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During the third year of life, children can reach many exciting milestones – children become stronger, use more words and phrases, interact with more friends, solve problems and enjoy accomplishing tasks independently.

Toddler development can vary, including for those children who have been adopted. While every child is unique in their growth and development, it is important to understand the key areas and view development during the toddler years holistically to best support the child.

Here are the 7 key areas of toddler development: 

  • Adaptive skills. Adaptive skills are a child’s daily, routine functions such as eating and sleeping. When a child drinks from a cup or straw and eats using fingers and utensils with greater ease, washes their own hands and face with support, and starts to clean up spills and messes with support, they are showing adaptive skills.
  • Communication skills. Communication is connecting by sharing thoughts and feelings. Between 24 and 36 months, this can look like understanding different sizes (“big” and “little”), asking for help with personal needs using words, responding to multistep directions and identifying objects by function (for example, you eat with a ____, drink from a ___). 
  • Fine and gross motor skills. Fine and gross motor skills include the physical movement of a child. For a child between 24 and 36 months, fine motor skills look like cutting with scissors and using their hand to hold paper in place when drawing. Gross motor skills look like throwing a ball with some accuracy, walking or running longer distances, and walking up and down stairs with support from a rail, wall or person. 
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  • Cognitive skills. Cognitive skills exemplify a child’s brain working on reasoning and awareness of themselves and the world around them. This looks like telling their own age, understanding quantity language such as “one,” “one more” and “all,” counting to at least 5 and putting graduated-sized objects in order. 
  • Social-emotional skills. Social-emotional skills are learned through interaction and relationships. In children between 24 and 36 months, this can look like claiming objects as their own (using “mine”), taking turns occasionally with support, showing affection toward other children and participating in small groups with greater ease. 
  • Vision skills. A child can show their vision skills by copying lines and circles, recognizing familiar adults in pictures, matching objects and sorting at least four colors as they turn 36 months old. 
  • Hearing skills. A child can show their hearing skills by repeating more words and lengthier phrases, using more speech sounds correctly in words and responding to more complex directions with greater ease as they near 36 months old. 

Holistic View of Toddler Development

To look at something holistically means to not only see the individual parts but how they work together. Skills that babies acquire must be viewed holistically. All areas of development are connected and influenced by one another. By understanding these basic milestones of development and how they work together, caregivers can more easily identify when development is going well and when there may be a problem.

For example, feeding is a complex process and all areas of development are involved. Even when just one area is not working well, it can create challenges for babies and their caregivers. Therefore, it is critical to look at babies broadly to understand their full range of capacities and needs.

Example of a Holistic View of Feeding for Toddler Development (24 to 36 Months)

Developmental AreaDevelopmental Milestones (Skills)
AdaptiveChild receives good rest at night and daily naps.
Childs sits in her mealtime chair and uses words to let her caregiver know she is hungry.
Child smiles and cheers with excitement when he sees his caregiver coming to his chair with food.
Child responds to her caregiver’s questions during meals (“Do you want more?” “Would you like more water?”) using words and gestures.
Child insists on feeding himself using his hands and a spoon and says “I did it!” when he is successful.
Child helps wash her hands and face and she cleans up her spot after mealtime with support.
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