Toddler development: What to expect 25-36 months

As your baby barrels into the height of toddlerdom after their second birthday, you might be bracing yourself for the year from hell. The one they talk about. The tantrums, throwing, hitting, biting, backchat. And, well, yeah those things will probably happen. But that’s not all this year is about. 

“The Terrible Twos” needs a rebrand.

There’s so much to look forward to between the age of two and three. We’re talking off-the-charts toddler brain development. Speaking in sentences. Making up games. Learning empathy. Negotiating the f*ck out of you at bedtime (and all the time). Honestly, it’s impressive.

So, imma break it all down for you here, month by month. Let’s explore some key toddler development milestones to keep an eye out for between 25 and 36 months. Plus, some suggested growth and development activities for your toddler each month to help them navigate life as a two year old. (They need your help!)

Buckle in. This is gonna be fun.

But first, a note on 2–3 year old physical growth 

Let’s just touch on toddler development in the physical growth department. Thing is, between the ages of two and three they don’t actually grow a whole lot! You can expect your child to gain about 1.8 kg (4 lbs) in weight, and add about 5 to 8cm (2 to 3 inches) to their height. Not huge, right?

Freaking out about your toddler’s eating habits and whether that’s impacting their growth? It’s totally normal for them to eat you out of house and home one day, and refuse to touch anything the next day. Toddlers are generally good at knowing when they need to eat (except for when they demand chocolate at 2am – don’t trust them on that). 

But if you’re ever unsure or worried about your child’s growth, chat to your paediatrician about it for sure. They’ll consult their trusty toddler development charts and growth standards to ensure your little one is growing steadily.

2–3 year old toddler developmental milestones

Toddler language development

Perhaps your little chatterbox found their voice between 12–24 months? Well, from 25-36 months you can expect their vocabulary to explode, along with their actual comprehension of language. This year, you’ll start to see them knock over toddler speech milestones like:

  • Making up stories.
  • Talking about people and objects that aren’t immediately around them.
  • Taking turns when talking.
  • Having short conversations with you (that sometimes even make sense!)
  • More clearly articulating their words. 
  • Asking lots of “what” and “where” questions.
  • Using longer sentences.

Prepare for lots of hilarious things to come out of their mouths. (Have a notepad and pen at the ready – you’re gonna want to pull some of this up at their 18th.)

Toddler emotional development

If we can sum up the 2–3 year old age bracket in two words it’s: Big. Feelings.

This year you can expect your fair share of toddler meltdowns. But your little one will also start to learn about other people’s feelings and the effect of their actions on how people feel. It’s very sweet. They may learn to apologise, and solve problems without resorting to crying or yelling (all in good time).

A key difference in toddler emotional development this year is the ability to put words to feelings. You can help them learn to name and process their feelings by labelling the emotion – i.e. “You must be feeling frustrated”.

Toddler social development

Like adults, some toddlers are social butterflies and others prefer to play quietly by themselves in the corner (hey I turned out just fine, Mum). 

What’s different this year is that your child might start to play with other children, not just next to them. They might develop favourite friends or playmates, and learn to use their names. They’ll also be able to take part in imaginary play, like ‘making cups of tea’ for their teddies. (So adorbs.)

You can help your toddler’s social development by explaining the concept of taking turns and sharing (although this may take a while to sink in). Ask about their friends and what they like doing together.

Toddler physical development

Between two and three your child will get better and better at mastering movement. They should be able to run, jump, climb, kick and even come to a stop without hazard. Their fine motor skills will develop too, and you’ll notice them get better at feeding themselves, dressing themselves, and holding crayons or pencils. (They probs won’t be drawing or writing yet, though.)

Toddlers LOVE to test out their independence, so it’s good to encourage them to try things for themselves. Letting them figure out zips, buttons and other fiddly stuff (without rushing in to help) is the best way to assist them in meeting those physical toddler milestones. (Real talk: Have you heard about busy boards?! Genius.)

Toddler cognitive development

Your little one is learning the traps of life on earth (and quite frankly, so are we all). This year they’ll learn the art of combining memories and experiences to make sense of the present. They’ll think things through, understand the basics of cause and effect, and wrap their heads around things like:

  • Right and wrong.
  • Opposites (day/night, big/small).
  • Numbers and amounts (“bring me two blocks”).
  • Names and sounds of animals and vehicles.
  • Making up stories and using symbolic play (i.e. pretending a slice of apple is a boat).

FYI: The Australian Government’s Early Years Learning Framework has a useful resource with a 2-3 year old toddler milestones chart. It covers physical, emotional, social, and cognitive toddler milestones. Worth a peruse if you’re interested!

But let’s get into the nitty-gritty of your life with a toddler as they grow from a two year old to a threenager. (That is, a preschooler with the attitude of a high-schooler.)

What it looks like: Month-by-month toddler development stages

25 months

Turning two can bring teething (good news: two year old molars are the last to come through till around age six!), temper tantrums, oh… and did someone say ‘two year sleep regression’? It’s all a part of toddler development at 25 months.

