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The Senses and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old

Babies this age are maturing rapidly, and so is their understanding of the surrounding world. As they grow, they'll be seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching things that are all new.

Sight

Between 1 and 2 years old, your baby's sight will continue to improve. By age 2, these young toddlers will notice lots of details and depth perception is well-developed.

Your role is to provide pleasant, stimulating visual information. Picture books, colorful toys, and kids their own age are great things for babies to look at and learn about.

Take your little one on frequent outings. The park, the grocery store, and a friend's house can all provide interesting and novel sights.

Hearing

No matter when toddlers say their first words, they'll already understand much of what is said to them before that. Your child should be able to respond to simple commands ("Roll the ball to Mommy") and be fully aware of the names of familiar objects and family members.

By about 18 months, your child will be able to point to some body parts, even if he or she can't yet tell you their different names. This shows that your baby's hearing is functioning well and language skills are developing.

Although toddlers will be saying more and more over the course of this year, many still indicate their wants and ideas in nonverbal ways. They enjoy the other pleasures of hearing: listening to children's songs and music, laughing and yelling with friends in the park, or having you read a bedtime story.

Taste and Smell

With their newfound language skills toddlers will tell parents which tastes they prefer and which they dislike. If kids don't like a food, they won't eat it.

But don't be discouraged if your toddler doesn't like a food the first time you offer it. Research shows that it can take several attempts before a child will accept a new food. Just keep providing opportunities to try a variety of foods, and one day your child will surprise you!

Help your child label tastes and smells by using descriptive words during meals or trips to restaurants.

Touch

Although toddlers may seem too busy to enjoy a cuddle or kiss, such affection is still a necessary part of their lives. Your child is experiencing and understanding so much more, but still needs to feel loved and secure. Take every opportunity to show this.

Don't forget that little fingers this age will be into everything. Hopefully you've already childproofed your home well, but take another look around from a toddler perspective and put unsafe items out of reach. Then you can encourage your child to touch and learn as much as possible.

Toddlers also start to use their hands to show frustration or look for attention, so don't be surprised if your little one starts hitting. Although very common, teach your child that hands are not for hitting. Initially, finding a distraction may be all that is needed; however, using "time-outs" may be necessary if the hitting persists.

Should I Be Concerned?

By now you have probably addressed any concerns you've had about your baby's eyesight, but be sure to contact your doctor if you notice any problems, including:

  • eyes that wander in or out or don't move together
  • inability to see or recognize distant objects or people
  • persistent tearing, fluid discharge, crusting, or redness of the eyes
  • frequent squinting or sensitivity to light
  • droopy eyelids
  • excessive eye rubbing or scratching

Hearing problems may become more apparent as speech emerges. Some kids speak earlier or later than others, but there should be signs that they can understand simple instructions even if they are not yet using many words.

Don't hesitate to report any concerns to your doctor, especially if you feel your child is not babbling or responding to your speech patterns. Chronic ear infections can sometimes leave kids with excessive fluid buildup that can interfere with healthy hearing. Special tests can check for hearing loss at any age.

It's common for parents to feel concerned or frustrated with their toddler's behavior, as kids love to touch and explore everything. They're naturally very busy and curious little people, so it's important to make sure that yours has a safe environment to explore. If you're not sure about how to guide your toddler's behavior, talk to your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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