Child development: Toddlers (1-3 years) 

Toddlers experience rapid development during their early years. They learn to walk, talk, and explore the world around them. As they develop their social skills and learn to regulate their emotions, they will still look to you for support, reassurance, and care.

Immunisations and health checks

Every toddler in NSW is given a personal health record. This is your child’s “blue book”, your essential guide to tracking their growth, development, immunisations, and health checks from birth to age five. 


The best way to protect your child from serious, preventable diseases is to give immunisations on time and in line with the recommended NSW Immunisation Schedule. This schedule ensures that your child is provided with the earliest protection. 

All immunisations on this schedule are free if your child is eligible for Medicare benefits. Evidence of your child’s immunisation status must be provided for enrolment at childcare, preschool, and school. 

18-month immunisations

Influenza vaccine

In addition to the above vaccinations, it is also recommended that your child is vaccinated against influenza, more commonly known as the flu, every year. Getting the flu vaccine each year protects your child from the types of flu expected to be the most common that season. See the Influenza factsheet for more information. 

Children aged 6 months to <5 years are eligible for a free influenza (flu) vaccination every year*.

*Some providers may charge an administration or consultation fee.

Health checks 

Health checks are a great opportunity to check in on your child’s health and development and discuss any concerns you might have with a health professional. When your child grows into a toddler, they will have health checks at:

  • 18 months
  • 2 years
  • 3 years.

Bring your toddler’s blue book along to all appointments. Below are some topics that you may like to discuss at these check-ups.

Health and safety

  • healthy eating
  • sleep
  • taking care of your child’s teeth
  • how to be sun smart
  • growth
  • immunisation.


  • your child’s behaviour
  • toilet training
  • encouraging active play.


  • sibling relationships
  • parenting practices
  • their feelings and behaviours
  • going to playgroups or childcare
  • smoking or vaping.

Developmental milestones

As your baby blossoms into a toddler, you’ll start to see them grow and change into a little individual. They will start to walk, speak, and develop new, complex, and challenging emotions.

Developmental milestones are a guide, and every child is different in their development. These milestones check how your child is growing and help find possible problems early. The milestones do not consider how disability or impairment can affect the way a toddler learns, moves, speaks, or interacts with others.

Children have sensitive periods for development. Early assessment and intervention is essential to ensure the best outcome for your child.

If you think your child is not meeting a milestone for their age, share your concerns with your local doctor or family health nurse. They will provide opportunities for early assessment and support if there is an area your toddler might need some help with. Below are a few milestones to consider. 


Gross motor skills use larger muscles in the body to help your child perform basic movements such as walking, running, and jumping. 

Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes. They help your toddler interact with the world in more detail. 

Between 12 to 18 months, your toddler will start to:

  • take their first steps before walking comfortably with no support
  • climb on and off couches or chairs without help
  • play with toys that use pushing and pulling motions
  • scribble with crayons or pencils
  • drink from an open cup with fewer spills.

Between 18 to 24 months, your toddler will start to:

  • run
  • kick a ball
  • walk up steps rather than climbing.

Between 2 to 3 years, your toddler will start to:

  • dress themselves, or at least try to
  • climb up and down ladders and playground equipment
  • string large beads onto things such as shoelaces or pipe cleaners
  • start to hold a crayon or pencil correctly, using their thumb and forefinger.

Language and communication

Language skills involve the ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and needs through spoken words.  

Between 12 to 18 months, your toddler will start to:

  • say three or more words other than mama or dada
  • follow simple directions without supporting gestures, for example, handing a toy over when you say, “Please give that toy to me”
  • point to familiar objects or people when named, for example, “Where is the puppy dog?”.

Between 18 to 24 months, your toddler will start to:

  • put at least two words together, for example, “More milk”
  • point to at least two parts of their body when asked to, for example, “Can you point to your nose?” or “Where are your knees?”
  • use gestures such as blowing kisses or nodding for yes.

Between 2 to 3 years, your toddler will start to:

  • talk well enough that people outside of the family can understand them, most of the time
  • describe still images of movement in a picture book, such as running
  • ask the who, what, when, where and why questions, for example, “Where is mummy?”.

Social and emotional

Social and emotional skills refer to your child’s ability to interact positively with others as well as understand and manage emotions appropriately. 

