9-18 Months: How Children Learn and Develop

Children this age are ready to explore the world around them! They are becoming more mobile and can move toward people and objects they are interested in. This is a good time to do a safety review in your home to ensure it is child-proof and safe for your child to explore.

At this age, babies show strong attachment to their parents and other adults in their lives. They also are fascinated with other children and babies.

Babbling is how children 9-18 months practice communication. They understand and can respond to more and more words!

Every child learns and grows at their own pace. This page describes typical development but all children are different. If you have concerns about your child’s development, talk to your child’s health care provider.

Loving relationships are the building blocks for healthy development.

Strong relationships support healthy social-emotional development, which leads to strong mental health!

Loving relationships teach young children how to make friends, understand and communicate their feelings, and overcome challenges. Through our relationships with them as they grow, we teach children to develop compassion for others and a sense of right and wrong.

Tips to support social-emotional development at 9-18 months:

  • Support children’s developing skills. Let them play and follow their interests. Give them just enough help to overcome a challenge so they don’t become too frustrated.
  • Teach them to resolve conflict in healthy ways. Children this age don’t have much self-control. They aren’t good at waiting or following the rules (especially sharing with others).
  • Help children feel safe and secure. Allow children to explore independently; just make sure the environment is safe. Consistent routines also help children feel safe and secure.
  • Ease separation anxiety. Some children this age get upset being away from you. This is because children this age have “object permanence.” They understand that things and people still exist even when you can’t see them. Click here to learn more about how to ease separation anxiety.
  • Help children understand their feelings. Help children make sense of their emotions by using words to describe how they feel and how others may be feeling.
  • Be loving and affectionate. When we hold, comfort, rock, sing and talk to our children, they understand that they are special and they are loved (even when they are fussy or crying a lot).
  • Make your culture part of the daily routine. A child’s culture is an important part of who they are. Find books and music at the library connected to your culture and make these stories and songs part of baby’s routine.

Source: Zero to Three, https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/developing-social-emotional-skills

Challenging behavior is common — and every parent should expect it — from birth to (at least) age three. This is because young children are just beginning to develop self-control. They have a hard time controlling their impulses and managing strong emotions.

Children this age are learning to self-regulate, which means they are learning the skills they need to calm themselves down when they become upset.  This can lead to some hard moments — for adults and children!

If you are struggling with challenging behavior like temper tantrums, crying, biting or defiance, there are lots of great informational resources to support you, as well as parenting programs in our community.

This page has excellent information on why toddlers throw tantrums, and what you can do to prevent and respond to your toddler’s meltdown.

Here are some tips:

Be a behavior role model.

Children learn by watching the people around them, especially their parents. When we use polite manners and positively manage our emotions, we teach our children to do the same.

Another way to increase good behaviors is by praising children when they do things that you like.

Give children a lot of positive attention when they are doing something you like. For example:

“Good job listening the first time!”

“I really like how you are using your inside voice.”

Respond to challenging behavior with compassion.

It’s not always easy to do. But when we respond with anger to our child’s challenging behavior, the situation only becomes more heated.

When we respond with anger, it makes it less likely the child will learn to manage his feelings in a positive way.

Try to understand the emotions that are behind your child’s behavior.

Name your child’s feelings to show you understand her.

Children need our guidance, patience and support to learn to manage their emotions in positive ways.

When your child is upset, acknowledge her emotions and name them. But be clear about the rules: “I understand you are mad, and it’s OK to be mad. But it’s not OK to bite other people.”

Give your child time to get the anger and frustration out, if necessary. Make sure he is in a safe space to calm down.

Once your child is calm, reconnect by showing empathy.

Children this age feel big, powerful emotions that they are only just learning to manage with our support. Once your child is calm, make sure to show empathy and compassion for the difficult emotions that he was feeling.

Learning to manage feelings starts in the first three years of life and is a long process that continues into early adulthood.

Healthy discipline strategies work.

As parents, one of our jobs is to teach our children to behave. It’s a job that takes time and a lot of patience. There are effective and healthy discipline strategies that will make this job much easier.

There are also resources in our community to support you if you need help managing challenging behavior. Enter your zip code below and search for “parenting support”:

Sources: HealthyChildren.org and ZERO TO THREE

Many children with developmental delays or behavior concerns are not identified as early as they could be. As a result, these children have to wait to get the help they need to succeed in social and educational settings (in school, at home, and in the community).

It’s important to identify children with developmental delays or behavior concerns as early as possible. Research shows that early intervention and treatment greatly improves healthy development.

What is it? 

Keeping your eyes out for developmental milestones

Who does it? 

Parents, grandparents, other caregivers

When does it happen? 

Birth through 5 years old

Why is it important?  

  • To celebrate a child’s development
  • To talk about your child’s progress with child care and health providers
  • To identify any concerns early


Get free, simple-to-use checklists here.

What is it? 

Looking for specific developmental milestones

Who does it? 

Pediatrician, early childhood educator, other professional

When does it happen? 

At 9, 18, 24 and 30 months – or whenever there is a concern

Why is it important?  

  • To find out if your child needs more support with development
  • To decide if a developmental evaluation is needed


Professionals use a formal validated screening tool; learn more here.

What is it? 

Identifying and diagnosing developmental delays or conditions

Who does it? 

Pediatrician, child psychologist or trained provider

When does it happen? 

Whenever there is a concern

Why is it important?  

  • To find out if a child needs treatment, and/or
  • Qualifies for early intervention


Professionals do a detailed examination using formal assessment tools, observation and conversations with parents and caregivers.

Learn more about developmental screenings and Early Intervention

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/screening.html

Children age 9-18 months seek the comfort of trusted adults if they are tired, scared or unhappy. They are beginning to understand how other people feel and are learning to respond. They may try to comfort someone who is upset.

Try these tips to build a child’s resiliency skills at 9-18 months:

  • Ask her if she wants to help; give her a spoon to play with while you cook
  • When he needs attention or comfort, respond with hugs, smiles and love
  • Recognize and encourage him when he tries to do things by himself
  • Sit with her on the floor to play
  • Let her have a special blanket or stuffed animal (comfort object)
  • Talk about how other children show feelings: “Daniel is laughing because the puppet is funny”
  • Show and talk about how you care for other children: “Ana feels better when I give her a hug”
  • Talk to him about what he is doing: “You are showing me the ball – you want to play”
  • Give her a choice between two options: “Do you want to wear blue socks or white socks?”
  • Notice and support her when she comforts herself: “You found your blankie and now you feel better”

Source: Colorado Project LAUNCH, www.EarlyChildhoodMentalHealthCO.org

Support the social-emotional development of children 9-18 months!

Strong social-emotional skills are part of the foundation for lifelong mental health. As adults it’s our job to help children learn!

Click below for a downloadable PDF resource.

Learn About Child Development

0-4 Months

4-8 Months

9-18 Months

19-36 Months

3-5 Years

6-8 Years

More Resources