Eighteen Months to Three Years

We’ve got to the walking, talking bit. At the bottom end of this age bracket, you’ve got your little munchkin wobbling around with his/her nappy challenging his/her knee joints in a battle of wills, and at the top end you’ve got your capable little preschooler waving you off for a couple of hours a day. In that sense, this age range is the dawn of a new era...


You may have the delights of toilet training at the top end of this stage, although sometimes that comes a little later, especially in boys who don’t seem quite so motivated by growing up.

So we’re starting at 18 months, where the little one will:

  • Still use the mouth as the main way to explore things (fine when it’s a nice clean toy, trickier when it’s a dirty, mouldy windfall apple or worse!)
  • Learn things by the age-old trial and error method (also known as you burn, you learn!)
  • Copy other children and adults - gradually starting to copy more and more over the next few months.

For all of these reasons, safety becomes an even bigger deal now. The increase in physical ability but the fact that little buddy still isn’t exactly a professor in terms of understanding the world, opens up a plethora (loads!) of ways to get hurt.

Put simply, this is where your little poppet is fast enough to catch the dog, tall enough to pull the dining chairs over and speaks well enough to swear like a trooper... if that’s what s/he hears. So watch your mouth and watch your kid!

On the subject of speaking, most of us look forward to the bit where a kid can talk, so that we can work out what the heck is going on in there...and stop the eternal babyhood guessing game about what a crying baby actually wants.

Most kids by 18 months will have a vocabulary of around 50 words. Some will be very clear, some may be a bit mispronounced, but they will resemble the actual word fairly closely and are always used to mean the same thing.

They may also be stringing a couple of words together... like “red car”, or “Daddy’s coat” etc. at some point around 18 months to two years. The more you talk to your child and listen and let them finish their sentence, the better their language will be.

Reading to your child and chatting to them are fantastic ways of developing language. If you don’t read, telling stories, or making them up is also a good way forward and can be a decent way of unwinding at the end of a day, too. A retreat into your own childhood... my dad used to mix up fairy stories and come up with Goldie locks and the three little red hens!!!

In terms of play, friendship is still not yet on the cards, as such... s/he looks at other children playing, but isn’t quite able to join in the play yet. S/he knows nothing of how to introduce him/herself, or how to get in on the game.

The nice thing about that is, for a little while longer, you are still your kid’s best friend.

At 18-24 months, s/he likes playing with adults as well as by him/herself and the play still largely consists of repetitive actions such as putting objects in and out of boxes and scribbling on many pages.

  • Posting - All varieties of posting games, or games where you put things in and out of things. Cut a fat and a thinner hole in a shoe box and find four objects that fit on one or the other - this bit of creativity will be as good as any bought toy.
  • Sorting - I started off with shape sorters and went onto pegs in a Tupperware, large pebbles into a wheelbarrow, fruit into a smoothie maker jug (not attached to smoothie maker in case of unfriendly clash of blades and curious fingers!) dried pasta into a pan etc. Changing the size of the items keeps it interesting and also helps develop their small movements (fine motor skills) ready for pencil and scissors later in life.
  • Pushing - Trolleys, carts, dolls and buggies, push and pull toys. Many pleasurable hours all the way from walking right through to school age.
  • Stacking - Building bricks and anything safe and stackable - most children can stack up to 6 items at this age (recommend staying away from stacking loo rolls though, as can prove fatal to toilet systems when large amounts inserted at that moment when you lose concentration and forget what they are doing.)
  • Rhyming - I still played a lot of rhyme games (ride a cock horse, row the boat, grand ole duke of York etc) because they mean that you get to look into the face of your child, and touch your child. At this stage, they can become quite independent and it is easy to end up only ever touching them to change nappies and feed if they aren’t the cuddly type!
  • Ball skills - You can graduate from rolling it when sitting down, as you were at one year, to kicking it. If you choose a nice large ball, and kick it slowly, your child will feel quite capable and clever and this will build self-esteem.

Remembering that all children develop at different rates, I am trying to give you a few things that you can do with your child that will interest them and won’t be expecting too much.

This isn’t an exhaustive guide and if you are the main carer for your child, so you’re at home all day with them, I cannot totally fill your day here...

This is the age when going to parent and toddler groups and baby swim sessions, music groups etc become really important.

This can be a bit weird if you are the only dad there and I know that many of us hide away at home rather than face it, but look out for our article on tips on how to survive parent and toddler groups as a Dad and let us know your experiences via the forum. I would really recommend that you do get out to groups, because your child is quite agile, wanting to learn about life, has a short attention span, high activity threshold... in a nutshell (apologies for those with allergies!), hard work to be stuck in the house with all day!

If you are out at work and another is at home with your toddlers at this point, I am going to say what I always do...please respect how totally ”full -on” their day will be at this stage and help them to get out and meet other parents in the same stage!

