10 Essential Skills to Foster in Toddlers from Age 12 Months Onward


The journey of childhood development is a wondrous adventure filled with countless milestones and achievements. As toddlers transition from their first year to the second, they embark on a period of remarkable growth and exploration. At this critical stage, caregivers play a pivotal role in nurturing a diverse range of developmental skills that lay the foundation for future success.

If you’d like to know which essential skills to foster in toddlers from age 12 months onward and support and encourage your little one(s) as they navigate this exciting phase of growth, please read on.

  1. Language Development

Language is the cornerstone of communication and cognitive development. From their first words to the formation of complex sentences, toddlers undergo significant linguistic growth during the toddler years. As caregivers, we can support this development by creating a language-rich environment filled with opportunities for conversation, storytelling, and exploration.

Encourage verbal interactions by talking to your toddler throughout the day, narrating activities, and describing objects and events in their environment. Reading together is another powerful way to promote language skills, exposing children to a wide range of vocabulary and fostering a love of books. Be attentive and responsive to your toddler's attempts at communication, whether through words, gestures, or sounds, and provide encouragement and positive reinforcement to boost their confidence.

  1. Motor Skills

Motor skills encompass both fine and gross motor abilities, essential for everyday tasks and physical coordination. From grasping objects to taking their first steps, toddlers are constantly refining their motor skills through play and exploration. As caregivers, we can facilitate this process by providing a variety of age-appropriate toys and activities that challenge and engage their developing abilities. Encourage the development of fine motor skills through activities such as non-toxic dough, stacking blocks, threading beads, and scribbling with crayons. These activities help strengthen hand muscles and improve hand-eye coordination, laying the groundwork for later writing and drawing skills. For gross motor development, provide ample opportunities for toddlers to crawl, climb, walk, run, and explore their physical environment. Outdoor play spaces, playgrounds, and indoor play areas offer valuable opportunities for toddlers to practice and refine their movement skills in a safe and supportive setting.

  1. Social Interaction

Social interaction is a fundamental aspect of human development, shaping how we relate to others and navigate social situations. Toddlers begin to explore the world of social relationships, forming attachments, and learning to communicate and cooperate with peers and adults. As caregivers, we can foster healthy social development by providing opportunities for interaction, modelling positive social behaviours, and teaching essential social skills.

Arrange playdates or participate in parent-child groups to expose toddlers to social settings and peer interactions. Encourage sharing, turn-taking, and cooperative play during these interactions, and intervene gently to teach conflict resolution skills when needed. Model empathy, kindness, and respect in your own interactions with others, and praise and reinforce positive social behaviours in your toddler. By fostering a supportive and nurturing social environment, caregivers can help toddlers develop the social skills they need to thrive in relationships and communities.

  1. Independence and Self-Help Skills

As toddlers grow and develop, they begin to assert their independence and autonomy, seeking to do things on their own. Encouraging independence and self-help skills not only fosters a sense of competence and self-confidence but also equips toddlers with essential life skills they will use throughout their lives. As caregivers, we can support this process by providing opportunities for toddlers to practice and master age-appropriate tasks independently.

Encourage self-help skills such as feeding themselves, dressing with assistance, and cleaning up toys and belongings. Offer choices whenever possible to empower toddlers to make decisions and take ownership of their actions. Provide simple and clear instructions, breaking tasks down into manageable steps to support their success. Celebrate their accomplishments and offer praise and encouragement to bolster their self-esteem and motivation.

  1. Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills encompass a wide range of mental processes, including problem-solving, memory, attention, and spatial awareness. Toddlers are natural explorers, constantly seeking to understand the world around them and make sense of their experiences. As caregivers, we can support cognitive development by providing stimulating activities and environments that challenge and engage toddlers' minds. Introduce age-appropriate puzzles, shape sorters, matching games, and other toys that encourage problem-solving and spatial reasoning skills. Offer opportunities for exploration and discovery through sensory play activities that engage all five senses. Create simple cause-and-effect experiments using everyday objects to teach toddlers about the natural world and how things work. Be patient and supportive as toddlers explore and learn, offering guidance and encouragement as needed.

