What behavior is normal for toddlers?

Have you ever wondered if what your toddler is doing is normal or age-appropriate behavior for their age? Most parents wonder about this and want to know if their child is progressing as expected and meeting milestones on track. Understanding what’s expected or age-appropriate behavior can help you navigate the beautiful and sometimes frustrating world that is living with toddlers. What behavior is normal for toddlers?

Between ages 18 months and 3 years old, we can expect the typical child to be able to:

Social-Emotional

  • Show excitement when they’re around other children
  • Do exactly what you’ve told them not to do
  • Plays independently by other children but may start to play together in things such as chase
  • Copies adults and older children in what they say and do
  • Shows increasing independence

Language

  • Say 2-4 word sentences
  • Follow simple instructions
  • Point to things in a book
  • Repeat words they hear

Cognitive

  • Builds towers of 4 or more blocks
  • Plays make-believe
  • Starting to sort shapes and colors
  • Names simple pictures in a book (ex. Kid, cat, dog, mom)

Physical

  • Kicks a ball
  • Stands on tiptoes
  • Climbs up and onto furniture
  • Starts to run
  • Can climb up and down stairs while holding on to the railing

Many children start at Klein-Spring Montessori school around this age. Our Toddler classroom environment is designed with these milestones in mind. The work the children have help them develop, practice, and refine these new skills as they develop.

In a Montessori toddler classroom environment, our youngest students will work on learning to speak. We often refer to the explosion of language that happens in this 18-36 month timeframe. Children start Toddlers with only a few words and leave the classroom at age 3 with a full vocabulary. They also work on gross and fine motor skills such as holding a paintbrush and painting, rolling rags or towels, wiping mirrors, caring for themselves, sweeping up the floor, washing windows, etc.

Children in this age range begin to make friends but are more likely to work side-by-side with another child than play or work together. They start working with manipulatives at this age, building block towers, using bead mazes, and other physical dexterity activities.

From a language standpoint, children learn to name their body parts, clothing, items in their environment, and more. They’re developing their language skills and know the word no.

Toddlers are also likely to test boundaries and do things they’ve been told not to do. In Montessori, we try hard to redirect rather than say no as it helps the child feel empowered, but it also helps cut down on the fights and defiant behavior.

We read together and make the sounds in favorite stories to make it more engaging for the kids as they learn to talk. We also spend time talking about and naming emotions so that children can start to understand happy, sad, angry, and more so they can name what they’re feeling in time. It’s easier for children to process and manage emotions later in life if they understand what they’re feeling. Children can also start to understand and show empathy at this age. We encourage our toddlers to check on friends if one is upset; we talk about hurt feelings and hug things out in a Montessori classroom, so the children learn empathy.

If your child has been at home with you or a caregiver and starts Montessori school or another preschool or daycare program, they’ll likely cry when you pick them up after class. This isn’t an indication that there’s an issue but is pretty normal. When a child is in a new environment, they work hard all day to keep it together, and when their safe person returns, tears are often shed until they get more familiar with the new environment and build bonds with the new caregivers.

It’s also very common for children to cry at drop-off in the morning when they’re starting a new daycare or preschool. As hard as it may be, it’s better for the kids if the primary caregiver does a quick drop-off and says goodbye, and hands the child off to the teacher. Children will look to their parent or caregiver for behavioral cues, and if you’re upset or crying because you feel guilty, they’ll cry more. A quick drop-off helps them quickly get into their routine in the classroom. Most times, within a few minutes, the tears have stopped, and the child is engaged in an activity.

If you’ve got a toddler between 18 months and 3 who’s testing boundaries or displaying defiant behavior, rest assured, it’s completely normal and expected at this age. It’s all part of their development.

How can you help your child at home? Praise good behavior more than punishing for bad behavior. Positive reinforcement works well with young children. Invest in toys for pretend play – have costumes or dress-up clothes, dolls, and pretend telephones. Have safe areas for your child to walk around and explore. Take them to places such as the park, children’s museum, or zoo so they can start to explore their larger environment.

Play with them at home, build a block tower and let them knock it down. Do simple art projects together. Do simple puzzles together; start with ones that match shapes rather than try to put pieces together.

If you want more information on age-appropriate behaviors, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a reference guide.

If you’re looking for a great daycare or preschool for your toddler, we’d love to have you visit us at Klein-Spring Montessori and see how our toddler classroom environment is designed with toddlers and their development in mind.

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