Anyhow, your two-year-old will most likely be:

  • Starting to use “things as things” in play. So, like, a stick becoming a sword.
  • Still sleeping in the daytime at some point.
  • Copying other children as well as adults (for better and for worse.)
  • Finally starting to show the basics of reasoning skills... sometimes! In other words, they may at times be able to listen to a warning and not have to test it... learning without burning! You may be able to explain something such as why it is a bad idea to paste dog food from his bowl all over the kitchen cupboard doors.

As his/her language increases, s/he is more able to make friends and to actually play with other children. At first, s/he will play her/his own game, alongside them and then towards the three year old milestone, they will discover each other and play co-operatively.

Your child will chatter along to themselves incessantly and pick up new words at a great rate.

Sadly, you may be loved more than anyone else (as parents, this is your privilege) BUT you may not be your little person’s favourite playmate for much longer...don’t be put off by this, try to enjoy a few minutes here and there where s/he interacts with someone else....put the kettle on, say hi to your “other half”, text a friend...with one eye always on the little people.

At this stage I would suggest that they still need to be in the same room as an adult... from bitter experience, I can say that they aren’t ready to be out of sight.

  • Imaginative play - Lots of play is imaginative at this point and also creative... so up and at ‘em... buy some washable finger paints, make some playdough and hit the charity shops for dressing up clothes!
  • Outdoor play - Now as the mouth is mostly for talking and eating and not for exploring the environment, outside is a more safe and meaningful place to play than it was. Buy wellies, maybe a sand tray/pit, football, small slide and anything else safe and fun. Enjoy getting out as much as possible...the sun contains vitamin D and we all need it. It also protects against lowness of mood and as long as you use sun cream if it’s sunny, and wrap up if it is warm, it’s a great thing to encourage your little ones to do.
  • Table play - At three, most children will enjoy some sort of craft or play at the table - one of my girls used to call it ‘table play’. Keep it really simple and at this age praise any engagement in the activity...don’t set targets (e.g. don’t say that’s ok but can you colour inside the lines?) It is very easy to discourage a child at this point as they are trying new skills ....fine movement is really tricky at the start. Table play is fab for rainy days and can be used with short periods of TV in between activities to allow you to clear up. These are the activities that Dads stereotypically avoid, but I have actually found can keep you sane....and win brownie points with tired “other halves” or bored toddlers!
  • Colouring in - at this age your child can try some very simple colouring in, painting with fingers or fat brushes, copying letters or circles and shapes.Do you remember magic paint books? You just paint them with water and the colour comes out...the stuff of childhood...I remember going through five of these on the train to Margate as a kid!! I was almost four and thought that I had serious potential in the world of art and if you met me, you would know that that is entirely the feel-good factor of the magic book!!
  • Cutting & threading - Cutting with safety scissors, and threading large items onto string (e.g. cotton reels onto a shoelace) come along when you’re around three years old and are very challenging indeed at first...so take it easy and praise every effort!

At some point towards three years old, your child becomes aware that they are an individual, that they have a name (they will use their name to refer to themselves now) that they can be separate from you and trust that you will return and that they can trust some people that are not you.

This is a lot to take in, and happens at different rates for each of them. Basically, there’s loads going on in the minds of our toddlers so they need stability, routine, sleep and periods of quiet play at home to balance out the endless round of preschool/nursery, shopping, trips out etc.

If you are a non-resident dad, this can be a bit of a mixed bag at this age. Your child may be getting to know you more and be more willing to go with you, and the stuff you can do together is in many ways more exciting, but they do get tired easily and they may not cope with really long contacts with a lot of activity every time. If you don’t have a home where you can take them to have an afternoon sleep, or chill out time... try to build in long walks in the pushchair, reclined and covered up, when they would usually sleep... or half an hour driving, to encourage that nap-time. You may even have to be a bit realistic and shorten contacts at times, if they need time to relax.

You hear it all the time: the terrible twos. What I will say is that you can minimise tantrums by:

  • Having good routine, ensuring that your buddy gets enough sleep and regular meals.
  • Understanding how much their emotional fuel tank gets emptied by all the mind development stuff that goes on, and being sympathetic!
  • Having consistent ways of dealing with tantrums, so your child knows what will happen.
  • Making sure that your child knows that they are loved, whether they behave well or not.

I hope that gives you some things to enjoy with your child, and some ways to make life a little bit more fun. See you at 4-6 years!

Learn more about your baby by watching for developmental milestones here.

Related articles: 

The First Three Months

Three to Six Months

Six to Nine Months

Nine to Twelve Months

Four to Six Years

Six to Eight Years

Eight to Eleven Years

Hide comments (0)


  • No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Thursday, 04 March 2021

PLEASE NOTE: If you have a specific question for DAD.info or for other dads, please post it on our Forum.

We may use your email address to respond to you about your comment. View our Privacy Policy for more details.


Forum offline