Child development - milestones for 2 year olds

Toddler on the beach

The aim of this article is to provide insight into the developmental milestones that 2-year-old children typically exhibit across all areas of development: cognition, motor skills, language and social-emotional skills.


As a parent, you may face your child’s second birthday with both excitement and trepidation: these are, after all, the start of the notorious terrible twos. By now, your tiny infant has grown considerably since birth – and they’re approaching the stage where they’re beginning come into their own unique personalities. So, as a parent, what should you expect as far as their growth and development is concerned? What developmental milestones should your child reach by this stage – and what delays could be cause for concern?

What are developmental milestones?

To start, developmental milestones are abilities or skills that children have usually acquired by a certain age. As such, they’re useful markers in determining whether a child is growing in a way that’s typical as compared to other children. It’s important not to despair if your child hasn’t reached one of these – it’s crucial to remember that all children differ in precisely when they’re able to demonstrate these skills. However, if you do find that your child has missed a few milestones – or really seems to be struggling – it might be a good idea to consult your pediatrician for advice and guidance.

Motor skills

Motor skills are defined as the abilities required to plan and carry out movements. There are two kinds of motor skills: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Fortunately, there are a range of activities that can help your child build these skills as they grow.

By age two, children can typically:

Gross motor skills

  • Stand on their tiptoes
  • Walks alone, using a heel-toe movement (as adults do when walking)
  • Walk up and down stairs while holding the railing; and may also alternate feet used
  • Begin to run
  • Climb onto and down from furniture and playground equipment without help
  • Start learning to jump with both feet
  • Pull or carry one or more toys while walking
  • Throw a ball overhand (hand above the shoulder)
  • Kick a ball
  • Try to catch items with both hands

Fine motor skills

  • Hold utensils and crayons with fingers instead of a fist
  • Scribble spontaneously
  • Make or copy straight lines and circles
  • Might prefer to use one hand more frequently than the other
  • Turn over container to pour out contents
  • Put round or square pegs into holes
  • Build a tower of four blocks or more
  • Start brushing their own teeth and hair
  • Begin to feed themselves clumsily
  • Can pull their trousers up and down
  • Start practicing snaps and zipping up clothes, if the zip has been started before
  • Turn on the faucet and wash their hands
  • Turn a doorknob or unscrew a jar lid


By age two, children can typically:

  • Group objects and toys by shape, colour, size or type
  • Find things even when hidden under two or three covers
  • Complete sentences in favorite books and nursery rhymes with a parent
  • Name items in a picture book such as a cat, bird or dog
  • Play simple make-believe games or engage in more complicated pretend play by combining different activities into a logical sequence
  • Follow two-step instructions such as “pick up your shoes and put them in the closet.”
  • Begin to understand simple time concepts related to the near future, such as “now,” “later,” or “a few minutes.”
  • Remember and talk about things that happened in the past
  • Recognize basic gestures, such as nodding or shaking the head for “yes” or “no”


By age two, children can typically:

  • Be understood about half the time by strangers
  • Speak in sentences of 2-4 words e.g. “all gone” or “Mommy, I want teddy”
  • Replace baby talk (“num-nums”) with real words (“breakfast”) when prompted
  • Repeat words overheard in conversation
  • Nod “yes”, blow kisses, and use “shh”
  • Recognise the names of familiar people (e.g. siblings), everyday objects (such as “toy” or “cat”) and body parts
  • Point to an object or picture when it is named
  • Point to items in a book
  • Enjoy listening to stories

Social and emotional skills

By age two, children can typically:

  • Mimic what other adults or older children do or say, and how they say it (e.g. speaking to their doll as they have been spoken by their parents)
  • Disobey more than before – doing things they’re told not to do, just to test what happens
  • Have tantrums when frustrated
  • Show increased separation anxiety, which subsequently declines over the year
  • Show awareness of themselves as separate from others
  • Show enthusiasm about the company of other children
  • Play mainly alongside rather than with other children (parallel play) but later may begin to include other children in play
  • Show increased independence and begin to realize they can do things without a parent’s help
  • Fear things like loud sounds and certain animals

What if I’m concerned about my child?

Being a watchful parent is important – but remember that all children grow at their own pace. It’s best not to be alarmed if your child isn’t meeting one of these milestones. However, if you do have the instinct that your child might be missing a few milestones or is feeling challenged, you may want to speak with your pediatrician.

You may want to consider consulting your doctor if your child:

  • Misses milestones
  • Loses skills they had previously attained


  • Cannot walk by 18 months
  • Does not develop a mature heel-toe walking pattern, walks unsteadily after several months of walking or walks exclusively on tip-toes
  • Cannot push a wheeled toy by 2 years of age


  • Does not seem to know the function of common household objects (brush, telephone, fork, spoon) by 15 months
  • Does not follow simple instructions by age 2

Language and Communication

  • Does not copy actions and words
  • Does not speak at least 15 words by 18 months
  • Does not use two-word sentences by age 2 (e.g. “drink milk”)

Social and Emotional

  • Does not express emotions (happy, sad, frustrated, excited) in response to others or surroundings
  • Does not engage in pretend play