Toddler development: 12–24 months
Nutrition and play go a long way
Between 12 and 24 months old, toddlers develop in fascinating, exciting and surprising ways.
Physically, socially, emotionally and verbally, they are becoming more independent and able to express their budding personality. Accompany breastfeeding with a healthy, balanced diet that supports this development and provides the nutrients they need to learn and grow. Learn about the importance of certain nutrients at this stage, and why playing is an invaluable stepping stone to all future learning.
Your toddler’s development: 12–24 months old
The period between your toddler’s first and second birthdays is a time of incredible and exciting mental and physical growth.
Improved motor skills and stronger muscles mean they are becoming more mobile by the day, cruising and walking more confidently, and gaining the coordination required for running and jumping. Their bones are developing rapidly too, and a constant process of bone renewal helps each bone strengthen and grow.
Socially, your toddler is becoming more self-aware and assertive. This is happening alongside dramatic changes in the language centre of their brain, which enables them to express their wants and needs more clearly.
When they first start putting words together, their sentences will be very simple – ‘play me’ when they want you to play with them, for example. You might notice that ‘I’ and ‘me’ become some of their favourite words as their communication skills improve between 1 and 2 years old.
All this development requires a wide range of nutrients and energy. However, whether they’re closer to 12 or 24 months old, their stomach is still small in relation to body size: that’s why it’s important to provide a healthy nutrient-rich diet.
Optimal nutrition supports your toddler’s development
Although your toddler seems more and more like a mini adult every day, they still have a lot of growing up to do and their nutritional needs are different to yours. Incredibly, between 1 and 2 years old your child needs nearly three times more energy for their size than an adult. When you consider that their tummy is around three times smaller, it’s easy to see why every mouthful counts.
Breastmilk is still a major part of your baby’s diet. With breastfeeding, a healthy, balanced diet is necessary to provide your toddler with the right balance of nutrients they need for optimal development. Two vital nutrients for this stage are iron and vitamin D.
Iron plays an important role in many functions of the body and is a key nutrient for healthy brain development. Good sources include meat, oily fish and eggs, as well as plant sources such as beans and green, leafy vegetables. Meat and fish contain haem iron – a type of iron that is more easily used and absorbed compared to the non-haem iron found in plant sources. Including even small amounts of meat and fish in your toddler’s diet will enhance the absorption of iron from other sources.
Due to the temperamental tendencies of toddlers, as well as fussy eating phases and their small appetites, many toddlers don’t get enough iron in their diets. Astonishingly, about 30%1 of toddlers aged between 12 months and 2 years aren’t getting the recommended daily amount, so every parent needs to be aware of this vital nutrient2. The situation can be made worse if toddlers fill up on foods with a low iron content, including cows’ milk.
To increase your child’s intake, try to offer at least one iron-rich food every day. Pairing it with vegetables or a piece of vitamin C-rich fruit will help your toddler’s body absorb it more effectively. The best for your baby is your milk. For non-breastfeed baby, the use of iron fortified follow-on milk or growing up milk can be an option if you are concerned about your child’s iron intake3.
Vitamin D is another essential nutrient for this stage, supporting your child’s bone development by helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. The main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight on your child’s skin. It’s recommended that toddlers get 7ug of vitamin D a day from their diet. Oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals are great ways to help meet this requirement, but it can be difficult for toddlers to eat enough of these foods to get the levels they need.
The best for your baby is your milk. For non-breastfeed baby, the use of vitamin D fortified follow-on milk or growing up milk can be an option if you are concerned about your child nutritional needs.
Play: The perfect stimulation for your toddler
Play is your child’s way of learning. Through play, children acquire the essential life skills they will need for a lifetime of learning, including sharing, listening, social interaction and problem solving3.
Younger toddlers often play alone, which is completely normal. Even in the company of another toddler, your child may not interact. This is called parallel play. At some point, usually when they reach their second year, your toddler will begin to interact with others.
Their increasing awareness of what’s happening around them, mixed with a growing assertiveness, means that your toddler might want to take control now and again. Allowing your toddler to make their own decisions is a great way to help them feel valued and heard.
Let them choose what clothes to wear or what games to play. You can also help your toddler to make use of their new coordination skills by walking in different ways – sideways, backwards, forwards – as well as running and jumping.
The more they learn and understand, the more they’ll listen with interest to what you’re saying. At this stage of development, your toddler is more than likely to want to join in with singing nursery rhymes and songs, so it’s a good idea to refresh your memory and recall all your childhood favourites.
Just remember to be aware of the facial expressions and colourful language you use around them. Your toddler learns by mimicking you in ways you wouldn’t expect, and what they remember and repeat can be quite surprising, even at just 1 year old.
- Alvin N. Eden; Iron Deficiency and Impaired Cognition in Toddlers. Pediatric Drugs. November
2005, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 347–352
- Infant and Toddler Forum. Iron fact sheet for HCP’s [Online]. 2008. Available at:
Iron_Deficiency_Anaemia_in_Toddlers.pdf[Accessed July 2014]
- Play England. Why is play important? [Online]. Available at: www.playengland.org.uk/about-
us/why-is-play-important.aspx[Accessed May 2014]