20-Month-Old: Walking Confidently

As your toddler gets more mobile and active, he’ll be walking more confidently than ever before. Much of the time, your little one is bound to be in the mood to play and explore, but there may be flashes of anxiety when you leave the home or aggression when an object he wants is taken from him. You’ll never be bored with a toddler in the house, and at the 20-month mark life will be an adventure not just for your little one but you as well. Learn all about some of the challenges and the exciting things in store for you and your little one this month.

Toddler Development Milestones

You'll notice your toddler can do more and more each month, and this month is no exception.

Although each child develops at his own pace, you may notice the following things at 20 months:

  • Separation anxiety may start easing. Your little one may feel anxious from time to time when you leave the room or your home around the 20-month mark. If this happens, give him a quick kiss and a hug and tell him you'll be back soon. The good news is that separation anxiety is only temporary, and chances are it'll start to taper off soon.

  • Walking progress. Around this time, your toddler will likely become a more skilled and confident walker. You may notice that he has a more mature gait and that he may not be using his hands for balance anymore. He may even walk moving his feet from heel to toe. Before long you'll see some short, stiff runs.

  • Acting impulsively. Toddlers may act impulsively and at this age have little idea of right and wrong or of consequences to actions. It's up to you to help your child learn this in the months and years ahead, but right now your priority is to be extra vigilant, ready to redirect your little one's attention from anything dangerous to something safe. For example, if he's about to reach for a breakable object, swoop in and give him a safe object to play with instead. With firm but gentle guidance and through setting consistent boundaries, over time you can help your little one understand right from wrong, safe from unsafe, and help him get better at self-discipline.

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How to Support Your 20-Month-Old’s Development

Help your little one learn and grow with these ideas that help foster your 20-month-old toddler's physical, mental, and emotional development: 

  • Funnel his energy into play and movement. Your toddler has a lot of energy, and occasionally, when he's frustrated or upset, he may act up. By channeling this pent-up energy into things like running around outside or playing with a ball, you may be able to avoid some of those shows of aggression.

  • Catch him being good. Noticing and praising your child for good behavior is one of the most effective tools you have for managing tantrums and keeping things on an even keel in your house. Your child wants and needs your approval and attention, so make a point of being enthusiastic (without going overboard) when he does something right. You can offer a verbal compliment or even a quick hug to let him know that you're proud of him.

  • Encourage imaginative, creative play. Provide some blocks and board books, puzzles and nesting toys; let him build a fort with some chairs and a blanket; or set out some arts and crafts supplies so he can explore different textures and patterns. Whether your little one is playing with a new toy, a safe household object, or making piles of leaves in the garden, he'll love it if you join him and make time to play together.

  • Let him figure things out. Playing at this age means exploring and trying things out, and it's fascinating to watch your toddler grapple with what does and what doesn't work. For example, you may see him try to push a toy truck through a space that's too small, or experiment to see which objects will fit into a container. Let him figure it out at his own pace. If he's attempting to build something with blocks or make piles according to shape, you might help him by asking "Does that block have square or round edges?"

  • Create holiday traditions and family rituals. Seasonal holidays are great fun to celebrate with a young child, especially when he has an important role to play. At Halloween, he can help make and put up spooky decorations, or draw a face for you to carve on a pumpkin. For the 4th of July, you can put up a flag together, and he can help with making a red, white, and blue dessert. Take advantage of these holidays, as well as Thanksgiving, and any religious holidays celebrated by your family, as opportunities to create your own family routines, rituals, and traditions to bring your family closer together.

  • Read together every day. Set aside some time every day to read with your child. As you read together, ask your toddler to point to pictures of what you're describing. For example, if you're reading a story about a bunny, ask him to point to the bunny on the page. Naming will come next: You'll ask him what he's pointing to, and he'll eventually say "bunny." Even further down the line, he'll learn to name the action taking place on the page. Get him started by doing it yourself, with emphasis and pauses. "See that bunny? That bunny is RUNNING...that bunny is RUNNING very fast."

Mealtimes and Menus for Your 20-Month-Old

As your growing toddler needs a variety of nutritious foods to keep him healthy and strong, offering three small meals and two snacks is a good plan. Make sure he gets enough protein, dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which can be spread out across meals.

Serve nutritious foods to your little one and let him choose what he wants. Your toddler’s diet will balance out over several days if you offer a range of healthy choices, so don’t worry if you don’t get every food group in at each meal.