Between 12 to 18 months, your toddler will start to:

  • explore and move away from their caregivers, but will check to make sure you are still close by
  • help you with self-care tasks, such as lifting arms when dressing 
  • points out something that interests them
  • show interest in other children.

Between 18 to 24 months, your toddler will start to:

  • notice and respond to emotions, for example, looking sad when someone is hurt or crying
  • look at you or other people to figure out how to react in new situations.

Between 2 to 3 years, your toddler will start to:

  • notice other children and join them in play that involves turn-taking
  • calm down within approximately 10 minutes of being left by a parent or caregiver, like at daycare
  • start to mimic day-to-day actions, such as washing or cooking, through imaginative play.

Developmental delay

The term developmental delay is when a child is developing skills more slowly than other children in the same age group. Developmental milestones are a general guide, and some children may reach milestones earlier or later.

The earlier your child’s developmental delay is identified, and support is put in place, the better the outcome for your child and family.

Developmental delay can be a concern for parents, but it's important to remember that a delay in reaching certain milestones doesn’t always mean there is a long-term issue. In many cases, it simply means your child needs some extra support in some areas. There are services that can assess and support children with developmental delays to help them reach their full potential. 

Speak to your family doctor or paediatrician if your child isn’t developing at the same rate as other children the same age or as outlined in their blue book.

Skill regression

Regression is when your child goes backwards in their development and may behave in a younger or needier way. Skill regression can occur at any age and may happen because children are in a new situation, such as attending childcare, or they may be preparing themselves to develop further. 

Some skill regression is common; however, if you have concerns, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician. 

Early Intervention Services

Developmental delay is treated with early intervention. Early intervention means providing support early to help children "catch up". This includes therapy, support, education, and monitoring from professionals such as: 

  • occupational therapists  
  • audiologists  
  • physiotherapists  
  • psychologists  
  • speech pathologists  
  • social workers.  

These professionals will help your child to develop the skills they need to thrive. Some children require less or no support as they get older due to early intervention.  

Talk to your doctor about accessing support for your child through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children under six years old with developmental delays in accessing therapy and support for early intervention. 


Neurodivergence is when a child’s brain functions differently from the majority of people who are at a similar age and stage. People who are neurodivergent may see the world differently from others. This includes diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD.

Social and emotional development

The toddler years can be a rollercoaster of challenging and rewarding milestones. Your toddler is learning how to express their emotions, assert their growing independence and play with other children in a more meaningful way. Despite this, toddlers still need the security of attachment with their parents and caregivers.

Social and emotional development can be influenced by your toddler’s environment, genetics and even your own experiences as parents. Being responsive and engaged in your parenting and seeking support when needed is the best way to help your child build these skills. 

Understanding favouritism/parent preferences

Favouritism is a common developmental phase for toddlers where your child might suddenly prefer one parent or carer over the other. Your child might become upset or frustrated with the other parent or carer when they attempt to help or care for them.

Generally, a toddler will form a stronger attachment to the parent or caregiver they spend the most time with, but this can vary depending on the family and cultural context. Favouritism is rooted in attachment and safety. Preferences can change as your toddler grows and develops.

Favouritism is a temporary developmental phase, not a personal rejection. It is not a reflection of the relationship you have with your child or a reflection of your parenting.

One of the hardest things to manage with favouritism is having the other parent or carer involved in your toddler’s care while respecting their emotional needs and ability to say no. 

If you are the favourite parent or carer

  • involve the other parent or carer in activities while gently acknowledging your child’s feelings and explaining why the other parent or carer is there
  • show your child lots of positive interaction between yourself and the other parent or carer to reinforce that they are a safe person who cares for them
  • remind your child that you both love and care for them.

If you are the other parent or carer

  • try not to show your child that you are affected or upset by their favouritism
  • acknowledge your child’s feelings and continue to provide them with comfort and support
  • if the other parent or carer is unavailable, explain to your child why before gently stepping in.

Separation Anxiety

From six months of age, your child develops greater awareness of your permanent presence and is becoming more emotionally attached to you. When you leave or separate from your child, they become anxious as they know you are somewhere else. This is called ‘person permanence’.

Children start to learn that even though they can’t see you, you still exist. Because they have no concept of time, they become anxious, cry, or fret because they know you are somewhere and don’t know when you will return. This behaviour usually peaks around 1-2 years, and children tend to grow out of this stage. Separation anxiety may also extend to other family members such as grandparents, uncles, or aunties.

