Running Wild and Pulling Hair: 18 Month Old Development

Your 18 month old is exploring the world by bumping (literally) into it.

Toddler running through grass
Photo Juhansonin|CC

Your toddler is expressing new emotions and behaviors – using grabby hands and quick legs, as his motor behavior peaks at around 18 months old. The “typical” 18 month old is lovable, often stubborn, and sometimes inconsolable child. She is learning to succeed at various tasks, and she is constantly testing herself— and you.

Disequilibrium (a period of dramatically changing child development) in a one-year old begins anytime between 15 and 21 months, occurring most commonly at 18 months of age. 18 month old development is a period of disequilibrium.

When she fails, either because she’s incapable of, for example, dressing herself, or because you stop her— as when you forbid her from going up the stairs — it is frustrating for her. This is a time to set clear boundaries and when “no” is both a parents and toddlers most frequently used word.

Your toddler willfully demonstrates newfound abilities as his confidence grows. Parents must judge when to intervene— for instance, because it’s not safe for him to be near a hot stove — and when they should let him try experimenting with new skills. Give him those extra minutes to try dressing himself. If you discourage him, it may only make him unwilling to try new things in the future.

Honoring the impulse of their behavior will help them feel heard and understood.

Grabby, and Not Ready to Share

Children of this age often insist on having their own way and get grabby with their possessions. They seem to want everything, and prefer that everybody else have nothing. They are not developmentally ready to understand the concept of sharing, but “take turns” will be a phrase you can introduce and use over and over.

Tantrums will occur, but this learning phase requires repetition. Understanding your child’s need for both space, and clear boundaries and limit setting will help.

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Motor Behavior Peaks around 18 Months Old

Your typical 18-month-old is moving more often than thinking sometimes – movement is the outlet for new behaviors and emotions. He barges around, often only stopping when he bumps into an object – or other child. He may bump, poke, push, or pull her hair of other children.

Toddlers running with the Danish Flag
Photo Lars Plougmann|CC

He is exploring the world by touch, and with sheer motor manipulation, plans to find out what this other child is like. This behavior is not aggression, but normal motor development and exploration.

You can begin teaching your child how to interact with others, for example by making eye contact with him to get his attention, and intervening calmly to model positive behaviors such as introducing phrases like “Be Gentle” and “That hurts. Let’s touch softly.”

Behavior at this age is characterized by two extremes: persistence or its opposite – moving rapidly from one thing to another.

Rather than simply frown or pout, the 18 month old is likely to put on a full-fledged temper tantrum over fairly minor frustrations. Her body just takes over even if she doesn’t mean all those emotions. This can be quite trying on parents because their desire to “fix” her problems is thwarted.

Your 18 month old will need much help, emotionally and physically, from those around her. Stay calm for her and tune in to what support and assistance she needs.

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18 Month Old Child Development Summary

  • Period of disequilibrium (rapid growth and change)
  • More likely to do the opposite of what you ask. For example, if you call him, he will turn and run the opposite way. (Tip: Try saying “Bye Bye” to him, and he is more likely to come running to you!)
  • Favorite word is “No”
  • Not motivated by words. Try to keep verbal commands short and simple, like “Sit Down”
  • Can’t wait. “Now” is the only thing important to him.
  • Physical barriers to prohibit things are much better than verbal
  • Understands many more words than he can say
  • Can walk, run, sometimes climb, but balance is very unsteady. Give close and constant supervision.
  • Give him plenty of outlets for his energy

Read More…

Ages and Stages: A Parent's Guide to Normal Childhood Development

by Charles E. Schaefer, Theresa Foy DiGeronimo