Home/Resources/From Baby to Big Kid: Month 16

From Baby to Big Kid: Month 16

If you are like many parents of young toddlers, you are probably feeling both exhilarated and exhausted, as children this age tend to be very intense—physically and emotionally.
A mother hugs an upset toddler.

Browse the information and links below to see what your little one is experiencing and learning this month.

What It’s Like for You

Chances are, your toddler is not only walking, but may be running and climbing as well. So you may be doing a lot more chasing after him just to keep up. If you are a parent who loved the baby stage—holding, cuddling, and taking long walks in the stroller—a fast-moving and active toddler might throw you for a loop. It’s very common to have some mixed feelings at this age. You might feel happy and proud to watch your child become such a capable and independent individual, but also a little sad at seeing your baby grow up.

The truth is that your toddler still needs you, just in different ways. Most of all, your child needs you to be a “safe home base” to come back to after venturing out on new explorations. Knowing you’ll always be there, ready to offer support and comfort, gives him the confidence he needs to try new things. Your little one also needs you to be his coach, helping him master new challenges and cheering him on as he makes new discoveries. So, lace up your sneakers because your little one is off and running.

What It’s Like for Baby

I love washing dishes! You seem grumpy about it but it’s so much fun for me. I love to do what you do. That’s why I run to get my stool when I see you filling up the sink. I have so much fun rubbing my toy dishes with a sponge right next to you while you do the glass ones. I say, Nana, ook! Then you tell me what a good job I’m doing, like when you say, That plate looks so clean. It makes me feel so important and grown-up to help out. Even when you are sweeping the floor or making dinner, I love watching and imitating everything you do, and listening to you tell me about what you are doing. Those chores may be boring to you, but they are fascinating to me. It’s fun to practice using new “tools” like the salad tongs you give me to play with when you are cooking. And when I can really help out, like when you let me put napkins on the table for dinner, I feel so proud. I know that I am smart and capable and an important member of our family.

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • Confidence and self-esteem as he has the chance to do “real” chores
  • Cooperation as he contributes to the family’s work and works as a “team” with Nana to clean up

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • Problem-solving skills as he learns how objects work by imitating his Nana.
  • Language and listening skills as he talks with Nana about what they are doing together.
  • Early pretend play skills as imitation is a key step in developing the ability to eventually pretend and use his imagination.

What to Expect From Your Baby’s Development

As you review the chart, keep in mind that development is not a race and that every child grows at her own pace and in her own way. Your child may develop skills faster or slower than indicated below and still be on track. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child’s health care provider or other trusted professional.

Your Toddler’s Development From 15 to 18 Months

What Your Baby Can Do What You Can Do to Connect With Your Baby

I’m using my body to explore and learn.

  • I may be walking, running, and even climbing.
  • I tell you what I want with my sounds and my gestures.
  • I can feed myself.
  • Provide chances to explore outdoors in safe places. Your child will love to discover new things, like sticks, rocks, and leaves, and show them to you.
  • Encourage your child to use his fingers and hands to explore. Let him scribble, tap a toy piano, or hold a bubble wand.
  • Show your child how to use a spoon and fork, if you want him to feed himself.

I’m using language to understand the world around me.

  • I can understand simple questions and directions like, Throw the ball to me.
  • I communicate by combining sounds and actions, like pointing to a cup and saying “wawa” for water.
  • By 18 months, I might say as many as 20 words.
  • Ask your child questions: Would you like yogurt or a banana for snack?
  • Put her actions into words: You’re pointing at the bird flying in the sky.
  • Read, sing, and make up rhymes and stories. This builds a love of language and words.
  • Limit TV watching. Children learn much more from exploring their real world.

I’m beginning to understand how my actions affect other people.

  • I may try to comfort someone who seems sad.
  • My feelings can be hard to handle. I may start having tantrums and will need your help to calm down.
  • Read books that talk about feelings. Connect what you are reading to your child’s experiences. The child in the story doesn’t like saying bye-bye to his daddy either.
  • Use feeling words (happy, proud, angry, sad, etc.) to help your child understand what he or another person is feeling, and why.

I’m becoming a good problem-solver.

  • I may do something over and over to figure out how it works.
  • I use objects the way they are supposed to be used—like talking on a toy telephone.
  • I imitate what I see others do—like try to brush my teeth.
  • Let your child repeat the same activity. It may be boring to you but is important practice for him.
  • Once your child has learned a new skill, like throwing the ball, add a twist: Bounce the ball to him. Or, set up a laundry basket for him to toss the ball into.

I may get clingy and act like a baby sometimes.