If separation anxiety is significantly disrupting your child’s behaviour, mood, sleep or overall health, speak to your family doctor.


Sibling rivalry is a term used to describe negative relationships and fighting between siblings. Your toddler is still learning how to manage their emotions and understand what is fair. 

There may also be jealousy if more attention is given to another child. As a result, disagreements and fights are likely to result at times, especially if siblings are closer in age.  

Remember, all behaviour is communication. If your toddler is acting out, they are probably trying to tell you something.

While common, it can be quite distressing for parents, carers and children and can sometimes escalate if not managed well. However, if effectively managed, it can help children develop resilience, a sense of fairness and conflict-resolution skills. To manage sibling rivalry and jealousy, you can: 

  • talk with your toddler about feelings and how to express them safely 
  • set clear family rules and boundaries that are consistent and age-appropriate 
  • talk with your children about equality and fairness 
  • praise good behaviour rather than focusing on the negatives 
  • spend one-on-one time with each child doing activities they like so they feel valued and are reminded of their special relationship with you 
  • discuss the good things that can come from a loving relationship with their sibling, for example, playing games together. 

Physical violence between children should always be intercepted by parents and carers, with children being immediately separated. Speak to your local doctor or child and family health centre about resources and support services to help manage sibling fighting and violence.

Friendships and play

Toddlers will start to engage with more children and adults as they grow up. They will usually play with children their parents or carers are in contact with, such as friends and friends, or with other children at childcare. 

Some toddlers will be very social and outgoing, while others prefer to play on their own. Your child is an individual, so it’s important to follow their lead.

Play development

Between 12 to 24 months of age, toddlers will begin to learn about taking turns and sharing. This might look like passing a ball back and forth or handing an object to another child and then waiting for it to be returned. Between 2 to 3 years, toddlers will engage in parallel play, which involves sharing a space with other children while doing their activities.


Playdates are common but are still parent-focused at this age. A coffee catch-up between parents may move to the playground rather than the café and will need more supervision. 

Toddlers do not have advanced social skills like managing conflict, developing friendships, and sharing, so they need support and supervision from parents and carers to learn these skills and play safely and positively with others. You may like to debrief with your toddler on the way home and reinforce all the positive things they did and what a great time they had.

Being aggressive

Toddlers often fight because they do not have the skills to resolve disagreements yet. They may bite, hit, push, snatch, or grab things from others. Emotions drive behaviour, so finding out what made your child angry can be helpful. 

Any physical altercations should be stopped immediately, with children being separated or moved apart to be supervised more closely. Try saying:

  • “When you hit your brother, it hurts him, and he feels sad”
  • “It’s your sister’s turn with the train. I’ll help you wait until it’s your turn”
  • “It’s OK to be angry, but I won’t let you hit. We need to keep everyone safe”
  • “Let’s find something else to play with”. 

Children learn how to sort out differences by watching and copying the behaviours they see in their environment, such as in childcare. As they grow, children learn better ways of resolving conflict. They need good role modelling and praise for good behaviour. 


It is common and quite normal for toddlers to have mood swings and tantrums. Children are still developing the social, emotional, and language skills to manage and express strong emotions. Children can get frustrated when they are trying to communicate a need but don’t have the words or understanding just yet. As a result, your child may scream, kick, hit or throw items. 

Common causes of tantrums

Tantrums may be more likely when your child is:

  • sick
  • tired 
  • hungry
  • hurt
  • overstimulated
  • confused
  • confused
  • upset by someone else's actions
  • stressed.

Tantrums versus meltdowns

Tantrums and meltdowns can look similar, but there are some key differences. However, tantrums can develop into meltdowns. 

  • Tantrums are goal-orientated and result when children want something they cannot have. During tantrums, children are in control of their emotions and end quicker than meltdowns. 
  • Meltdowns are not goal-orientated, and children don’t have control over their actions. Children react and behave instinctively because of feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, or distressed. 

