May 17, 2023

24 to 36 Months: What to Expect

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
24 to 36 Months: What to Expect

Once your child turns 2, you'll see significant changes every month. They're likely gaining some independence as they begin navigating their environment independently and are interested in doing more things without your help. I'm sure the word "no" is used each time you try to help!

Your 2-year-old's imagination is also starting to come to life! They are expanding their pretend play skills and, supporting social, learning, creative problem-solving skills, and expressing thoughts and emotions when words are unavailable.

Your little one will love to show off their developing physical skills, creativity, social skills, and independence. You can expect your little one to make great strides between 2 and 3 years old!



Your 2-year-old is probably developing a more consistent eating routine, with three meals and one or two snacks daily. It is recommended by the NHS that your toddler consume meals from each of the following food categories at least once each day:

  • Vegetables and fruits

  • Rice, potatoes, flour products, and cereals

  • Poultry, fish, eggs, and other meats

  • Cheese, milk, and additional dairy products

In addition, the NHS also suggests eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day!

Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and an essential part of a balanced diet for children and adults.

Eating plenty of fruit and veg helps keep us healthy and may reduce the risk of disease and some cancers.

Picky eaters

Many children may start refusing foods they used to like or showing signs of picky eating at this age. Favouring just a couple of foods or not wanting foods to touch each other on the plate! These normal behaviours often disappear when your child is about 5 years old. 

Here are some tips to help:

  • Try again: Wait a couple of days before offering the food again. It can take 10-20 times before your little one likes it.

  • Have family mealtimes: Your little one will learn social skills and be more excited about their food if they see the rest of the family eating the same things.

  • Mix it up: Mix new foods with foods you know your child likes.

  • Be silly: Make funny faces with the foods on your little one's plate. It might help your child get excited to eat it.

  • Me too: Try eating the food first to show your child you like it. Then, let your child try it.

  • Choices: Give your child a selection of different foods to try. Let your child decide which one to try today.

Moving from the high chair to the dinner table

This age is an excellent opportunity to transition your little one from a high chair to the dinner table! Their newfound independence may motivate them to be more of a "big child" and grab their own place at the table.

Your little one should eat at the table with you and the rest of the family and eat the same foods as you. However, it is essential to remember that their tiny tummies require smaller portions. 

A good rule of thumb is one tablespoon of each food per year (i.e., two tablespoons for 2 years old).

Family dinner


Your little one will reach several developmental milestones between 24 and 36 months, particularly in their emotional development.

Your little one still requires a lot of sleep. Aim for your child to obtain about 12 hours of sleep every day, split up into one longer sleep at night and one shorter sleep during the day if necessary. As they get closer to 36 months old, if your little one no longer appears to require daily naps, they can still want some quiet time.

Personal, Social, and Emotional development

This is a crucial period for your child's emotional development and is called the "terrible twos" for a reason! You might have begun noticing the start of temper tantrums! That's to be expected as your little one is beginning to learn and recognise more "big", complex emotions and are learning how to express themselves when these feeling and emotions arise. 

Because your 2-year-old still lacks the verbal skills to say, "I'm mad," or "I'm feeling scared," they can't tell anyone how they're feeling. So they're more likely to show it! So don't be surprised when your child drops to the ground and starts screaming. It's all part of their development.

They will begin to feel many different new emotions, such as shame and guilt. They may struggle with these new "big" feelings, and as they can't express them in words, tantrums are likely to continue. 

Making relationships

  • Builds relationships with special people but may still show anxiety in the presence of strangers.

  • Is becoming more able to separate from their close carers and explore new situations with support and encouragement from another familiar adult.

  • Shows some understanding that other people have perspectives, ideas and needs that are different to theirs, e.g. may turn a book to face you so you can see it.

  • Shows empathy and concern for people who are special to them by partially others' feelings with their own, e.g. may offer a child a toy they know they like.

  • They begin to cooperate in favourable situations, such as with familiar people and environments and when free from anxiety.

  • Seek to play with a familiar friend or a child with a similar interest.

  • Is interested, aware, and able to maintain eye contact with others.

Sense of Self

  • Knows their own name, preferences and interests and is becoming aware of their unique abilities.

  • Is developing an understanding of and interest in differences of gender, ethnicity and ability.

  •  Shows a sense of independence through expressing their ideas and preferences and making choices and decisions.

  •  Experiments with their own and other people's views of who they are through their play, through trying out different behaviours, and the way they talk about themselves.

  • Is gradually learning that actions have consequences but not always the consequences they wish for.

Understanding Emotions

  • Shows a wide range of more complex emotions, such as pride and embarrassment, as well as a wide range of other feelings.

  • Can feel overwhelmed by intense emotions, resulting in an emotional collapse when frightened, frustrated, angry, anxious or over-stimulated.

  • Is becoming able to think about their feelings.

  • Seeks comfort from familiar adults when needed and distracts themselves with a comfort object when upset.

  • Responds to the feelings of others, showing concern and offering comfort.

  • May recognise that some actions can hurt or harm others and begins to stop themselves from doing something they should not do in familiar situations.