  1. Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation refers to the ability to understand, manage, and express emotions in healthy and adaptive ways. Toddlers experience a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to frustration and anger, and learning to navigate these emotions is an important part of their development. As caregivers, we can help toddlers develop emotional regulation skills by providing a supportive and nurturing environment where their feelings are acknowledged, validated, and accepted.

Model healthy emotional expression and coping strategies by managing your own emotions in constructive ways. Provide toddlers with simple language to express their feelings and teach them appropriate ways to communicate their needs and desires. Offer comfort and reassurance when they are upset or distressed, helping them to calm down and regulate their emotions effectively. Create a consistent and predictable routine to provide toddlers with a sense of security and stability, which can help them feel more confident and in control of their emotions.

  1. Imagination and Creativity

Imagination and creativity are essential for cognitive development and problem-solving, allowing toddlers to explore new ideas, invent new worlds, and express themselves in unique ways. Encouraging imaginative play fosters creativity, critical thinking, and innovation, laying the groundwork for future learning and success. As caregivers, we can support this development by providing opportunities for open-ended play and creative expression.

Offer a variety of toys and materials that inspire imaginative play, such as blocks, dolls, dress-up clothes, and art supplies. Encourage storytelling, role-playing, and pretend play by providing props and prompts that spark children's imaginations. Join in their play and follow their lead, entering their imaginary worlds and adding depth and richness to their play experiences. Celebrate their creativity and originality, offering praise and encouragement for their imaginative endeavours.

  1. Sensory Exploration

Sensory exploration is a natural and instinctive way for toddlers to learn about the world around them, stimulating their senses and providing valuable sensory input. Sensory play activities engage all five senses, allowing toddlers to explore different textures, colours, smells, tastes, and sounds in a safe and controlled environment. As caregivers, we can provide opportunities for sensory exploration that are both enriching and enjoyable.

Create sensory bins filled with materials such as rice, beans, sand, or water, along with objects of various shapes, sizes, and textures for toddlers to manipulate and explore. Offer opportunities for messy play with materials like finger paint, shaving cream, or playdough, allowing toddlers to engage their senses in a hands-on and interactive way. Take nature walks to explore the sights, sounds, and textures of the natural world, and encourage toddlers to use their senses to observe and discover new things.

  1. Attention and Concentration

Attention and concentration are essential cognitive skills that enable toddlers to focus their energy and sustain their efforts on a task or activity. Developing these skills lays the foundation for future learning and academic success, as well as for the development of self-regulation and impulse control. As caregivers, we can support the development of attention and concentration by providing opportunities for focused engagement and minimizing distractions in the environment.

Choose toys and activities that capture toddlers' interest and attention, offering opportunities for hands-on exploration and discovery. Break tasks down into manageable steps and provide clear and simple instructions to help toddlers stay focused and on task. Establish a consistent daily routine that includes designated times for focused activities and free play, helping toddlers develop a sense of structure and predictability. Be patient and understanding as toddlers learn to concentrate and pay attention, offering encouragement and support along the way.

  1. Safety Awareness

Safety awareness is an important life skill that helps toddlers identify and avoid potential dangers in their environment, keeping them safe and secure as they explore and learn. Teaching toddlers about basic safety rules and precautions empowers them to make safe choices and protect themselves from harm. As caregivers, we can promote safety awareness by educating toddlers about potential hazards and teaching them how to stay safe in different situations.

Childproof your home to minimize risks and hazards, such as securing cabinets and drawers, covering electrical outlets, and installing safety gates and window guards. Teach toddlers about common safety rules, such as looking both ways before crossing the street, holding hands in crowded places, and avoiding strangers. Model safe behaviour and demonstrate how to use safety equipment, such as wearing helmets while riding bikes or scooters. Encourage toddlers to ask for help if they encounter a dangerous situation and praise them for demonstrating safe behaviour.

The toddler years are a time of incredible growth and exploration, as children develop new skills, abilities, and interests at a rapid pace. By nurturing essential developmental skills such as language development, motor skills, social interaction, independence, cognitive skills, emotional regulation, imagination and creativity, sensory exploration, attention and concentration, and safety awareness, caregivers can support toddlers' holistic development and lay the foundation for future learning and success. With patience, encouragement, and love, caregivers can help toddlers navigate this exciting stage of development with confidence and enthusiasm, setting them on a path to a bright and promising future.