25 month old toddler milestones

  • Saying sentences with two or three words.
  • Using ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘me’ in speech.
  • Expressing the desire for more independence – “I want to do it myself”.

How you can help

  • Let them make small decisions. For example, what t-shirt to wear, or what colour bowl to use. (If your toddler cannot DEAL with decisions, Janet Lansbury has an excellent resource on how to help indecisive toddlers.)
  • Explain the difference between ‘you’ and ‘me’. They might still get confused, so make sure you’re not talking in third person around them. Do you say, “I’m going to get a biscuit”, or, “Mummy’s going to get a biscuit”?

26 months

At two years and two months, your little one will be getting more curious about the world around them including other children, and their very own bodies. (Boy mamas: yes, it’s common for little lads to play with their willies.)

26 month old toddler milestones

  • Beginning to pay attention to other kids, or play with them.
  • Asking lots of “where” and “what” questions.
  • Potty training (girls might potty train around this age).

How you can help

  • Ignore penis-fiddling and divert attention from it. Try to get your little boy to do something else with his hands instead. (Professionals advise against shaming and embarrassing them in the process. It’s often a form of self-soothing.)
  • Don’t go OTT on potty training. Just because some obscure study somewhere found that on average girls potty train around 24–27 months doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your little one if they take longer than this. Look for signs of toilet training readiness, and let your child guide YOU around this toddler milestone.

27 months

By 27 months, your toddler’s developmental milestones may look different from another’s. Outgoing kids will be uber independent and play further away from you on the playground. Quiet, unsure toddlers might prefer not to stray too far. Both are normal, but if you’re ever worried about their social skills, drop a mention to your paediatrician.

27 month old toddler milestones

  • Trying new things or being worried in new scenarios.
  • Getting more physically confident (i.e. climbing ladders at the playground, running and stopping, climbing stairs without holding your hand).

How you can help

  • Take your child to new places. It’s normal for a 27 month old toddler to be worried about new places and people. The more you expose them to new things, the more they’ll get used to them. (Hot tip: Bring your toddler to your next routine dentist appointment and give them a go sitting on the chair.)
  • (Do your best to) Encourage sleep. This can be SO tough when your cheeky toddler refuses nap time or bed time. Try to make sure their needs are met, they’re comfy and safe in bed, and they’re familiar with the pre-bed routine.

28 months

Your toddler’s language milestones are becoming very apparent by 28 months, but so is their cognitive development. They don’t just say more, they understand more.

28 month old toddler milestones

  • Wanting to help you with household tasks.
  • Understanding the concept of taking turns (though they might not necessarily practise it).

How you can help

  • Involve your child in household activities. Ask them to put the patty pans in the muffin tin for you. Encourage them to “help” you sweep the floor. Teach them to put their finished dishes in the sink. Little things like this make them feel independent and helpful (as unhelpful as it may actually be).
  • Teach them about turns, sharing, and waiting patiently. At this age, your toddler probably won’t be satisfied with your explanation about these social rules, but try to instil it early and reward them when they’re kind or patient with others.

29 months

As your 29 month old continues growing and learning, there can be a lot of pressure on parents to adopt the role of educator. While it’s true that a child’s first teacher is you, remember there are other tools you can use. Quality, age-appropriate TV shows (i.e. Sesame Street, Play School) can help your toddler’s language development, but the WHO recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day at this age.

29 month old toddler milestones

  • Consistently using 2-3 word sentences.
  • Speaking lots (with around 50% of it actually understandable).

How you can help

  • Talk to them. No doubt toddler speech development is doing a number on them. By 29 months, children often have a vast vocabulary and an incredible capacity to communicate. They can even make jokes! (Which may not make sense to you all the time, but go ahead and laugh anyway.)
  • Subtly correct language mistakes. Don’t embarrass your kid for getting words mixed up or anything. Just repeat the sentence the correct way, so they get the hang of it.

30 months

Halfway into your toddler’s third year of life, you’ll notice a big difference in their cognition and physical abilities. They’ll be walking around like no one’s business and sharing their unique philosophies on life. Watch and listen.

30 month old toddler milestones

  • Understanding basic nouns and pronouns (names, places, objects).
  • Understanding the difference between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’.
  • Using ‘in’ and ‘on’ in sentences.

How you can help

  • Look at photos together. This is a nice, quiet activity to do together and can give your toddler a chance to talk about past experiences and other people. Plus, it gives mama a chance to have a cup of tea. Winning.
  • Read books. This is a great way to teach your child about words and sentence structure. You can even start pointing out specific letters.

31 months

Your clever and active little person will be keeping you on your toes, and making you laugh on the regular. If you like, you can check out the CDC’s toddler development milestones to ensure your child is in range with their toddler development stages.

31 month old toddler milestones

  • Potty training (this is the average age that boys tend to potty train).
  • Making up stories and songs.

How you can help

  • Play music and have a dance-off. (Note: they will win.) Toddlers at this age love physical movement and songs. They also love repetition, however. So be prepared for the nightmare that is ‘Old MacDonald’ on loop.
  • Encourage safe eating. Toddlers can have short attention spans and struggle to sit still while eating a meal. But the CDC stresses the importance of sitting still and chewing food properly to avoid choking. Introducing mealtime games, engaging in conversation, and using fun toddler-sized utensils can help keep them still. (@feedinglittles on the ‘Gram has great tips on keeping busy toddlers at the dinner table.)

