Developmental Milestones

The Only Two-Year Milestones That Matter

At 2-years-old, developmental milestones are even less pegged to specific abilities and more directed at behaviors that display a range of cognitive and physical accomplishments.

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Toddler eating a dipped ice cream cone.

For many parents, 2-year-old milestones are one of the last big checkpoints before their child starts being monitored regularly by other adults during the workdays. That might make the developmental milestones at 2-years-old feel particularly crucial. But it’s important to remember that just like the 18-month milestones, or any other milestones up to this point for that matter, every child will acquire abilities at their own rate and in their own order.

In February 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics overhauled the pediatric milestone checklist. This process included adding developmental milestones for 15-month-olds and 30-month-olds, and revamping other milestone charts to reflect things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age. To help parents track milestones on their own, the CDC has released a free Milestone Tracker mobile app, a Digital Online Checklist, and a PDF checklist that parents can download and print.

At 2-years-old, developmental milestones are even less pegged to specific abilities and more directed at behaviors that can display a range of cognitive and physical accomplishments. So, instead of worrying if your 2-year-old can walk confidently, run, speak simple sentences, or fill and empty a bucket, parents will want to look at their kid holistically. To that end, there are two big qualities that parents should look for in their 2-year-old: lots of movement and lots of independence.

2-Year Developmental Milestone #1: Your Kid Moves

By now, you’ve probably realized that the new abilities your child gains are a blessing and a curse. At no other time is that more true than when your child develops the full capabilities of a 2-year-old. Sure, it’s a delight to watch them gambol about a playground with abandon, but slides, steps, and climbing are now a test of your parental nerves. Still, if you want to get a good idea if your kid is developing as they should, a playground is a great place to take them.

Two-year-olds should be able to walk, run, and jump. They should be able to climb up stairs and slide down slides. You’ll also want to see if your kid can kick a ball or fill and empty a container. If there’s a theme here, it’s that many of the abilities you want to see in your child can be observed and honed in the outdoors. Frankly, outside is a fine place to be with them any chance you get.

Red Flags: Children unable to walk by 2 may have developmental issues that should be addressed right away. You’ll also want to talk to a pediatrician if your child has an uneven gait or can only walk on their tiptoes.

What You Shouldn’t Worry About: Some 2-year-olds are simply cautious. But you don’t need to take that caution as a sign of a developmental delay. A child who hasn’t had space to run may not feel confident to do so. A child who hasn’t seen stairs may balk at getting to the top of the slide. Remember that many of these abilities require practice. Keep them in context with your child’s experience to date and make sure you give them time to play and develop the skills they need.

2-Year Developmental Milestone #2: Your Kid Is Independent

Independence is a broad characteristic, but it links to a great deal of 2-year-old developmental abilities. A child developing independence is on the right path. No need to reign them in.

Like the ability to be constantly on the move, independence carries its own set of drawbacks. An independent child will start developing their own opinions. Because of that, they might not want to do what you want to do. So you should be expecting to hear the word “no” a lot. That said, there are a ton of cognitive abilities being displayed in the word “no.” When your kid says “no,” it means that they have heard and understood your request. They have the cognitive capability to weigh your request against their own desires and communicate their intent.

Your 2-year-old should also be able to follow directions. They should be able to point to familiar objects when they are named and they should be able to mimic words and engage in pretend play.

Red Flags: Two-year-olds should be able to use two-word sentences. But if a child is communicating easily in ways other than talking — such as with sign language — this could be a tricky concern. If you feel like a lack of language is inordinately affecting your child’s life, talk to a pediatrician. And parents should not confuse independence with complete disregard. A child who does not connect with parents — not imitating them or engaging with them — may be affected by cognitive delays.

What You Shouldn’t Worry About: Two-year-old defiance is all part of the parenting game, and it’s going to continue for a bit. That does not mean your kid is broken. It means that they are figuring out their place in the world. There’s no need to discipline defiance out of your 2-year-old.

2-Year Developmental Milestone #3: Your Kid Is Developing Emotional Intelligence

The ability to empathize will come later, but the social and emotional building blocks are developing now. As they learn to make sense of all that is going on around them, your child will start to look at your face to see how to react in new situations. They will also start to notice when others are hurt or upset, and may even pause or look sad when someone is crying

Red Flags: If it’s difficult to get your kid’s attention or if they’re always lost in their own world, then it can be a good idea to have your pediatrician evaluate their hearing. Catching these issues early can help prevent language acquisition delays over the coming months.

What You Shouldn’t Worry About: It may be a while before a 2-year-old realizes siblings are upset or that they’ve hurt someone else unintentionally. At the same time, people around them getting upset might make them upset as well because they don’t have the emotional skills to differentiate between themselves and others. So one kid crying may turn into a chorus if it’s particularly intense.

Non-Milestone Moments at 2-Years-Old

You might notice your child is getting interested in the potty. That might translate as being intensely curious about what you’re doing in the bathroom. Although your instinct might be to yell and push them out of the bathroom, it might be a good idea for the kid to observe if you’re willing. This is a good stop on the way to potty training success. It helps normalize the process, because, after all, everybody poops.

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