  • Now that I can walk and even run, I might sometimes get a little afraid of being so independent!
  • Be a “safe base” for your toddler. Assure her you will still be there for her even as she explores.
  • Provide comfort and reassurance when needed. Allow your toddler to act like a baby sometimes. This makes it more likely that she’ll get through this stage quicker.

Did You Know…

That among babies ages 8 months to 16 months, every hour per day spent watching programs like “Brainy Baby” or “Baby Einstein” resulted in six to eight fewer words in their vocabularies (compared to other children their age who did not watch this type of television)? This research study included 1,008 parents of children aged 2 to 24 months who were interviewed by telephone about their child’s viewing habits and vocabulary development. Parents also completed a written survey about their child’s communication skills.

Reference: Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007 October). Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. The Journal of Pediatrics, 151(4), 364-368.

What the Research Means for You

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 24 months, many families choose to allow their young children to have some screen time—whether it takes the form of television shows, DVDs, or even computer games. As you think about television rules, take some time to talk with your partner about what feels right for your family. If you decide to allow your toddler to watch, try to limit viewing and whenever possible, to watch with her. Your child may also get more out of the viewing experience if you look for ways to make television more interactive. Answer your child’s questions about the show you’re watching, talk about the program together, point out and name the things you see on the screen, and look for opportunities to be active (dance along to the music, pretend to be the rocket ship you see taking off). Most importantly, find ways to make connections between what your child is seeing on the screen and what he sees in “real-life.” After a show where the characters are playing music, suggest to your toddler that he make music with a wooden spoon and pot while you start dinner. Children learn best by playing and doing, so give your little one lots of opportunities not just to watch, but also to touch, experiment, and discover.

Spotlight on: Staying Active With Your Toddler

Toddlers’ sense of independence and self-confidence grow as they progress from standing to walking and running. The more they move, the more they learn.

Your child learns about size and shape as she sees that she can fit her body into one cardboard box but not another. She learns about up and down on the swing, and high and low on the slide. Movement also helps toddlers’ budding imaginations blossom, for example, when they march around banging a drum like a musician in a parade. And as they imitate the activities they see going on around them, toddlers expand their understanding of the world.

Toddlers also use their bodies as a tool for communicating with and relating to you. As babies, they start with simple gestures like pointing. By the time they are toddlers, their movements become more complex. For example, your child may take your hand, walk you to the kitchen, pick up her shoes, and point to the back door. She is saying, Could you help me put these on? I want to play outside. By the time your child is 24 months old, she will be an even better communicator, learning many new words and phrases to add to her gestures. When you join your toddler’s adventures and take time for lively discussions with her, you are building a strong bond and nurturing her self-esteem.

Here are some ideas for staying active with your toddler:

  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Wake up and stretch together. Put on dance music while you cook dinner. Do some relaxing family yoga moves before bed. Take a walk on weekend mornings.
  • Try a new activity… together. See if your community offers parent-child dance or other movement classes.
  • Let the good times roll. Set aside one day a month for “Kid Olympics.” If you like, invite other families you know to meet in your backyard or a local park to have a ball—and to kick a ball, roll a ball, or just run around.
  • Go on a house hike. When you can’t always play outside, be active inside by taking a hike. Walk up and down stairs, crawl over beds, hop off low stools (supervised), scramble over a pile of pillows, wiggle under a table. See what you can discover in your own house.
  • Make it a march. Take a walk with your child. Give her a shaker to make noise with or a bell to ring. Put on some marching music and march around the house. As your child becomes a more confident walker, suggest trying out new ways to move: Let’s march. Now let’s take great biggg steps! Okay, now teeny-tiny steps. Act these moves out as you say them to help your child understand the meaning of the words you are saying. Your child is developing coordination and muscle strength as she varies her moves, and is developing listening skills too.

Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

Washing Time!

Gather together some plastic dishes and even an old onesie and burp cloth. Fill a shallow pan with soapy water. Give your toddler a sponge for the dishes and let him scrub the clothes with his hands. As you closely supervise (as you would any activity involving water), you’ll see your child problem-solving (How do I hold the sponge? How do I squeeze the clothing to get the water out?) You’ll also probably hear your child talking or gesturing to tell you all about what he is doing. Respond by explaining what he is doing in words and helping when necessary. This gives your child the chance to learn new words and build new skills.

Let’s Get Cooking

Choose a simple “recipe” like putting pre-cut fruit into a bowl for fruit salad, stirring cinnamon into applesauce, or dropping raisins onto a cream-cheese covered bagel. Let your child do as much as she can by herself. Snap some photos of her as she prepares her feast. Glue the photos to large index cards, punch a hole in the upper corner of each, and tie together with a piece of yarn. Your toddler will delight at starring in her own story of how she cooked the snack all by herself.