Managing tantrums

Tantrums are common for most toddlers. If your toddler experiences a tantrum, you can:

  • ensure that your child is safe and that they do not harm themselves, others or break things
  • stay with your child and offer them comfort; they won’t learn how to calm down by being put in a time-out
  • actively listen and acknowledge their emotions by reassuring your child you understand their feelings
  • when talking with them, speak slowly and calmly
  • encourage your child to use some calming strategies, such as deep breathing
  • try not to give in to tantrums as this might accidentally reinforce this behaviour, making tantrums more likely to occur in the future.

Prevent tantrums before they begin

Be consistent: Be consistent with your parenting and maintain the same behaviour expectations. Try to stand your ground, as giving in to your child can encourage them to whine in the future. This can minimise confusion for your child and make your response to situations more predictable for your child.

Plan and prepare: When you give your child instructions to do something, make it clear, short, and appropriate for their age. Give warnings to your child when taking something away from them or leaving a place they enjoy. Warnings will help prepare your child and manage their expectations.

Give two choices: Offer your toddler two choices to foster their sense of independence, engage them and make them feel respected. For example, if your child does not want to get changed, ask them if they want to wear their red or blue shirt. 

Keep promises: Offer your toddler two choices to foster their sense of independence, engage them and make them feel respected. For example, if your child does not want to get changed, ask them if they want to wear their red or blue shirt. 

Develop emotional literacy: Recognising and giving a name to emotions helps children understand and communicate to others how they are feeling and what they need.

Teach calming strategies: Encouraging your child to take three deep breaths, count as high as they can, or have a drink of water can help them relax and react more appropriately to a situation. 

Praise good behaviour: Remember to praise, reward, and give attention to your child when they are behaving well. Only acknowledging their bad behaviour can be unproductive.

Get sufficient sleep: Ensuring your toddler gets enough sleep, in line with the recommendations, will improve your toddler’s mood and behaviour. Not getting enough sleep can make it difficult for your child to follow directions, solve problems and manage emotions.

Your child isn't having a tantrum to lash out, they simply lack the skills to cope with challenging situations.

Physical activity

Physical activity is essential for your child’s physical development, emotional resilience, and cognitive and social development. For toddlers, physical activity is often achieved through play, incidental movement, active travel with parents, or organised sports. 

Daily movement in line with the recommendations will assist toddlers in achieving key developmental milestones for their growth and development. Physical activity all adds up to create happy, active kids with habits that will benefit them well into their older adulthood.

Movement recommendations

  • Toddlers aged 1 to 2 need at least 3 hours spent in a variety of physical activities, including energetic play, spread throughout the day. 
  • Preschoolers aged 3 to 5 years need at least 3 hours spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play, spread throughout the day.

Fundamental movement skills

The fundamental movement skills are basic movement patterns that assist your child in competently participating in physical and recreational activities. For toddlers, the focus should be on laying the foundations for fundamental movement skills. Pre-fundamental movement skills include:

  • 1 to 2 years: walking, catching, throwing and jumping
  • 2 to 3 years: in addition to the above - balancing, stretching, climbing, running, as well as rolling and kicking a ball

Practising pre-fundamental movement skills will prepare your child for skill development and make them feel more confident when physically active. As your child grows up, the more confident they are in the fundamental movement skills, the more likely they are to be active and participate in sports and physical activity throughout their life. See Physical activity for more information.

Screen time

Screens have become increasingly a part of children’s lives and can be useful and enjoyable for families. They can offer time for children to connect with family, be creative, and learn. 

Screen time recommendations

  • For children younger than 2 years of age, no sedentary screen time is recommended. 
  • For children 2 to 5 years, no more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time is recommended; less is better.

If your child is two years or older, it is important to consider the purpose of screens and whether they are replacing a learning experience, social interaction or a physical object or resource that could help your child develop. Similarly, young children always learn most from interactive, face-to-face, two-way conversations. However, video chatting (using Skype or FaceTime) may be of benefit for children to keep in touch with distant friends and family.

While screen time has many benefits, excessive time spent in front of a screen can impact many aspects of a child’s growth and development, including their physical health, mental well-being, ability to form social connections, and disrupted sleep patterns. See Screen time for more information, including tips to help reduce your child’s screen time.


Hand hygiene

Toddlers have immature immune systems, which makes them vulnerable to getting sick more often. Your child is frequently interacting with new environments and different people such as childcare, public playgrounds, and libraries. As a result, your toddler comes into contact with new germs and bacteria that can easily spread and make them sick.

