household can help her develop a sense of responsibility. Involve her in cleaning, cooking, organizing, and decorating, and praise her for participating. Bragging about her help to others makes her feel validated as well!

A sense of responsibility is rooted in belonging and a strong sense of self. Toddlers typically want to be involved in whatever you are doing, so figure out how to do it. Even monotonous things like sorting change, arranging flowers, feeding fish, or making a paper chain can give your toddler a sense of pride and accomplishment.

When your toddler asks, "Can I help?" try to say yes and assign her a task. Before long, you'll be able to assign her responsibilities like feeding the dog, putting her dishes in the sink, taking a shower or using the bathroom by herself, and much more!

In a Nutshell

Of all the questions that first-time toddler parents ask, these 25 questions seem to come up the most. I hope you were able to glean some ideas from here to help you become the best parent you can be. Enjoy this intense but beautiful phase!

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