Growth and development, toddlers

A toddler and their parents playing with toys on the ground.

Helping your toddler grow in a healthy and positive way is one of the most important jobs a parent will do. As you have learned by now, each child grows and develops in their own way and as a parent it is up to you to provide the environment and support to help your child. Spend time together; have fun!

Download the development guide

Growth and learning in the toddler (English) - Learn about toddler development from 18 months to 3 years with guidelines for what most children learn during this period. Each child is an individual. Some will get there sooner; others, later. Also available in ChinesePunjabiSpanishVietnamese

Bedtime and sleep

Children who get enough sleep are happier and have less challenging behaviour. However, sometimes getting a good night's sleep is difficult. There may be temporary problems like illness or changes to routine, so getting your toddler to sleep may be a struggle.

Tips for helping your toddler sleep

  • Toddlers need lots of physical activity and time outside. You can take them to a toddler program or free play at your local community centre.
  • Set a routine. Have regular meal times, activities and nap times. Create a calming bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom isn't too hot or too cold, and that it's quiet and dark. Quiet soothing music, white noise or a nightlight may help.
  • Your child may settle better with a comfort object like a favourite stuffed animal or soft blanket.
  • If your toddler is trying to climb out of the crib, it's time to get a toddler bed.

If you have tried sleep tips from several resources but your toddler still isn't sleep well, talk to your Public Health Nurse. Make sure you're practicing good sleep habits too.

Dental care for toddlers

Your toddler should already be seeing a dentist regularly. If you haven't gone because the cost is a concern, you may be eligible for basic dental care through the B.C. Healthy Kids Program

Keeping your toddler's teeth healthy

By taking good care of your toddler's baby teeth, you are also taking good care of their adult teeth. Brushing your toddler's teeth is not always easy, but it's always worth the effort! Good habits now will prevent tooth decay later in life. 

  • Brush the tooth/teeth two times a day - Make brushing part of your daily routine
  • Use a small, soft toothbrush - Let your child choose their toothbrush
  • Use a rice grain size amount of fluoride toothpaste - Try different toothpaste flavours until you find one your child likes
  • Make brushing teeth fun - Sing a song, tell a story or listen to music
  • Encourage your child by letting them practice brushing on their own; praise them for letting you brush their teeth once they have had their turn.
  • Give all drinks from a cup (not a bottle); only give water to drink between meals. Use this resource to help the transition to a cup
  • Limit the amount of sugar you give in food and drink, especially sticky sweets.

For concerns about your child's dental health – contact your local Public Health dental program.

Growth and weight

It is very normal for parents to wonder if their child is growing and developing in a healthy way.  Many parents wonder if their child is the "right" height and weight for their age. The truth is that while there are some general guidelines, each child will grow and develop at a pace that is right for their own body.

The percentage of children in Canada who are overweight has doubled in the past 20 years, so it is more important than ever for parents to be aware of how to help children develop healthy habits for eating and physical activity.

The best way to help your toddler maintain a healthy weight and grow appropriately is to provide nutritious food and lots of opportunity for physical activity. Regular check ups with your health care provider will help track your child's growth, and identify any concerns early. They should measure your child's height, weight and head size to track your child's development.

Tips to help your child maintain a healthy weight

  • Offer regular meals and snacks with fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Allow your toddler to determine how much to eat of the food you offer.
  • Be physically active with your toddler. Plenty of exercise through play sets healthy patterns for life. See Benefits of physical activity for toddlers - HealthLink BC
  • Ensure your toddler gets enough sleep.

If you have any concerns about the growth milestones your child is reaching please consult your health care provider or local Public Health Unit.


In order for your child to develop speech and language skills, they must be able to hear properly. Your child's hearing should be assessed at early childhood check ups by your health care provider, and there are steps you can take to monitor and protect your child's hearing. 

Tips to protect your toddler's hearing

  • Avoid ear infections that can lead to hearing loss by keeping your child away from second-hand smoke, and avoiding putting them to bed with a bottle.
  • Use a light towel when cleaning your child's ears. Do not use cotton swabs or put anything small in your toddler's ear canal.
  • Keep the volume of television, music and toys at a reasonable level. If you have to raise your voice to be heard above them, they are too loud for your child's ears.
  • Provide ear muffs or headphones if your toddler must be around very loud sounds such as loud music or fireworks. Do not use earplugs as they could pose a choking hazard.

Signs of hearing problems

If your toddler shows signs of any of these indicators, you should speak to your doctor:

  • Turns their body so the same ear is always turned towards sounds.
  • Talks either very loud or very soft.
  • Has a hard time responding to being called from across the room, even when there is something interesting to respond to.
  • Has a hard time understanding what has been said, even when using simple words.

