Play through the ages: Ages 12 to 18 months

All children develop at their own pace, but there are very important expectations for each age range. Let’s take a look at the development for children ages 12 to 18 months.

Moving into the developmental age range of 12 to 18 months, know that gross motor and language skills will grow at a brisk rate; however, there will also be big changes in social and emotional functioning. Vocabulary will increase to around 20 words and walking will usually become consistent by 18 months.

Most children will have gone through a phase of stranger anxiety and are usually ready to interact with new friends and other familiar adults by the end of this age range. Children will start to show different feelings such as happy and mad, excited and sad. They will not always be able to name their feelings, but you will definitely be able to distinguish them by watching their body language and paying attention to their behavior.

In this article, we’ll discuss some important developmental milestones and appropriate activities associated with children ages 12 to 18 months. The discussion will revolve around five specific areas of development and fun activities associated with increasing a child’s skills within these areas. The expectations are listed in appropriate developmental order below.

Gross motor development is the large muscle movements of the body. For children ages 12 to 18 months, the developmental expectations include being able to creep upstairs, crawling over objects on the floor, walking well alone taking over 10-12 steps in a row without support, taking three to five steps backwards without support, climbing onto a couch and adult-sized chair and hurling a ball a few feet in front of them.

Activities for the 12-to-18-month age range include the following. When learning how to walk, typically around the 1st birthday, give children objects to walk to and in between, such as chairs and stable furniture, allowing them to have spots to stop and stay standing after four to five steps. Allow them to climb onto couches and adult-sized chairs; however, be there with them and provide support and safety should they need help.

Now is also the time to master climbing up a small flight of stairs. Allow them to practice crawling up stairs that are up to three steps high. Have fun with them. Sit on the floor and roll a ball or toy cars and trucks back and forth. Allow them to throw a ball to you—keep in mind their aim may not be very good, but it should be in your general direction.

Fine motor development is the small muscle movements of the body. For children ages 12 to 18 months, the developmental expectations include imitating scribbles (no defined lines or circles), stacking three to four blocks or cubes on top of each other and using a very defined pincer grasp to pick up a small object such as a Cheerio (thumb and forefinger together).

Activities for the 12-to-18-month age range include the following. Now that your child is 12 months old, it is time to practice more with crayons. They are still going to hold the crayon in the palm of their hand, but will begin to color on paper, though there may only be a few marks, dots or strokes. Their coloring will not be exact and they will be working on imitation of lines well after they turn 18 months of age. Allow them to color as part of their daily routine.

Practice the pincer grasp multiple times during the day. Give them small objects to pick up that are no bigger than a Cheerio. They will at first pick things up using all five fingers, but will find it easier to use their index finger and thumb with more practice. Cheerios or puffs are good to practice with since they may be eaten with adult supervision.

Now is also the time to practice playing with toys such as shape sorters and blocks. A typical letter block fits in the hand of most 1-year-olds and causes them to rotate their hands to see the object they are holding.

Language development is a child’s ability to communicate with others verbally and nonverbally. For children ages 12 to 18 months, the developmental expectations include recognizing the names of at least two objects, indicating what they want by pointing, using jargon or jibberish when talking, having up to 10 words (by 18 months), pointing to at least one body part when asked and will follow at least two directions (not two in a row, but two unassociated directions)

Activities for the 12-to-18-month age range include the following. By 18 months of age, you can expect roughly 20 consistent words; however, a child typically understands a great deal more. Ask your child to get specific objects and bring them to you, but make sure you are asking them to get items for which they are familiar. Making this a part of daily routine will help them to expand vocabulary based on familiarity and repetition.

Begin to use at least four to five feelings words with them. Name their feelings as they have them, but keep them as simple as possible. Use words like “happy” and “mad” rather than “excited” and “angry” as those will come later.

As you interact with the environment, don’t be afraid to put a name to everything. As your child touches or points to an object, give it a name at the same time. Understand that your child may still use a lot of jibberish when they talk. Don’t feel as though you need to correct or make them say the word; just say the word right after them so they will be able to hear it spoken out loud. Eventually, they will say the appropriate word on their own.

Social development refers to a child’s ability to interact with their environment and other people. For children ages 12 to 18 months, the developmental expectations include imitating other’s actions, showing oppositional behavior, pointing to a body part when asked, seeking out affection or reassurance and kissing with a distinct pucker (by 18 months).

Activities for the 12-to-18-month age range include the following. There will be a lot of imitation beginning in this age range. From faces to actions, children will imitate a lot of what adults do. Practice passing or rolling a small ball back and forth. Hand small objects such as blocks, balls and other small toys back and forth.

Read as part of your daily routine with your child sitting with you in a position where they can see your face and the pictures in the book. They are going to watch your expressions as your read and will now track your finger as you point to, and name, pictures. Get them around other children and adults they are familiar with. Visit the local library and start to think about playgroups when they get close to 18 months of age.

Emotional development refers to a child’s ability to express their feelings to others and notice how others are feeling. For children ages 12 to 18 months, the developmental expectations include expressing oppositional feelings, showing pride in new accomplishments (laughing, clapping), pointing for a desired object and rejecting unwanted objects or attention (will push things and people away).

Activities for the 12-to-18-month age range include the following. Know that in this age range, your child is going to express oppositional feelings, typically for the first time. Don’t be upset with them and know they are not expressing feelings to upset others. They are learning how to let others know they are upset and don’t have the words to express their feelings to others.

When you see the emotion, put a name to it. Now is the time to begin to label emotions so your child can hear the words out loud. Feel free to say, “You are happy” or “You are mad.” You don’t have to include extra words, as they will only pay attention to the word you are using at the end of the sentence. Saying “You are” will get their attention, but the feelings word is what they will actually hear.

It is OK for your child to reject items and people at this stage by pushing them away. This is their way to say “no” or “I don’t want that.” Soon enough, they will learn to say the word no.

For more information on child development, parenting and school readiness please visit the Family Section on the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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