The Development of Your Two-Year-Old

It seems like just yesterday your toddler was just a baby! Where has the time gone? Read on to learn about the developmental changes your two-year-old is experiencing – including the fine-tuning of gross and fine motor skills, expanding their vocabulary, and learning to play well with other kids.

The fall leaves have turned yellow, orange and brown. It seems that about half of them have fallen to the ground and you find yourself in your backyard chasing two-year-old Amelia through the leaves as she giggles and laughs, firmly believing that you cannot catch her. It was just last weekend that you celebrated her birthday party, and you wonder where the time has gone.

During her second year of life, you saw her refine her walking and then progress to running. As you chase her in the backyard, you acknowledge that she is actually a pretty good runner. You wonder if she could turn out to be a soccer player, just like you! During their first two years of life, Amelia has focused a lot of her developmental energy on conquering gross motor skills (like walking and running) and fine motor skills (like holding a spoon and feeding herself). She has developed a sense of satisfaction with herself, which has led to building some self-confidence.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to contrast her present psychological state against her restless and insecure state as a one-year-old, maybe you could look at the way she walks into a room. Her chin is usually up, she often has a smile, and she wants to know if you are ready to play the next game of matching shapes. The constant repetition of doing a task and seeing herself conquer it has established a platform from which she feels she can master any situation. For you as a parent, this has become a great opportunity to continue to foster building her self-confidence. Your biggest challenge is trying to gauge what activities you can get her involved in so that she has a fair opportunity to see herself succeed.

Sometimes we feel stumped trying to come up with ideas on how to spend the day with her. Try:

  • Hot/Cold: Hide toys or objects throughout a room and use the words “warmer” and “colder” to help her find them.
  • Play Make-Believe: Have her sit on a blanket or towel and pull her around the house as if she is on a boat or train. Have her describe what she sees on her journey.
  • Taking Care of ‘Baby’: Have her dress a doll, talk to her doll, and take care of it – just like you take care of Amelia.

Find more ideas in this list of indoor activities from

As Amelia gets comfortable with her motor development, her energy shifts to speech development. Most children will have about two or three words in their expressive vocabulary at one year of age, gradually building to 25-50 words by age two. Whereas most of their development energy was concentrated on the motor skills during the first and second years of life, now her energy is going towards speech development. A big milestone at this stage is to be able to put two words together. In general, and there are always exceptions to the rule, girls are more likely to be around 50 words whereas the boys may be closer to 25 words. However, and something to look forward to, by three years of age both boys and girls vocabulary will explode to about 1,000 words and they will be talking in sentences!

Reading every day is a great way to expand her vocabulary. While you read, she hears you pronounce words as they relate to the story. She is also watching your lips and mouth as you enunciate the words. In the same way she used repetition to master her motor skills, she will often repeat words that you use to describe things. Start practicing the A-B-Cs so she can learn that words are made up of letters. Show her visually the letter as you say it. In time, she will learn from repetition and recognition. Amelia also finds colors fascinating. She has already developed a special interest in the color green – her “favorite color.” Teach her to count things as you introduce numbers to her. For example, at an outing, you could say, “How many kitty cats do you see?” and count with her. Or “How many balls do we have?” as you count one, two, and three. A fun way to use word repetition is by reading Dr. Seuss books and by rhyming in songs.

Socially, Amelia is moving from parallel play to sharing with others. Children at this age like to please parents so they can turn out to be big helpers. If you are wondering about her development at this age, check out the Ages & Stages Questionnaire for a two-year-old, which is labeled as ASQ-SE for Social Emotional Development. If you are adding a new baby to the family soon, the biggest challenge for a kid at this age is to redefine themselves. They have been getting all the attention up to this point and they may feel it is hard to share that spotlight. Take advantage of the fact they like to be helpers, and engage them as mommy/daddy’s helper for the new baby.

You may have noticed that sleep has been more peaceful lately. Amelia has been playing all day except for that middle of the day nap. Having a tired body lends for some good sleep at night. Bath time before getting into her jammies can be fun, too. Have her recall her day with you, and then play with her toys before getting out of the tub. If she is having a hard time relaxing after bath time, she might talk some more in bed before falling asleep – maybe telling a story to her bunny. Doing a bedtime story is another way to practice reading while also helping her relax before going to sleep. At this age, children usually need about 11-12 hours of sleep at night to be rested for the adventures of the next day.

One final item to address at this age: toilet training. There are three main ingredients that children need to start the process. Before beginning toilet training, kids should:

  1. Have some bladder control. For example, dry diapers after a nap.
  2. Be able to walk to the toilet on their own.
  3. Have the fine-motor control to help pull up and down their pants.

As long as they have the three skills above, it’s all about the psychology of being ready to go in a toilet – and this comfortability varies widely from child to child. Personally, I give parents reassurance that I have yet to see a child not potty trained by the time they start kindergarten.

There are multiple sources out there on toilet training, but I must admit I am partial to Dr. T. Barry Brazelton. He is a well-known and nationally-recognized developmental pediatrician. His book, Toilet Training the Brazelton Way, and the described method seems very gentle while always keeping in mind that you are assessing your child’s psyche as you try to avoid the development of resistance and defensiveness.

As you get ready for Amelia’s well-child exam, take a look at typical developmental milestones for a two-year-old. I hope you have a great fall season!


More Developmental Milestones

Dr. Spitzer has authored more articles on developmental milestones you can look forward to in your young children. Check them out below!

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