Some medical issues can also lead to hearing loss so if you notice any of the following, you should take steps to get them treated:

  • Regular ear aches
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Red skin around the ear
  • Wax blocking the ear canal on a regular basis
  • Foul odour from the ear canal

Injury prevention and safety

Children learn new skills quickly. That's why it's important to be two steps ahead when thinking about safety. As your child is learning to crawl, you should be preparing your home to be safe for them as though they can already walk.

Get down to your child's level and look for hazards. For example, try pushing against furniture to see if it's stable enough to support your child's weight as they pull themselves up to standing. Some of the most common causes of injury you should look out for are:

  • Falls – Example: Is there any furniture that your child could climb on then fall off of?
  • Burns/scalds – Example: Is there anything that your child could climb on in the kitchen that would let them reach the stove?
  • Poison – Example: Are all household cleaners stored and well out of reach?

If an injury does happen, it's good to be prepared ahead of time. Learn basic first aid for common injuries on the HealthLink BC website.

New sibling

You are expecting another baby. Congratulations! This may be very happy news for you and your partner, but you toddler might not feel the same way.

Tips to start preparing them for the change early

  • Read books about babies and siblings.
  • Show your toddler pictures and talk about when they were a baby.
  • Give your toddler a doll or stuffed animal to care for.
  • Make big changes well before the baby comes. For example, moving from a crib to a bed, changing rooms, or toilet training.
  • Read Preparing your toddler for a sibling - HealthLink BC


Playing should be your toddler's full-time job. Your child will not need a lot of toys. Most everyday objects around your home can used in fun ways. Make sure that whatever your child is playing with will not be able to fit into his or her mouth and that it has no small parts.

Tips for play

  • Your toddler will need at least 3 hours of physical activity spread throughout the day to build healthy bones, muscles, heart and lungs. Get them jumping, skipping, climbing and running as much as possible.
  • Find other toddlers for your child to play with. This will help them build social skills such as sharing and taking turns.
  • Set aside time to play with your toddler each day. If you're rushed, play singing, word, and guessing games while you do other things.
  • When you put toys out, put others away, instead of having them all out at once. Your toddler may find it overwhelming if there are too many toys to choose from.
  • Encourage a mix of both active and quiet play.

Positive parenting

The most important part of your job as a parent is to build a strong and loving relationship with your child. Supporting their social and emotional growth is important for success later in life.

Tips to help your toddler deal with their feelings

  • Comfort your child when they are upset.
  • Give names to feelings and talking about emotions.
  • Use gentle hands and a kind voice.

Self-care while parenting a toddler

  • Forgive yourself and your partner when you make mistakes.
  • Take care of yourself. If your needs aren't met, you can't be expected to take care of a demanding toddler.


Having a strong daily routine is good for both you and your toddler. When families follow a routine, it helps them become stronger. Everyone knows what to expect and feels a sense of belonging. Routines can help in the mornings, which can be especially challenging in many homes. It can be very frustrating if you are rushing around to get everyone out the door in the morning and your toddler finds it hard to get going. Doing the same thing every morning, in the same order, you are helping to get everyone out the door faster.

Benefits of routines

Following a routine teaches your toddler many important habits and life skills.

  • Incorporating brushing teeth, washing hands and getting exercise into a daily routine helps your toddler learn healthy habits.
  • A solid routine helps your toddler feel safe and secure.
  • Bedtime routines help your toddler get better sleep.
  • Routines help develop a sense of responsibility and time management skills.

Screen time

It can be tempting to use screen time to keep your child happy. And while sitting your toddler in front of the TV, computer or tablet can keep them occupied, it’s important to place limits.

Children learn best by using all of their senses. They need to touch, smell and interact with the world. When they’re watching a screen, they’re missing out on important chances to learn, grow, and play, keeping their bodies and minds healthier. Screen time is one of the biggest obstacles that keep your child from getting the amount of physical activity they need to be healthy. 

Tips to manage screen time

  • Let your toddler have no more than 1 hour of screen time per day.
  • Set a timer when using screen time to remind both of you when it’s time to do something else.
  • Schedule screen time in advance like you would other activities.
  • You decide what your child watches. Make sure the programs, videos or apps are appropriate.
  • Where possible, involve your child in what you’re doing. Bring them into the kitchen and have them help make dinner instead of watching TV, for example.

Speech and language

Toddlers' language skills develop at an incredible rate. Most will go from babbling at 18 months to speaking in full sentences by the time they are three years old. 