Getting Your Toddler Into Veggies

If you’re struggling to get your little one to eat his greens, here are a few tricks you can try:

  • Eat veggies yourself. Your little one looks up to you as a role model, so if he sees you eating your vegetables, he is more likely to try it for himself.

  • Add variety. Offering veggies of different colors, shapes, and textures can make them more fun for your little one. Perhaps your little one likes mashed potatoes; you could substitute mashed cauliflower occasionally. Or you can mix the veggies with something else, such as broccoli with cheese.

  • Try dips and sauces. Get your toddler into veggies by serving them with a tasty sauce or a dip to make the vegetables more appealing.

  • Top your pizzas. Kids love pizzas, so why not add some broccoli, peppers, sweet corn, or tomatoes on top. You could even get your toddler involved by letting him add some of the toppings, or you could make a smiley face with the veggie toppings to make it more fun.

  • Make soup. Most vegetables make a great soup, either alone or with other veggies. Tomato soup or carrot soup can be really tasty, and your little one may not even realize he’s eating vegetables.

  • Add veggies to pasta sauce. Along with pizza, pasta tends to be a kid-favorite food, so you might like to get creative with tasty sauces, packing them with fresh vegetables. Grate some cheese on top and you may find your toddler is eating it with delight.

  • Offer fruit instead. If you're striking out with the veggies, you can double up on fruit, which has many of the same important nutrients and fiber.

20-Month-Old Toddler Sleep Schedule

Your 20-month-old is likely to need around 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day, and this may include only 1 nap now.

Handling Sleep Disruptions

Although a consistent sleep routine can help your little one sleep better, sometimes disruptions can happen, such as when you're traveling. Here are a few things you can do to help keep your toddler on track and get the rest he needs:

  • Plan ahead if you can. If you have a trip or an event coming up that could disrupt your toddler’s usual sleep routine, try to make sure he gets as much rest as possible in the days before. The more rested he is, the more he’ll be able to cope with the schedule changes.

  • Try to keep disruption to a minimum. The odd sleep disruption once or twice a month is unlikely to cause any problems, especially if he’s well rested, but try to limit these as much as possible. Also, keep your child’s temperament in mind, as some children cope better with change than others.

  • Reset your toddler’s schedule. If you’ve had a relative visit or you’ve been on vacation, just get back into the usual routine as soon as you can. Put your little one to bed early—even if he complains—so that he gets an extra-long night's sleep; with any luck you'll be back to normal the next day.

A Day in the Life of Your Toddler

What might a day in the life of your 20-month-old look like? All toddlers are unique, but your day at home may look something like this:

Your Toddler’s Health and Safety: Screen Time

At this age, your toddler may be curious about screen devices. She's probably seen you on the phone or computer and wondered what you were doing.

The best choice is to prioritize unplugged, creative play as much as possible. Children learn best by playing and interacting with other people, and thrive on unstructured playtime both indoors and outside.

If you're thinking of introducing some screen time, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Limit and manage screen time. Create firm and consistent boundaries for things like when, how long, and what type of screen time your little one is exposed to.

  • Watch with your child. Whether it's TV, a mobile device, or your computer, stay with your little one and watch together, helping her understand what she is watching.

  • Select high-quality educational shows, sites, apps, and games. The quality of what she’s watching matters, so pick shows, websites, apps, or games she can learn from and actively engage with.

  • Avoid screen time before bed. Looking at a screen close to bedtime can lead to poor sleep and disrupted sleep schedules, so don’t let your little one have any screen time before bed.

  • Prioritize real-life play. Real life play is the best foundation for your little one’s development, so try to use occasional screen time only as a supplement to her education.

Your Life as a Parent: Life Is Messy

Life with a toddler is an adventure, which means things may not be as neat and clean as you’d like them to be around the house. Socks and toys will get everywhere, your toddler’s art masterpieces may be scattered on every surface, and the dishes may start to pile up.

Try not to worry too much about things being messy at home. It’s part of the fun that comes with having a curious little toddler around.

You can help make things easier by:

  • Giving everything a home. Set up baskets or boxes, or low shelves that your little one can reach, so your little one knows where her toys or belongings go.

  • Setting an example. Show your little one that you put things away and back into their places after you've used them.

  • Turning picking up into a game. Put on some music and "race" your toddler to see who can get the blocks or the puzzle pieces into their respective boxes first. She may end up enjoying this game as much as she does making a mess.

  • Narrating as you straighten up. As you put things away, talk to your toddler about what you are doing and narrate as you go. Be positive and say good things like “this makes our home happy” so she has positive associations with straightening up.