Your 8-, 9-, 10-, or 11-month-old may look a lot like a baby, but inside that little (maybe still-bald) head, a toddler brain is budding! And even if they aren’t yet actually toddling (first steps often don’t happen until after they blow out their 1st birthday candle), big changes are brewing as your tot leaves babyhood behind. Here’s a look at what to expect from your young toddler. 

Their ability to talk and listen skyrockets.

Infants tell us what they want through smiles, cries, and grunts. But during the toddler years, your child’s ability to communicate takes two huge steps forward, thanks to changes in both the right and left halves of their brain. 

First, there’s a surge of development in the right half—the part that controls gestures we make with our hands and face and that perfectly matches your little bub’s tone of voice to their quickly shifting emotions.

You may have already noticed signs of this development, as they:

  • Point to things
  • Use sign language
  • Get more expressive (using grins, frowns, hand flourishes, and changes of voice to show if they’re happy, sad, frightened, frustrated, etc.)

Then, as your child zips past their 2nd and 3rd birthdays, the left brain—the part that controls words, reasoning, patience, and self-control—gets a gush of growth boosting their ability to speak in words and sentences. (It’s amazing how quickly kids go from barely babbling to being as tenacious as little courtroom lawyers…arguing why it’s not fair to have to go to bed so early.)

Toddlers love activity!

Once kids start walking, running, and climbing—look out! They get so jazzed by moving and exploring they forget their hunger, pee in their pants, and struggle like punch-drunk fighters against sleep. 

Your young child is a little explorer who’s interested in everything. When they hear a conversation in another room, they want to investigate, so they don’t miss a thing! (No wonder Curious George is such a toddler favorite.) 

They turn into little “Dr. No’s.”

Your toddler may often get quite rigid. We, too, can be pretty picky about wanting our pillow and our bed. But your toddler will sometimes be absolutely inflexible and insistent on doing things “just so”!

They may refuse to eat a cracker if it has a broken corner. Or make you read the same books every single night. And this obsessive attitude usually gets even worse when your tyke is tired. You may have to kiss all the stuffed animals good night in exactly the right order…and start reading the book all over again if you accidentally skip a page.

Luckily, by 3 or 4, your child will become more flexible (although they may still insist on wearing their favorite PJs to bed…every night!). By then, they will think you’re funny if you make a “mistake,” like singing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” but inserting the word birdie for baby, or if you start reading a book on the last page. 

Toddlers Love Routines!

Related to your little one’s penchant for rigidity is their love of routines. Doing the same routine every day may be boring to us, but for your toddler, routines are like safe little islands of predictability amid the chaos of the day. They are respite from the hard work tots do all day trying to understand all the new things that confront them. (Think of it like taking a tough test and suddenly coming upon a section of super-easy questions.)

Sometime before 18 months, you’ll notice that your tot is starting to show an interest in order. For example, they may like putting all the dinosaurs in one pile and the dolls in another. And over the ensuing months, they’ll start loving snack time, sharing circle at preschool, and singing silly songs. These all give structure to your tot’s day and help them feel smart because they know exactly what’s about to happen. 

More on Toddler Behavior:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.