32 months

As your child gets closer to three, they’ll be feeling ALL the feels. Big feelings can be so tough to manage, but you’ve got this mama.

32 month old toddler milestones

  • Showing signs of stress.
  • Getting emotional.
  • Learning to name their emotions.

How you can help

  • Toddlers can get stressed too. Yeah, and they don’t even need to do tax returns! Signs of stress can include babyish behaviours like clinginess and separation anxiety, disruptions to sleep, or lots of crying and whining. This could be brought on by big life changes like the arrival of a new sibling, starting daycare or kinder, or even just the weight of growing up. Before you tell them off for their behaviour, stop to think what might be causing it. They may need reassurance, not discipline.
  • Let your child experience emotions. It’s not your job to stop them crying (as awful as it is to see them upset). Frustration, anger, disappointment and confusion are parts of life, and all you can do is support your toddler’s emotional development and help them try to understand it all. 

33 months

With greater agency over their own bodies, at 33 months your toddler might be experimenting with new ways of moving and thinking.

33 month old toddler milestones

  • Riding a tricycle or balance bike.
  • Doing simple puzzles on their own.

How you can help

  • Encourage independent play. As your toddler grows and develops, they’ll become better at keeping themselves occupied for longer. (Hooray!) As long as your house or yard is toddler-proofed, let them decide what they want to do and leave them to it. You can also set up some age-appropriate growth and development activities for your toddler to get them going.
  • Consider the Big Kid Bed upgrade (if you haven’t done it yet). If your toddler is getting creative in their attempts to escape the cot, it could be time to transition to a bed.

34 months

A complete stranger may be able to understand most of what your 34 month old says now – that’s how far their toddler language development has come this year. Their pronunciation of words will be improving every day, along with their confidence and understanding.

34 month old toddler milestones

  • Getting more confident dressing themselves.
  • Following more complex instructions (involving three or four steps).

How you can help

  • Let your toddler pick their own outfit. This can be hilarious.
  • Help them stretch their imagination. Encouraging open play with blocks or Play-doh is a great way to do this. And remember, boredom breeds creativity. Don’t pressure yourself to be constantly inventing games for them – your kid can think for themselves now!

35 months

Your child may have been counting to 10 before they turned two, but some kids are still working it out at 35 months. Reaching toddler counting milestones can be really exciting, and inventing counting songs can help with this. One thing’s for sure though: your baby is about to be one… two… THREE soon!

35 month old toddler milestones

  • Counting! (Potentially up to 20, but they might not be there yet.)
  • Kicking a ball, or catching it if rolled to them.

How you can help

  • Try to explain ages. In the lead-up to your toddler’s third birthday you might be able to articulate how their birthday will make them one year older. Let’s be real, though: they just want cake.
  • Get outdoors. Outdoor play is excellent for all young kids (and us adults too). Play ball games, go to the beach, or take your toddler for (short) hikes. Just remember the importance of sun protection!

36 months

I know what you’re thinking… Nope, you cannot possibly have a three year old. Unfathomable. Well I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING! They’ve grown up and changed so much this year. They might even be able to blow their birthday candles out! (Saliva spray optional.)

36 month old toddler milestones

  • Using plurals (i.e. ‘dogs’).
  • Asking LOTS of ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions.

How you can help

  • Give them heaps of attention. They’re your special baby and they deserve it! Both parents should try to spend at least a little bit of one-on-one quality time with them every day. Attention is a particularly powerful tool when it comes to rewarding good behaviour (and lack of attention is a great way to deter naughtiness!).
  • Tell them how proud you are. Your baby probably understands what this means now. Your words can have such lasting impact even at this young age.

Now, as smart as your toddler appears to be, it’s important to remember that they’re still a baby in many ways. They need your help to understand and comprehend this confusing life. Plus, they need mummy cuddles just because. 

So celebrate the wins of reaching toddler milestones with them, and support them through the tough emotional stuff. And remember to celebrate yourself too. You’re doing awesome so far, mama.

Read next: Enough of this crap! Tips on when to start potty training

The Raising Children Network, 2–3 years: toddler development

Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority, ​​Your Child’s Development – 2 To 3 Years

The Urban Child Institute, Third Year, 25-36 Months

Government of Western Australia Department of Health, Child development 2–3 years

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Toddlers (2–3 years of age)

Pathways.org, 2–3 Years Milestones

Nemours KidsHealth, Your Child’s Development: 2.5 Years (30 Months)

The Australian Government, Developmental milestones and the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards

BetterHealth Channel, Child development (6) – two to three years

Janet Lansbury, How to Help Our Indecisive Toddlers

VeryWell Family, What Do I Do About My Toddler Playing With His Penis?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC’s Developmental Milestones

The World Health Organization, To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more

VeryWell Family, How to Spot Signs of Stress and Anxiety in Your Toddler

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