  • Participates in familiar routines, and their understanding of some boundaries grows.

  • May get upset with major changes in routine.

  • Copies adults and friends.

  • Is beginning to take turns in games.

  • Understands the idea of "mine" and "his" or "hers."


Physical development

Your little one may start or even complete toilet training between 24 and 36 months of age. It requires a lot of different skills, and because all children are different with their own unique personalities and abilities, some children develop more quickly than others. So please don't worry if your little one is not ready to take this huge step yet; they will develop in this area at their own time and pace.

They may help you wash them at bath time or dress with your help. They will become more proficient at using their spoon at mealtimes but still need your help and encouragement, so continue to be patient and expect some mess!

They will also likely have improved their skills for throwing, kicking and catching balls, and walking up and down stairs! They may also be able to jump on the spot, ride a trike, unscrew lids or turn door handles or pages in a book. 

Moving and Handling

  • Enjoys and seeks out various ways to move and play.

  • Sits up from lying down, stands up from sitting and squats with steadiness to rest or play with an object on the ground.

  • Sits comfortably on a chair with both feet on the ground.

  • Runs safely on the whole foot.

  • Moves in response to music or rhythms played on instruments such as drums or shakers.

  • Jumps up into the air with both feet leaving the floor and can jump forward a small distance.

  • Begins to walk, run and climb on different levels and surfaces.

  • Kicks a stationary ball with either foot.

  • Throws a ball with increasing force and accuracy and starts to catch a large ball by using two hands and their chest to catch it.

  • Climbs up and down stairs by placing both feet on each step while holding a handrail for support.

  • Uses wheeled toys with increasing skill, such as pedalling, balancing, holding handlebars and sitting.

  • May be beginning to show a preference for their dominant hand and/or leg/foot.

  • Turns pages in a book, sometimes several at once.

  • Shows increasing control in holding, using and manipulating a range of tools and objects. 

  • Holds mark-making tools with thumb and all fingers.

Health and Self-care

  • Enjoys bath time and helps you to wash them.

  • Feeds self competently.

  • Can hold a cup with two hands and drink well without spilling.

  • Develops some independence in self-care and shows an awareness of routines such as handwashing or teeth cleaning but still often needs adult support.

  • Develops an increasing understanding of and control of the bowel and bladder urges and starts to communicate their need for the preferred choice of potty or toilet.

  • Able to help with and increasingly independently put on and take off simple clothing items such as hats, unzipped jackets, wellington boots.

  • Begins to recognise danger and seeks the support and comfort of significant adults.

  • Can increasingly express their thoughts and emotions through words as well as continuing to use facial expressions.

Communication and Language development

Your little one can probably use around 50 words by the time they are 24 months, sometimes in short sentences. They will begin to use 'I', 'we' and 'me' and understand these words when they use them. By 36 months, their vocabulary reaches around 200 words, and sentences will grow longer.

Much of their speech will be understandable, and you may start conversing with them, taking turns speaking. They start to be able to explain what they have been doing or where they have been and be able to follow simple multi-step instructions. Their words and sentences will develop to include nouns and verbs, the use of the past tense, and the concepts of time and space.

Listening and attention

  • Listens with interest to the noises adults make when they read stories.

  • Recognises and responds to many familiar sounds, e.g. turning to a knock on the door, looking at or going to the door.

  • Shows interest in playing with sounds, songs and rhymes.

  • Single-channelled attention; can shift to a different task if attention is fully obtained – using your little one's name helps them focus.


  • Uses language to share feelings, experiences and thoughts.

  • Holds a conversation, jumping from topic to topic.

  • Learns new words very rapidly and can use them in communicating.

  • Uses a variety of questions, e.g. what, where, who.

  • Uses longer sentences, using 2-3 word phrases.

  • e.g. Mummy gonna work.

  • Beginning to use word endings, e.g. going.

  • Uses plurals, e.g. "dogs".

  • Uses "in" and "on."


  • Identifies action words by following simple instructions, e.g. Show me jumping.

  • Beginning to understand more complex sentences, e.g. Put your toys away and sit on the carpet.

  • Understands who, what, and where in simple questions, e.g. Who's that? Who can? What's that? Where is?

  • Developing an understanding of simple concepts, e.g. fast/slow, good/bad, etc.

  • Understands "mine" and "yours."


What to look out for:

Remember that each child is unique, and they all develop at various times and at different rates. So, if your little one isn't doing the same things as your friend's child, give your little one more time!

Between 24 and 30 months, your little one will be offered a health and development review, the "2-year review". This is an opportunity to discuss with your Health Visitor or GP your little one's development, growth, behaviour and any concerns you may have.

Speak to your Health Visitor or GP if, by 36 months, your little one:

  • falls down a lot or has trouble with stairs;

  • cannot balance on one foot;

  • has very unclear speech;

  • can't draw a simple line or cross, use cutlery or undo buttons;

  • doesn't speak in sentences;

  • doesn't seem to understand a 2-3 step instruction;

  • doesn't pretend play;

  • doesn't want to play with other children or toys;

  • doesn't make eye contact; or

  • loses skills they previously had.


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