Toddler development and milestones: your 21 month old

Toddler development and milestones: your 21 month old

Never-ending energy levels, heightened curiosity and that dreaded tantrum phase are just some of the things you might notice in your toddler at this age. Keep reading for more about what a 21-month-old toddler might be doing.

Your toddler is now almost two years old and you are probably marveling at just how far your little one has come in such a short time. At the same time, it’s easy for you to lose track of certain things related to his development because of just how fast time flies.

If you are wondering whether your cheeky 21-month-old toddler on track with his development, you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we take you through some of the more common developmental milestones of a 21-month-old child. However, do keep in mind that these “milestones” are certainly not set in stone and each child will progress at his own pace – there is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to toddler development.

21 month old development and milestones

You’ll notice a new sense of independence in your little one around this age, as well as a heightened curiosity about how things work.


21 Month Old Development and Milestones: A Guide

Daily skills

You’ll notice a fierce new sense of independence come through in your toddler at around this age. He may want to feed and dress himself and even show signs of toilet readyness.

While you might think your little one is still too young to put on his socks by himself, or you just can’t deal with the mess of his self-feeding attempts, take a deep breath… and let him keep trying.

By doing this, you’re nurturing his natural sense of curiosity and helping him learn about how things work in the ‘real world’. By letting him figure out how to get food onto his spoon or a button through a button-hole, you’re encouraging the development of problem-solving skills (even if it involves some tears and messes along the way!).


  • Choose ‘chores’ that your little one can help you with and feel important about, but won’t leave a bigger mess for you to clean. For example, when hanging the washing, ask him to hand you each item. Or let him ‘arrange’ a kitchen drawer (low to the ground) that has plastic utensils, or other safe items.
  • Teach and sing cute routine-related songs that will nurture your toddler’s love for routines and orderliness. “This is the way we brush our teeth” is a great song to start with.
  • Establish fun but firm routines for bedtime, meals and bathtime. This will give your child a sense of security and knowledge of what to expect next.
  • If your child is determined to dress himself and screams in frustration when he can’t manage a button or you try to help, pick clothes that are easy for him to handle, such as ones with snap fasteners instead of buttons. Less stress all around!
21 month old development and milestones

Where does he get all that energy from?!

Physical Development

Running, jumping, walking, hopping, climbing and balancing – these are just a few of the physical activities your child engages in continuously, repeatedly, through the day. And while you might be exhausted after a day of running behind your little one, your cheeky toddler just doesn’t seem to get tired!

Your toddler’s never-ending energy and activity levels are contributing to more than just building strong muscles. According to experts, all this physical activity also contributes to the development of balance, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness – important skills that will contribute to his holistic development.

By now, your little one should be able to walk by himself, kick a ball, climb on and off furniture alone and climb up and down stairs with support. He should also be able to drag a toy behind him and carry a large (light) toy while walking.


  • While not preventing your child’s need for increased physical activity, also keep safety in mind. Now’s the time to get those grills for your window or balcony if you haven’t done so already.
  • Take your child to a safe space – such as an outdoor or indoor playground – to burn off that energy.

Cognitive Development

These refer to your child’s ability to reason, think and use his five senses to gain an understanding of his environment.

By now, your little one can probably tell the difference between different shapes and colours. So for example, he is able to sort blocks according to their shapes and colours.

He might also be able to point correctly at different body parts when you name them or even attempt to speak them out. Another ability you will probably notice around this age is his engagement in imaginative play. He’ll also be quite curious about how different things look, sound, feel and taste.

21 month old development and milestones

Your 21-month-old toddler might not be a perfect social butterfly, but don’t worry, this is normal and she’ll get there soon!

Social Development

Your little one is still learning how to be the perfect play-date host. While learning how to play with other kids is considered to be a developmental milestone, each child takes his own time to perfect the art of getting along with others.

Around now and over the next few months, you may notice that your toddler starts to imitate the behaviour of his peers. But don’t expect him to jump forward and offer to share his toys because right now, it’s all about learning the meaning of ownership for your little one.

You’ll hear a lot of “mine! MINE!!” during playdates. And while this might seem unacceptable to you, it’s not to your child because he still does not have a good understanding about the concept of time (“I’ll get it back in ten minutes”), or reciprocation (“If you do this for me, I’ll return the favour”).

