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How children develop: 2-3 years

Development

Every child is an individual. Every child develops at their own pace, usually through the same stages and milestones, and in the same order. Children grow and learn continually, but not in a smooth flowing pattern. Sometimes they practise skills for quite a while and seem as if they will never move on. At other times they learn many skills very quickly. This fact sheet is a general guide to child development. If you have any concerns about your child's development, seek advice from your child health nurse or doctor.

Physical development

The two-year-old is an exciting combination of baby and toddler, who is constantly busy exploring the world and learning about it with every action. This is the two-year-old's way of developing curiosity and independence for later life. Toddlers have spent the past few months practising and coordinating their body movements. Walking is nearly perfect and most are running safely. Falls are still common because they cannot avoid obstacles quickly.

Language

Your child's language skills will increase greatly this year. You can help your child's language develop by:

  • Listening and taking notice of what they say.
  • Talking with them. The more they are talked to, the more clearly they can think.
  • Being patient.
  • Reading and singing to them.
  • Encouraging talking.
  • Using correct pronunciation and grammar - that is, not too much baby talk anymore.
  • Talking about and identifying feelings.
  • Remember, children in all age groups understand more than they can say.

Your child's behaviour

Children of this age are sometimes more interested in objects rather than other children. They are not old enough to play with other children their own age, although they will play happily beside them. They do, however, love and need to be near people whom they can watch, listen to and imitate. They also need a reliable, secure environment in which to grow, develop and feel safe. At this age, they:

  • Say 'no' a lot.
  • Have temper tantrums to show anger or frustration.
  • Often fear loud noises, animals, strangers and falling.
  • Can dress themselves by three years (e.g. put on a t-shirt).
  • Get confused by complicated instructions.
  • Find it hard to make a choice because they cannot always understand that there are different ways of doing things.
  • Don't understand what is real and what is not (e.g. may believe that TV characters are real).

Toddlers and tantrums

Toddlers of this age do not like change or interruptions. Many tantrums can be avoided by trying not to place your child in a situation that you know creates frustration. Following these suggestions may also reduce tantrums, and the need to say no as often:

  • Provide a safe environment.
  • Limit choices.
  • Stick to routines.
  • Provide lots of interesting things to do.
  • Use distraction when you do have to say no. For example, 'No, I will not buy you a toy today, but I will take you to the park'.

It is best for adults to ignore tantrums, but when they are over, give your child a cuddle and praise them when they are behaving well. Your child health nurse can give you more tips, and can advise you whether there is a parenting program (such as Triple P) in your area.

Toilet training

Most children will be fully toilet trained during the day somewhere between two-and-a-half and four years, and nighttrained by eight years. Try not to rush toilet training, and do not feel pressured into starting toilet training before your child is ready. Signs of readiness include when children can:

  • Say they are wet, or soiled, or need to go to the toilet.
  • Wait, or can control the urge, to wet or soil.
  • Show interest in the toilet.

To help your child learn how to use the toilet:

  • Use a potty or a toilet with a seat ring and a step.
  • Explain the toileting steps - including washing hands afterwards.
  • Encourage your child to sit on the toilet.
  • Praise and reward your child for any successes.
  • Stay calm if you child has an 'accident'.
  • If toilet training doesn't seem to work, wait a few weeks before trying again.

More information on toilet training is available from your child health nurse or doctor.

Your child and sleeping

Each child is an individual and will have their own sleep needs. Some seem to need a lot, and some need less. Many children aged between two and three sleep up to 12 hours at night, and still have a sleep during the day. As children grow, they need less sleep. Everyone has two main kinds of sleep – light sleep (when we dream) and deep sleep (when growing and healing takes place). Because children have more lighter sleep periods than adults, they may wake more often during the night. Common reasons for this include:

  • They may be in a 'pattern' of waking up.
  • They may be awakened by a noise during a lighter period of sleep.
  • They may be uncomfortable.
  • They may have pain, such as an earache.

Other causes can include separation anxiety from parents and picking up on worries and tension within the family. Some tips to try to help your child sleep are:

  • Have a set, relaxed evening routine. For example, have a bath, eat dinner, clean teeth, read a story, kisses goodnight, and go to sleep.
  • Put on a night light, play soft music or leave the door open - these can all comfort a worried child.

Sleeping is a complex topic, and a child who does not sleep well can have a big impact on a family. If you are concerned, see your child health nurse or talk to your doctor.

Helping your child increase their resilience

Children of all ages experience difficulties in their lives at some point, but can be helped to not just survive problems but to 'bounce back' and be positive about life. This is called resilience. Being resilient is important because it is one of the keys to good mental health and can protect us from the stresses and challenges we all experience in life. Being resilient will also help children make good decisions - especially as they reach adolescence. Positive, protective factors to help your child be resilient include:

  • Caring, supportive relationships
    - Developing resiliency starts right from birth. By having a strong, warm and loving bond with your child, you can give them the best possible chance to develop resiliency.
    - Encourage trusted family members and friends to play an important role in loving and supporting your child.
  • Positive environment
    - Provide a stable and harmonious home environment.
    - Let your child hear you praising them to other people.
  • Opportunities to feel involved and important
    - Join a playgroup or a young children's music group where your child can develop a sense of identity.
    - If you're choosing some sort of day care or child care, make sure the centre values your child's unique qualities.
    - Always congratulate your child on an achievement.
    - Praise them when they do something right, instead of only noticing when they do something wrong.
    - Encourage your child to try new things and challenges.
    - Teach them it is OK to make mistakes, but that it is important to try again.

Everyone faces tough times at some point in their life, but it is how we react to difficult times that determines our pathways. Part of your job as a parent can be to teach your child by example how to deal with life's ups and downs.

For more information

If you would like more information on your child's development or if you are concerned about your child, contact your local child health nurse. You could also ask at your local library for books on child development.

Acknowledgement

This fact sheet is the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.