Your child may have habits such as sucking their thumb or biting their nails. This increases the risk of dirt and germs being put into your body’s system. Good hand hygiene and handwashing can prevent many infections.

Bathing your toddler

Bathing your toddler helps keep them clean and hygienic. Bathing your toddler two to three times per week is sufficient. However, you and your child may like to have baths more often as part of a bedtime routine, water play, or bonding experience. It is important to always supervise your child and ensure that you clean your toddler’s face and genitals daily. Here are some tips on bathing your preschooler:

  • use a gentle cleanser instead of harsh soaps to avoid drying out or irritating your child’s skin 
  • wash your child’s hair about once or twice a week or when it is visibly dirty, oily, or they are more active than usual 
  • try to avoid products like bubble baths for as long as possible, as these can increase the risk of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in some children 
  • for girls, wipe your child’s vulva from front to back with water to reduce the risk of infections - it isn’t necessary to use any soap or cleanser as the vagina cleans itself 
  • for boys, wash the penis and scrotum as normal; however, don’t try to forcibly retract the foreskin for cleaning, as it may cause pain, scarring, bleeding or infection 
  • as your child gets older, you can give them more independence with cleaning and self-care activities 
  • if you have difficulty getting your child in and then out of the bath, try giving them warnings and making bath time fun 
  • gently dry your child completely before getting dressed to avoid rashes. 

It is important that you always stay within arms’ reach of your child in the bath and encourage your child to sit in the bath to avoid slips and falls. Primary carers need to understand the major risks when your child is near a bath, including drowning and hot scalds. See Water safety - Bath time for more safety tips.

All babies and children under the age of 8 years old must be supervised even in the smallest amount of water. Children can drown quickly, quietly and in just a few centimetres of water.

Learning about private body parts

At this age, your toddler will likely know the names of many body parts, like their eyes, nose, arms, and legs. Being curious about private parts and asking questions is a normal part of a child’s development. 

It’s also normal for children to touch their private parts as a self-soothing strategy when they are anxious or because it feels good. This may happen during bath time, nappy changes, or toileting.

You can help your toddler learn more about their private parts by teaching your child: 

  • the correct names of their body parts, including all private parts 
  • the differences between male and female bodies  
  • the difference between a public and private body part 
  • what different body parts do. 

You can also teach toddlers the difference between a secret and a surprise and help them understand their private body parts.  

Nappy Care

Changing nappies is an inevitable part of being a parent. The information below is to help you build your confidence in hygiene. See Nappy changes for a guide on how to change a nappy.

If your baby has a penis

  • place a washcloth or wipe over the penis to avoid any surprise wees
  • gently clean around the penis and scrotum to make sure there is no poo left in the skin folds
  • clean the penis like you would a finger, and do not retract the foreskin
  • point the penis downwards before securing the nappy to make sure they don’t wee out the top.

If your baby has a vulva

  • place a washcloth or wipe over the vulva to avoid any surprise wees
  • gently clean between the creases of the vulva and labia, making sure to wipe front to back.

Nappy changes, safety and hygiene

When babies start to roll and crawl, they will often try to escape from you, which can be dangerous and dirty depending on your stage in the cleaning process. If your child is becoming too active to change on their back, try standing them up and using nappy pants. To ensure your nappy-changing routine is safe and hygienic, you can:

  • never leave your baby unattended on a changing table, even if they are secured with a strap
  • always wash your hands before and after changing a nappy
  • move any dirty wipes and nappies out of the way of your baby
  • dispose of dirty disposable nappies by sealing them in a plastic bag or nappy bin – out of the way from curious pets and siblings
  • remove any solid waste from reusable nappies before washing by scraping it away with a tissue or toilet paper and flushing down the toilet
  • follow wash routine instructions for cloth nappies; wash in hot water (at least 60°c) and make sure they are completely dry before using them again.

Nappy rash

Nappy rashes are common and usually happen when your child has been in a dirty nappy for too long. Some children have more sensitive skin and can get nappy rashes more often. You can prevent and manage nappy rash by:

  • changing nappies regularly, including every time you see or smell poo or the nappy feels heavy with wee; otherwise, check every 2-3 hours
  • avoiding plastic nappy covers that can trap moisture inside
  • using barrier creams containing zinc oxide or ones that are suitable for cloth nappies
  • not using talcum powder, soap or products that have fragrances
  • giving your toddler lots of nappy-free time at home to air out their skin
  • checking any rashes and seeing your local doctor if you are concerned.