What’s on Your Mind?

1. My 16-month-old is in that phase when he wants to do everything by himself, from opening a lollipop wrapper to pouring his own milk. He’s too little to do some things without making a mess or getting hurt—he even wants to cut his own food with the knife. How can I reason with him?

You can’t. Sixteen-month-olds are not rational beings so forget any strategies that include logic! What you can do is feel proud that you have nurtured your son’s self-confidence, curiosity, and eagerness to learn. Of course, it’s also true that curious, confident kids can be a handful—just as you describe—because they want to do everything by themselves. The good news is there is a lot you can do to encourage your son’s sense of competence while also keeping him safe and you sane:

  • Compromise. If he wants to feed himself, but you don’t have all day to wait for him to get an ounce of food in, you can give him a spoon to feed himself while you use another spoon to get most of the meal in his mouth.
  • Find safe alternatives. There will certainly be times when you have to just say No. Setting these kinds of limits is your job. You can explain that sharp knives are for Mommy and Daddy to use. Then show him how he can use his hands to break up certain foods or help him use a blunt, plastic knife. (Be sure to hold the knife with him as he uses it to ensure his safety.)
  • Be his coach. When he gets frustrated because he can’t do it all by myself, label his feelings: It makes you so mad when you can’t open the jar! Introduce him to the word help, and provide the assistance he needs to master the challenge without doing it all for him. This may mean holding your hand over his as you unscrew the top. It leaves him feeling like he has been a part of the solution.
  • Let your child practice new skills within limits. If your son wants to pour his own milk and he won’t let you help, consider letting him pour the milk into the cup over the sink or take the milk and cup outside so you don’t have to worry about the mess. If that’s not possible, you can tell him that you will pour the milk for him but that later you will give him lots of containers he can fill and empty in the bathtub. Activities like this provide lots of practice so that one day he’ll be able to pour his own milk.
  • Invite him to be your helper. Offer lots of opportunities to involve him in activities you’re doing, like mixing pancake batter or putting together a new toy. This will allow him to try out his skills without your having to say No so much.

2. My sister’s son is the same age as mine, 16 months, and I want them to be good friends. The only problem is my nephew is a more aggressive than my son; he’ll run over and grab my son or snatch a toy out of his hand. Now my child is scared of his cousin and runs over to me when he sees him coming! How can I get them to get along?

Ah, the politics of family relationships; so challenging, even when it comes to the smallest members! These situations are best handled by open, respectful communication and collaboration between the adults—in this case, you and your sister. It’s usually a disaster if one parent starts disciplining the other’s child, unless there is a clear agreement that this is okay.

First, tell your sister how eager you are for your kids to become good friends. Then, in a non-judgmental way, share your observations with her. It’s important not to sound like you’re criticizing her or her son, or she may get defensive. You might tell her that you notice that your children have very different personalities and styles of communicating; your nephew is more assertive, while your son is on the shy side and gets more easily overwhelmed. Ask your sister for her ideas for helping them get along better given these differences.

When you’re spending time together, model how you’d like your sister to respond to your nephew without disciplining him or making it seem like he’s the bad one. For example, when your nephew takes something from your son, playfully chase after him, and perhaps say, Hey silly, Justin was playing with that! Let’s get something for you. Then help your nephew find something else to play with. This kind of approach, which addresses the behavior but doesn’t make the child feel bad, has a better chance of getting the positive results you’re looking for.

When your son runs to you for protection, it’s important that you support him and validate his frustration or anger. But try not to say anything negative about your nephew. Your son is an expert observer and he will look to you for cues as to how he should feel about his cousin. Try to sound excited and upbeat when you talk about your nephew.

Instead, focus on problem-solving by coaching your son about how to handle the situation. You might say something like, Oh no, did Andrew take your toy? Let’s go see if we can get it back. I bet we can figure this out together. Then encourage him to use whatever communication skills he has at his age—such as his gestures and sounds—to let his cousin know he wants his toy. Next you can suggest that the three of you search together for a different toy for your nephew. As the kids get older, you can also teach them about taking turns by making a game out of it: Set a kitchen timer for 5 or 10 minutes and have the boys trade toys when the buzzer goes off.

With your support and your sister’s cooperation, you will hopefully be able to turn this situation around and help your son learn some important coping and assertiveness skills to boot.

Expert Reviewers

  • Terrie Rose, PhD, President and Founder, Baby’s Space
  • Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis
  • Robert Weigand, MS, IMH-E, Director, Child Development Laboratory, Arizona State University

This ZERO TO THREE newsletter series was made possible by generous funding from the MetLife Foundation.


Related Resources


We need your support now more than ever to ensure all babies have access to the quality care, services and support they need to thrive.