21-Month-Old: Your Little Dreamer

Your 21-month-old toddler may be using her imagination in various ways as she plays. Her imaginative powers might continue during the night, when she may have intense and active dreams that could even wake her up. There are some steps you can take that might help her 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. She’ll start to do new things, progress in her abilities in others, and reveal more of her 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. She’ll remember where things are hidden and will enjoy playing hide and seek with you, too. These games can help her understand that even when she doesn’t see you, you’re still there, and she might love the thrill of waiting for you to spot her 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. She might imitate things around her, like pretending to make a phone call or drive a car, or make a toy a pretend drink.
  •  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 she finds attractive. Her possessiveness with her toys may make “mine” one of the top words in her vocabulary. Don’t worry, though; this is common for a child her age, and she’ll grow out of it.

How to Support Your 21-Month-Old’s Development

You can support your 21-month-old’s development with activities like:

  •  Introducing words associated with emotions. Help your child learn to express her feelings by teaching her to describe her emotions using words like “mad,” “glad,” and “sad,” for example.
  •  Making brushing your toddler’s teeth fun.Getting those teeth cleaned twice a day is an essential part of your toddler’s daily routine, but until she can do it herself, you may find it a challenge. So why not try to make brushing teeth fun? Try playing peekaboo with her while brushing, or letting her practice her brushing skills on her favorite stuffed animal or doll with an old toothbrush (without water or toothpaste).
  •  Helping 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 her burn energy through play, with at least 30 minutes of adult-led activity and at least one hour of free play each day. Getting her into the habit of being active from an early age will continue to provide benefits as she grows up.
  •  Getting your toddler to help in the kitchen. Many children love helping out 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 supervise your little one at all times.
  •  Supporting your little one if she is shy. All children have their own temperaments, and it’s natural for some children 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 her or push her into doing something. Give her the time she needs to move forward at her 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.
  •  Finding words in the world. In addition to reading together with your child, help her notice words to "read" in the world around her. Point out traffic signs and street signs. Look for "open" and "closed" as you walk by stores, and help her find "milk" on the milk carton and "dog" on the bag of pet food. Not only is she learning how to recognize certain words but she's learning that words are important, and that they're all around her.

Mealtimes and Menus for Your 21-Month-Old

A healthy, well-balanced diet is important to support your 21-month-old’s growth 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

The exciting thing about being a toddler is that every day brings new experiences. You can help your little one develop her taste buds by introducing new foods and flavors at mealtimes. Here are a few ideas you can try to make things more interesting at breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

  •  Try different ways to cook and serve vegetables. You may discover your little one prefers sautéed carrots over steamed, or that she’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 exciting sauces on the side, like hummus, guacamole, creamy dressings, or applesauce.
  •  Get your toddler involved. Take your little one to the grocery store and have her pick out some items. For example, you may want to take her to the fruit and vegetable aisle and have her choose a new veggie or fruit to try.
  •  Eat together as a family. Avoid making separate dishes for your toddler; instead, serve her what you and the rest of the family are having and lead by example. If she sees you enjoying your meal, she’ll be more willing to try a new food she sees you eating.
  •  Experiment with old favorites. If your little one is resisting trying new things, get creative and make some of her favorite dishes while adding something new in. Add a new vegetable as a pizza topping, for example, or put a new fruit on top of a scoop of ice cream.

21-Month-Old Toddler Sleep Schedule

Most toddlers at this age need 11-14 hours of sleep with 1 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 her dreams or nightmares and she may struggle to tell the difference between her dreams and reality. There are a few things you can to 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 her sleep with a comfort item like a plush toy or a blankie. These objects can help your toddler feel reassured and may help her feel safer as she falls asleep or if she wakes 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 she’s safe. Just remember to keep nighttime visits brief and “boring” (don’t pick her up or turn the lights on, for example) to encourage her to fall back to sleep.

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 day may look like:

Monthly milestones

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