Toilet training

Children learn to control the muscles responsible for bowel and bladder control around two to three years old. Some children may be ready from as early as 18 months old. While some children quickly pick up the skill, some will take longer. 

Often, boys tend to be ready later than girls, and it is more common for children to learn to wee in the toilet first before they learn to poo in the toilet.

Preparing your child for toilet training

If you are preparing your toddler for toilet training, you can:

  • teach your child words such as wee, poo, wet, dry, and toilet to communicate their needs better when the time comes 
  • explain and show them what “needing to go the toilet” may look like 
  • familiarise them with sitting on a potty or toilet for two to three minutes at a time, even if they don’t necessarily go 
  • go to the toilet in front of your child and explain what you are doing if you feel comfortable 
  • ensure your child has access to an age-appropriate place to go to the toilet, such as a potty that you can move around easily or a special seat and step for the regular toilet.

Indicators your child is ready for toilet training

Your child may express their readiness to start toilet training in various ways. It is important that you don’t start toilet training prematurely. Starting toilet training before your child is ready may cause frustration and upset your child because they feel they are disappointing you. 

So, how will you know if your child is ready or if it is too early? Here are a few ways they may indicate that they may be ready to begin. They may:

  • start to hold their private areas or cross their legs
  • say they are doing a wee or poo
  • have a dry nappy for two hours or more 
  • have regular times of the day when they poo 
  • show interest in the toilet 
  • be able to follow one-part instructions 
  • be able to pull their pants up  
  • be able to sit in one position for up to five minutes. 

Toilet training guide

If your child is ready for toilet training, click through these tips to give your child the best success.

Select an appropriate time to begin

If possible, begin toilet training at a time when you will be home often with your child, and there aren’t any big changes coming up. Your child will benefit from consistency. Make the potty or toilet easily accessible. 

Boys can sit or stand when learning to wee. If standing, they will not have developed their aim yet. Be patient and guide them. To simplify toilet training, you can get them to sit down until they are comfortable and then progress to standing.


Get your child to wear easy-to-remove clothes. This will help you and your child quickly go to the toilet when they need to go and minimise accidents. Summer may be a useful time when clothes may be lighter and looser. 

Look for signals and respond

Learn and look out for your child’s toilet signals or cues, such as holding their pants, crossing their legs or being quiet. If your child says they need to go to the toilet, try to take them straight away. Young children are still developing their ability to “hold it”. 

Ask and remind your child

When toilet training, check if your child needs to use the toilet often. Remind them before and during activities. Your child is often busy with an activity, so may avoid going to the bathroom for fear of missing out. Try asking your child every two hours and before bed. 

Comfort your child when accidents occur

Accidents will happen. If your child doesn’t get to the toilet on time or creates a mess, reassure and comfort them as they are still learning to control their bowels and bladders. Not making a fuss about it will help make your child less anxious. 

Praise attempts and efforts

Praise your child for the positive steps they take and celebrate small wins along the way. This includes efforts and attempts for trying to go. You may like to reward their success by letting them flush the toilet. Give your child no more than five minutes to “try” to go to the toilet. Any more, and they may think they are being punished. 

Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water

Encourage your child to eat a healthy diet with fibre and drink lots of water to avoid getting constipated. Constipation can be upsetting or painful for your child, which could make toilet training more difficult. 

Toilet training takes time, and accidents happen.

Be patient and positive. If there is a setback - instead of punishing your child, comfort them. If accidents happen, try gently saying: “Oops, you have an accident. Let’s change your pyjamas and get back to bed”, or “It’s OK, it happens, it’ll happen less over time”.  

Additionally, stressful events such as a new sibling or moving house can bring on bedwetting or daytime ‘accidents’, even after a child has been fully toilet trained. 

Day wetting

Daytime wetting is when a child cannot control their bladder and leaks urine while they are awake. Regular daytime wetting is not seen as a problem until children are over five years old. 

A positive and calm approach from parents and carers can help your child build confidence, reduce emotional stress, and get dry faster. See the Daytime wetting factsheet for more information. 