Don’t worry too much about this behaviour, though. It’s a perfectly normal part of your child’s social development at around this age.

You’ll also notice a gradual but steady decrease in separation anxiety around this age, as your child’s social skills improve.


  • Don’t force your child to share his toys with other kids during a playdate as this is only going to result in resistance and tears. Put away his favourite toys to prevent squabbles. Put out toys, like blocks, that everyone can play with.
  • Whenever you catch your child voluntarily sharing his toys with another child, make sure you offer plenty of praise.
  • Practice sharing with your little one. When he is playing, ask him “could I please have a turn?”. Don’t push it if he refuses, just keep at it and over time, your toddler will understand the concept – and also that he will get his toy back.

Emotional Development

For many children around this age, defiant behaviour begins, thus heralding the ‘terrible twos’ phase. This phase strikes as early as 18 months for some kids, and others bypass it altogether (lucky parents!).

But rather than let the stereotype get the better of you, understanding why your child behaves defiantly will help you better tackle those tantrums when (and if) they happen.

Your little one is still not in full control of his emotions or language. He does not know how to self-regulate his feelings and he often does not have the language skills to express how he feels, or what he wants.

This frustration, coupled with his new-found sense of identity and independence, is often the reason for those infamous outbursts. He is also testing his boundaries to see just how far you will let him go.

How do you know that the dreaded terrible twos have begun? Here are some standard signs:

  • Purposely defying your instructions not to do something
  • Throwing himself down on the floor and crying loudly if he does not get his way
  • Asking for things he doesn’t even want, just to see if you’ll give it to him
  • Strong assertiveness (and even aggression) with peers
21 month old development and milestones

You might notice your little one starts to throw tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. Sometimes, a hug is all that it takes to stop the tears.

You might also notice your toddler experimenting with aggressive behaviour (oh joy!). Hitting, biting and scratching both you and others are just some of the things your child may do, but this is not because he is mean or going to grow up to be an ax-murderer.

Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the Toddler Years explains, “Children this age wonder what will happen if they pull your hair or poke you in the eye.” Also, they are still too young to remember rules and like to experiment with eliciting responses from others — especially if that response is ‘exciting’ to them.

At the same time however, you’ll also notice that your 21-month-old can be extra affectionate (mood swings much?!).

He’ll take any opportunity to hop onto your lap for big cuddles and will smother you with sloppy kisses and plenty of “I wuv you’s”. Enjoy this to the fullest, mums and dads, as in what seems like a flash, your toddler who wears his heart on his sleeve, will be a silent teenager.


  • Stay close to your child while he is having a meltdown and offer hugs or cuddles. Sometimes, this is all that is needed to calm him down.
  • Distraction works with other toddlers to stop a tantrum. Show him something interesting, odder a toy or play peek-a-boo and see if that stops the tears.
  • If your child throws a tantrum in a public place, pick him up and take him someplace quiet until he is calm. Never walk away from him, leaving him alone. He is also far too young still for time-outs.
21 month old development and milestones

Reading often to your child is a good way of boosting his language and cognitive skills.

Speech and Language Development

Each child develops language skills at his own pace and some may take longer to speak than others. At 21 months old, your little one should be able to say a few words, including “mummy”. He might also be able to name objects that you show him.


  • Encourage language development by speaking to your baby often, even if it’s describing what you’re doing at the moment: “Look baby, Mummy’s putting the washing out now and next I’m going to make some yummy food for you.”
  • Reading to your little one is also an amazing way of encourage both language and cognitive skills development. Look for age-appropriate books with plenty of colourful pictures to stimulate his senses and keep him interested.
  • Help your little one develop his cognitive skills by giving him toys, such as blocks and simple puzzles, that promote this.

Mums and dads, don’t forget to enjoy all the amazing things your baby does each day and not let watching out for developmental milestones overtake the joy of parenting an adorable toddler.

However, if you do notice any behaviour that concerns you, or you are not sure about a matter related to your child’s development, it’s best to speak to a paediatrician for a professional opinion without delay.


References: Livestrong, What to Expect, Raising Children

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