 Tips to help your toddler grow their language skills

  • Read stories with your child and sing nursery rhymes
  • Talk to your child about the things you do and see
  • Build on what your toddler says. For example, if they say "Kitty!" you can say, "Yes, that is a big cat."
  • Describe what you are doing and seeing with your child
  • Show an interest in what your toddler says

By two years old, your child should be doing most of the following things:

  • Understand and can follow simple requests (even if they may choose not to do what you ask). For example, “go get your shoes.”
  • Listen and be interested in simple stories
  • Name what they see in pictures
  • Try to use two words together. For example, “more milk”
  • Learn more words every week

When to get help

To see how your child’s language development compares to his or her peers, see the developmental chart for hearing and speec. However, each child develops at their own pace and has different strengths. It may be perfectly normal for your child to pick up language more slowly. 

If you have concerns, talk to your health-care provider or contact a speech-language pathologist at VCH. If services are needed, it’s important to start them as early as possible.


Most children are ready for toilet training (going to the potty) around their second birthday. Some are ready earlier and others later. Your toddler will let you know that they're ready when they do the following things:

  • Keep their diaper dry for a few hours at a time.
  • Show an interest in the toilet or potty and what it is used for.
  • They can pull down their pants and sit on a potty by themselves.
  • They can tell you through words or actions that they need to use the potty.

As your child learns to use the potty, use these tips and be patient. Every child has accidents, and it's normal for them to sometimes make a mess as they're learning. By giving them praise for doing well instead of punishment for mistakes, you're helping them learn faster.


Your toddler's eyes are growing like the rest of their body. Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about your child's vision.

Understanding your child's temperament

Temperament is your toddler's distinct nature or character. Some children's temperaments are obvious from birth, while others emerge over time.

Tips to work with your child's temperament

  • If your child has lots of energy, take them outside. Provide opportunities for them to play and explore.
  • Toddlers learn by doing. From 18 months to 3 years children learn what their bodies can do. They master many new skills. Give your toddler time with play dough, books or simple puzzles when they're calm.
  • Create a daily routine so that your child knows what to expect each day
  • Toddlers need to try things for themselves. They may be clumsy at first, but over time, they improve. They need chances to play with people, especially other children.
  • Toddlers also need reasonable rules and safe places to play and explore. Encourage and praise your toddler as she learns new things. Help your toddler when he needs it.

Managing your toddler's behaviour

Even the sweetest, most loving toddler has challenging behaviour sometimes. Don't worry, a tantrum doesn't mean you did anything wrong. It just means you have a toddler. You can't avoid challenging behaviour entirely, but you can make it happen less often. It can be hard to stay calm when your toddler having a temper tantrum, dawdling or whining. It's important to take care of your own needs during this time. Reach out to other parents, vent to your friends and take time for yourself.

Tips to manage your toddler's behaviour

  • Try to make sure your toddler gets regular meals, snacks, naps and physical activity.
  • Let your toddler know what will happen. For example: "We are going to the store. We will buy some bananas. We are not going to buy any candy."
  • Help your child name their emotions. For example: "You don't like nap time. You are angry that it's nap time."
  • Let your toddler make simple choices to give them a sense of control. For example: "Do you want to wear your red jacket or your blue jacket today?"
  • Create a daily routine so that your toddler knows what to expect.
  • Notice good behaviour and praise your child. For example: "Thank you for holding my hand when we crossed the street. Good job!"
  • Distract your toddler when you see that they're getting to their breaking point. For example: "Oh, wow, look at the big dog over there!"
  • Try these tips for challenging behaviour: Positive parenting for toddlers - HealthLink BC

If you need help

If you feel that you may lose control with your toddler and hurt them, put them in a safe place and call someone for help. This can be your spouse, a friend, your Public Health Nurse, or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1.

How you can help your child

Your toddler's social and emotional development is definitely taking shape right now as you see their personality really emerge. This means you may see them start to assert their independence more and use words like "No!" and "Mine!" more often. This is very typical in toddlers, and now is a good time to help your child learn to express their feelings and emotions in healthy ways to nurture good mental health practices for the future.

Tips to help your child with stress

  • Talk to them about feelings and healthy ways to express them. If your child is laughing, saying something like, "Your smile tells me you are happy" is a good way to help them understand social cues and understanding other people's emotions.
  • Provide opportunities to meet other children. They may prefer to play side by side rather than with each other, but this is a good start to understanding how to interact with other people.
  • Use play and every day routines to talk about family and friends. Knowing they are not alone in the world is important for children.
  • Provide ways to deal with emotions. For example, if they are mad you can ask them if they would like to tell you what is wrong or be left alone for a little while before talking about it.

Understanding mental health

Any drastic changes in your child's mood, behaviour or thinking may indicate they are experiencing some type of mental health challenge. A very wide range of conditions can affect how a person thinks, feels and acts. 

If you are concerned about your child's mental health, please talk to your doctor or reach out to services for help:

  • 310 Mental Health Support – This is a crisis line for emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.
  • Kid's Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a professional counsellor 24 hours a day.