Your 21-Month-Old's Development and Milestones


Your Little Dreamer

This is an exciting time, as your 21-month-old toddler may be using their imagination in various ways as they play. Their imaginative powers might continue after they fall asleep at night, when they may have intense and active dreams that could even wake them up. There are some steps you can take that might help them sleep through the night. Read on for more tips and insights for the month ahead.

Toddler Development Milestones

Your toddler is a character at this age, and you can expect every day to be an adventure—and sometimes a performance! They’ll start to do new things, progress in their abilities, and reveal more of their personality. Though individual children develop at different rates, at around 21 months, you may see your little one do the following:

  • Learn to hide and seek. Around this age, your toddler may love to play hiding games. They’ll remember where things are hidden and will enjoy playing hide and seek with you, too. These games can help them understand that even when they don’t see you, you’re still there, and they might love the thrill of waiting for you to spot them hiding behind the sofa.

  • Begin make-believe play. All types of play help children learn, and by engaging in make-believe or pretend play your toddler is picking up on how relationships work and how people interact with one another. They might imitate actions they observe other people doing by pretending to make a phone call or drive a car, or making a pretend drink for a toy. At this age, though, you may not see your child playing with other children; instead, they're apt to play alongside other children in what’s called parallel play.

  • Become a little possessive. Your toddler may be showing signs of possessiveness, especially if you pick up another baby or if another child has a toy they find attractive. Their possessiveness with toys may make “mine” one of the top words in their vocabulary. Don’t worry, though; this is common for a child at 21 months old, and they’ll eventually grow out of it.

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Activities for Supporting Your 21-Month-Old Toddler’s Development

Check out the following tips and activities to help support your 21-month-old’s development:

  • Encourage their creativity. Let your toddler camp out in the house and build a fort in the family room. Or give them some arts and crafts supplies so they can have fun with art projects. It’s even better if you play and participate in activities together with your toddler.

  • Make brushing your toddler’s teeth fun. Getting those teeth brushed twice a day is an essential part of your toddler’s daily routine, but until they can manage this task themselves, you may find it a challenge. So why not try to make brushing teeth fun? Try playing peekaboo with your child while brushing or letting them practice their brushing skills on their favorite stuffed animal or doll with an old toothbrush (without water or toothpaste).

  • Help your little one burn off energy. Most toddlers have so much energy they don’t know what to do with it. Encourage your child to be active and help them burn energy through play, ideally with at least 30 minutes of adult-led activity and at least one hour of free play each day. Getting them into the habit of being active from an early age will continue to provide benefits as they grow up.

  • Get your toddler to help in the kitchen. Many children love helping in the kitchen, so you may want to get your little one involved with a few simple and safe tasks. Perhaps pick an easy recipe to try, go shopping together, and delegate simple tasks, like washing fruits and vegetables, measuring out ingredients like flour or sugar, or stirring. Make sure you always supervise your little one in the kitchen.

Mealtimes and Menus for Your 21-Month-Old

A healthy, well-balanced diet is important to support your 21-month-old’s growth and development. Offer three meals and two snacks a day. Your little one’s diet should be made up of a variety of whole grains, protein, dairy, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats.

Introducing New Foods and Flavors

Every day brings new experiences for a toddler. Here are some easy ways to introduce new foods and flavors at mealtimes and help your little one develop their taste buds:

  •  Try different ways to cook and serve vegetables. You may discover your little one prefers sautéed carrots over steamed, or that they’ll eat steamed broccoli if it’s placed standing up in a bed of mashed potatoes (“little trees in the snow”).

  •  Experiment with sauces. Introduce new flavors by offering a few dips or sauces on the side, like hummus, guacamole, creamy dressings, and applesauce.

  •  Get your toddler involved. Take your little one to the grocery store and have them pick out some items. For example, you may want to take them to the fruit and vegetable aisle and have them choose a new veggie or fruit to try.

  •  Eat together as a family. Avoid making separate dishes for your toddler; instead, serve them what you and the rest of the family are having and lead by example. If they see you enjoying your meal, they’ll be more willing to try a new food.

  •  Experiment with old favorites. If your little one is resisting trying different foods, get creative and prepare some of their favorite dishes with a new added ingredient. Add a new vegetable as a pizza topping, for example, or plop a new fruit on top of a scoop of ice cream.

If you're still looking for menu planning inspiration, here are some appealing breakfast ideas and lunch ideas that can also be used for dinner and snacks.

Your 21-Month-Old Toddler’s Sleep Schedule

Most toddlers at this age need 11 to 14 hours of sleep with one nap per day. However, your 21-month-old may struggle to get a good night’s sleep as dreams become more intense around this age.

Active Dreaming

Your little one may wake up at night because of their dreams or nightmares and they might struggle to tell the difference between their dreams and reality. There are a few things you can do to help your toddler get a peaceful night’s sleep, such as

  •  being mindful of the stories you read before bed. Try to keep the stories happy and calming and avoid any scary topics or those with characters that could inspire intense dreams.

  • letting them sleep with a comfort item like a plush toy or a blankie. These objects can help your toddler feel reassured and may help them feel safer as they fall asleep or if they wake in the night.

  •  providing reassurance when needed. If your toddler wakes up from a bad dream, provide reassurance that everything is OK and you are close by, so they’re safe. Just remember to keep nighttime visits brief and “boring” (don’t pick them up or turn the lights on, for example) to encourage them to fall back to sleep.