Even if your child is toilet trained, it can take a lot longer for children to be dry overnight. It’s not uncommon for children in this age group to still rely on nappies at night. Children tend to start to be dry overnight between three and five years. However, bedwetting can continue into the younger years of primary school. If your child is waking up regularly with a dry nappy, this may indicate that they may be ready to get rid of the night nappy. 

See the Bedwetting factsheet for more information. 


Constipation is when poo becomes too hard and difficult to pass through the rectum when a child goes to the toilet. It is a common problem in children and can be treated with a healthy diet and good toilet habits. Some children can poo three or four times a day, and others may go twice a week without any problems. Pay attention to what is normal for your child. 

See the Constipation factsheet for more information.  

Encopresis (Soiling)

Encopresis is also called soiling. It is a condition where children have runny poo that they can’t control due to unknown severe constipation. This happens when there is a build-up of loose, liquid poo that leaks around the hard, older poo that is stuck in the bowel. 

Speak to your doctor if your child shows signs of encopresis or soiling. See the Soiling and encopresis - Constipation factsheet for more information. 

Nutrition and eating habits

Providing your toddler with a well-balanced and nutritious diet is crucial to support their physical growth, immune system, cognition, and bone health.

At 12 months of age, most toddlers have developed the necessary chewing motion and jaw control to start eating family foods. Toddlers should also be drinking from a cup at 12 months of age to prevent: 

  • ear infections
  • tooth decay
  • iron deficiency.

Eating habits

As a toddler's growth slows down after 12 months, they may require less food to support their development. This can result in a decreased appetite and a preference for smaller portions.

Parents of toddlers often worry about how much their child is eating. However, your child will naturally self-regulate the amount of food they eat over a day or even over a week. So, if they don’t eat much at one meal or have a “bad day”, they will usually make up for it later. The most important thing is that you give your child the right types and amounts of food at the right times; the rest is up to your child. 

See Fussy eating for more information.

Toddler requirements

Toddlers need three small meals and two to three snacks from the five different food groups at regular times each day. Avoid letting your child ‘graze’ or eat all day, as they will never really feel full or hungry. 

A serving size is a standardised amount of food based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The amount of food for one serve will vary depending on the type of food, age, and sex of your child. The Healthy Eating for Children brochure will help you find out how much your child needs . 

See Healthy Eating for Kids for more information. 


Toddlers like to show their independence by making their own decisions and this includes at mealtimes. Give your child some choices by asking questions that aren‘t open-ended questions to promote food independence and reduce confusion, for example:

  • “Would you like pear or banana to have with your yoghurt?”
  • "Would you like cheese or tuna on your sandwich?”
  • "Would you like to use the red or the blue cup for your milk?". 

Developing a healthy relationship with food

To encourage a healthy relationship with food, you can:

  • provide a positive eating environment
  • try to keep mealtimes under 30 minutes
  • remove distractions such as televisions, toys or phones to prevent over or undereating
  • avoid using food as a bribe or reward 
  • participate in healthy eating learning experiences
  • role model and discuss healthy eating with your child regularly
  • avoid language that results in guilt or shame, for example, “junk” or “bad” food.  

Healthy eating learning experiences

You can teach your child about healthy eating by engaging in activities such as growing, preparing or composting the food they eat. If your child has had a positive experience helping grow the vegetables or make the meal, they are more likely to eat it and enjoy it. These experiences allow children to explore and experiment with new and different foods. It can also enhance children’s literacy, familiarity and relationship with healthy food. 


Toddlers can drink full cream cow’s milk. Reduced-fat milk, not skim milk, can be given to children over two years who have a good appetite and are growing normally. Tap water is recommended as the drink of choice and is essential for hydration. Children may need to be reminded to drink water at this age as they can be distracted, easily forget and not feel thirsty . 

See the Dehydration factsheet for more information.


Your toddler needs good quality sleep for their growth, development and learning. While your child sleeps, their brain and body are working hard to recover, restore and prepare for the next day. If your child has enough sleep, they are likely to be happier, have more energy, and be more active. 

A regular and consistent bedtime routine can help your child prepare for sleep. If your child doesn't get enough sleep, it can impact their physical, emotional and cognitive health. 

​“There is a huge reduction in a lot of negative mental health outcomes in adulthood if children sleep well. Think of it as an investment” – Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric and Adolescent Sleep Physician)​.

