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Your Toddler's Cognitive Development 1-2 years

1 to 2 Years
Use different toys, books and food that stimulate the senses and supports pretend play

Your child at a glance


Your child is developing rapidly, and from her first birthday onwards, both words and actions are becoming more intentional and sophisticated. During this stage you are likely to see your child:
  • Starting to explore his surroundings when feeling safe or in a familiar setting with you nearby
  • Showing separation anxiety, clinging to you or finding ways to prevent you from leaving
  • Developing attachment to a toy or object, which provides a constant sense of security
  • Showing understanding of and identifies familiar objects.
  • Recognising his own reflection in the mirror (around 18 months)
  • Using pretend play and imitation often, as a way of learning and interacting
  • Understanding the name of various body parts, e.g. her tummy, pointing when you name them
  • Showing a sense of ownership both when it comes to toys and people ('my teddy', 'my daddy')
  • Learning to draw a circle and a line, and learning to do simple puzzles


Your child's story


You may notice that your child is not putting objects in her mouth as often, and play is increasingly sophisticated and purposeful. Toys are treated differently depending on their function (e.g. hug a teddy bear and push a car along the floor). During this year she will learn to put together simple puzzles, and match two similar objects. At some point between 18-24 months, she will be able to recognise herself in the mirror.

Your child understands simple familiar directions or requests, and responds with appropriate actions (e.g. handing you objects when you ask her to). A key way of learning is imitating your words and actions, and also playing imaginatively, e.g. pretend cooking or wiping the table. Pretend play has been shown to be important to cognitive development. She will start showing a basic sense of time, such as when you tell her 'later' or 'soon'. But note that this does not mean she knows what 5 minutes or 20 minutes means, and if she wants something she is likely to want it ‘now’. Impatience and tantrums occur, and distraction becomes important along with consistent and positive discipline. You may also notice that she is developing a sense of ownership, perhaps talking a lot about 'my toy', 'my daddy', or just ‘mine’.

Separation anxiety is a common experience during this stage, where your child prefers and insists on being with and being part of what you do at all times. In phases she may get very upset when you leave the room, or sometimes even when you just leave her side. Part of this comes from being torn between a growing need for independence and at the same time needing your attention and reassurance. Also, she has not yet developed a real understanding that you will return, and the sense of safety this brings. Some children develop a strong attachment to a soft toy or a blanket, which serves to provide a constant source of security when you’re not around (e.g. at bedtime).

She will start pointing to body parts when you name them, (probably four or more during this year). When reading picture books with you (or other adults), she will start naming or pointing to familiar objects. She will recognise the difference between 'you' and 'me', and understands consequences of certain events, e.g. if I cry, mummy will come, if I push this button, the light goes on/off. Memory progression during this stage means that around 16 months your child’s long term memory can be up to four months.

Your child will start to scribble, and by the end of the year he may draw a circle and a line after watching you do so. He learns through doing and exploring, and during the year he will know the purpose of, and what to do with, common objects (e.g. hammer, bottle).


What you can do to support and encourage your child's development


Continue providing interesting toys and variations in what you play with and where you play. Stacking toys and pull along toys will be favourites now – or any toys that have different colours and support size recognition, hand-eye coordination practice and pretend play. Use books, pictures, music and food to stimulate touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Try out simple puzzles together, and use mirrors to make different faces, name facial features and who they belong to.

Exploring and learningYour child loves being with you, but is also curious about other adults and children. Various activities and play groups provide environments where she will get used to others unfamiliar to her, and experience different toys and activities. She learns by observing and imitating you, your behaviours and how you are with others. When separation anxiety sets in, remember that it is important for her that you show understanding, sensitivity and reassurance around this phase.

Provide plenty of opportunity to draw and scribble, engage with your child by asking what he is drawing and he will probably also ask you to draw things he knows (e.g. favourite toy) or familiar people. Whatever activities you do with your child, do remember that attention span is still limited.

Keep talking to your child about your activities, what you do together, and also what you see her doing. She is learning about consequences of actions, so allow her to try out as many things as possible (while you are there looking out for her security). Also, games that involve e.g. blowing raspberries on her tummy; naming and pointing to e.g. head, tummy etc, will help her language development and awareness of her own body.


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