If sleep problems arise with your little one, consult their healthcare provider for guidance.

Need help adjusting your 21-month-old toddler to a bedtime routine? Try the Smart Sleep Coach app by Pampers. Co-created by pediatricians and sleep experts, this app can help you with sleep training as well as sleep regression if it arises.

A Day in the Life of Your Toddler

No two days are the same with a toddler in the house, but here’s what a typical daily schedule may look like:

Your Toddler’s Health and Safety: Healthy Skin

Many toddlers have sensitive skin, and skin problems can arise from time to time. Here are some of the skin issues your toddler may experience:

  •  Dry skin. Hot baths, low humidity levels, and other factors can cause dry skin.

  •  Eczema (atopic dermatitis). When this common condition is present, the skin appears reddened and dry, and fluid-filled bumps may also appear. If you suspect your child has eczema or you’re unsure about the symptoms you’re seeing, ask your toddler’s healthcare provider for advice.

  •  Rashes or contact dermatitis. Rashes can occur if skin comes into contact with an irritating substance or allergen.

Only your child’s healthcare provider can diagnose exactly what may be causing your little one’s red, sore, or irritated skin, and advise on a treatment plan. However, there are measures you can take to help make your little one’s skin healthy and comfortable:

  •  Apply a moisturizer. Choose one formulated for sensitive skin to help ease dryness and itchiness.

  •  Bathe your toddler in lukewarm, not hot, water. Once you’ve bathed them, rinse their skin twice to remove any residual soap, which can irritate delicate skin.

  •  Avoid harsh or irritating fabric. Clothing made with wool or synthetic material can irritate the skin.

Development Tips for Your Toddler This Month

Follow these tips to help foster your 21-month-old toddler’s development:

  • Support your little one’s temperament. All children have their own temperaments, and it’s natural for some toddlers to be shy at this age. If you notice that your little one takes a while to warm up to new people and new situations, be supportive and understanding, and don’t try to force them or push them into doing something. Give them the time they need to move forward at their own pace, with you close by for support. A little patience will go a long way, but if you’re concerned, reach out to your child’s healthcare provider for advice.

  • Associate words with emotions. Help your child learn to express their feelings by teaching them to describe their emotions using words like “mad,” “glad,” and “sad,” for example.

  • Read together every day. Take some time to sit down and read with your child. Use the chance to point out pictures in the book and ask them to help describe what’s taking place in the story. Your 21-month-old benefits in many ways from daily reading, which boosts their cognitive, speech, and language development.

  • Find words in the world. Wondering how many words a 21-month-old “should” say? Or what is “normal” speech for a 21-month-old? Children develop language at various rates rather than hitting “speech milestones” at predetermined times. Instead of adding up the number of words your child knows, introduce them to new words every day. Help them notice words to “read” in the world around them. Point out traffic signs and street signs. Look for “open” and “closed” as you walk by stores and help them find “milk” on the milk carton and “dog” on the bag of pet food. Not only is your child learning how to recognize certain words but they’re learning that words are important, and that words are all around them. If you’re worried about your 21-month-old's speech, or if your child is not talking, consult their healthcare provider.

Items You Will Need This Month

You might need some of the following baby gear this month:

  • Toddler car seat. Your toddler is growing every day, so make sure they’re safe in their car seat. Check that your current model is appropriate for their height and weight. If your child is nearing the manufacturer's limits for height and weight, you may need to purchase a new toddler car seat.

  • Toddler bed. Your toddler may likely be able to climb out of their crib if they haven’t already. You can switch to a toddler bed or to a mattress placed on the floor. Or you reconfigure their convertible crib so it becomes a bed. A toddler bed rail is also useful for ensuring your little one doesn’t roll off their new bed.

  • Travel stroller. If you’re ready to travel with your toddler, you may find your regular stroller too bulky and cumbersome. Consider a lightweight travel stroller or an umbrella stroller, both of which can make getting around much easier.

  • Potty chair. Potty training is approaching, and a potty chair can be helpful for your 21-month-old. Letting them choose one they like may make the training process go more smoothly.

Your Life as a Parent: Worries About Your Little One’s Development

It’s normal to occasionally worry about whether your toddler is developing as they should, or to wonder if there are any development milestones all children are supposed to hit at 21 months old. Try to remember that each child develops at their own pace and on their own timeline. Although it may be easier said than done, try not to compare your little one’s progress to other children’s achievements. This goes for comparisons between siblings, too; try not to compare your 21-month-old’s development to that of your older child at the same age.

If you’re worried about any aspect of your little one’s development, talk to your child’s healthcare provider, who can provide reassurance and recommend any necessary next steps.

Checklist for This Month

  • Start a quote book. Your little one will start to say the funniest things, so why not jot down those adorable remarks so you can remember them in the years to come? Buy a cute notebook and when your child says something that makes you smile, write it down alongside the date. You might also like to add little pictures of your toddler or handprints and footprints to make the book extra special.

  • Do some star and moon gazing. If it’s warm enough, go outside and look at the sky with your toddler. Show them how the full moon is different from a crescent moon and try to spot shooting stars.

  • Plan ahead if you’re pregnant again. If you’re expecting another baby, it may be time to move your toddler out of the nursery or to adapt the room to fit two little ones well before your due date. You may also want to look over the baby gear you already have to see what you can reuse and what new baby essentials you need to buy.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.