Sleep requirements

Below is a brief guide to toddlers' sleep between the ages of 1 to 3. Every child is different, and your child may need more or less sleep than the guide.

1 year old

Your one-year-old needs 11-14 hours of good quality sleep every 24 hours, including naps, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. This may look like 10-12 hours at night and between 1–2.5 hour naps during the day. 

Your toddler's two naps will likely reduce to one nap between 12 and 18 months of age. However, your child is an individual, and their sleep patterns will determine their sleep requirements.  

2 year old

Your two-year-old needs 11-14 hours of good quality sleep every 24 hours, including naps, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. Most of your child's sleep at this age will be at night, with about 10-12 hours, and then 1-2.5 hours of sleep in the day.  

As your child gets closer to three years old, their routine will likely be more comfortable with your family's routine.

3 year old

Your three-year-old needs between 10-13 hours of good quality sleep every 24 hours, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. 

By three years of age, the daytime nap is reducing and then stops. However, some preschoolers still need naps at this age. Your child is an individual, and their sleep patterns will determine their sleep requirements. Keep an eye out for tired signs to ensure your child is getting sufficient sleep.

If you are struggling with your toddler’s sleep and any impacts it may be having on the family, reach out to your doctor for support.  See Improving your child's sleep for more information. 

From the cot to the bed

Transitioning from a cot to a big bed can be an exciting step for your toddler. If your child is attempting to climb out of a cot, it is best to move your child to a big bed to prevent them from accidentally falling out and hurting themselves. This transition can happen as early as 18 months but tends to occur more frequently around 2 to 3 years of age. 

During the transition, reassure your toddler to help settle them and ensure they stay in bed overnight. Ensure the sleeping environment and bedroom are safe,  which is important if your child gets up at night. 

Wandering to parents' bedrooms

Many toddlers and young children will wake after one or two sleep cycles, wander to their parents' bedrooms, and climb into bed with them. Children should not be punished for this, as they may not be fully awake at the time. 

The best remedy is to carry or walk them back to their own bed and settle them back to sleep with minimal fuss and attention. See Sleep concerns for information or chat with your family doctor.

Teething and dental hygiene

Dental development

Your toddler will continue to have teeth come through until around three years of age. The baby teeth that are coming through are helping to provide shape to their face and mouth. By three years, your toddler should have all 20 primary or ‘baby’ teeth. 

Your toddler’s teeth can arrive in any order; however, generally, you will see the bottom front teeth come through first, followed by the top front teeth. These are called ‘central incisors’. 

Put your baby to bed without a bottle

It is recommended to put your toddler to bed without a bottle or sippy cup from 12 months of age to prevent tooth decay. 

Bottles with sweet liquids such as milk, infant formula, fruit juice, cordial, and soft drinks can lead to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth can use these sweet drinks to decay the teeth while your child sleeps for longer periods of time. If your baby needs a bottle to sleep, fill it with water only. 


Looking after your toddler's teeth

Your toddler’s baby teeth are important, and they need your help to look after them to keep them healthy. Here is how to look after your toddler’s teeth:

  • only use a toothbrush and water until your toddler turns 18 months or unless otherwise advised by your dentist
  • from 18 months, use a small, pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste
  • book a dental check-up when your child turns one
  • teach your child to spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing and not to rinse, as the fluoride from the toothpaste is working to protect your child’s teeth
  • brush twice a day with a small toothbrush that has soft bristles – morning and night can help set a good routine
  • don’t forget to brush your child’s tongue too
  • when your child has two teeth next to each other, around two years of age, floss daily
  • help your child brush and floss until they are around eight years of age
  • lift the lip once a month to check for signs of tooth decay
  • offer your toddler healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables, cheese and plain yoghurt
  • don’t share cutlery or utensils or clean your child’s dummy with your saliva, as this can pass bacteria and germs to your child’s mouth that can cause tooth decay.

See the Teeth and gum care factsheet for more information.

Make brushing fun

Your toddler will need your help and supervision with brushing their teeth until they turn eight years old. At times, this may be tricky. However, children are less likely to refuse brushing if you make it fun. You can try:

  • playing a song
  • brushing as a family
  • singing a song
  • using a timer
  • involving your child’s toy/s.
Last updated Monday 6th May 2024