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Your child at two-and-a-half years

Two-and-a-half is a distinctive age for one reason – it can be the age of negativism. While this sounds deeply unattractive, it is usually over by three and arguably it's more unpleasant for your bewildered child than it is for you. But it's also a fascinating age, with your child's developing brain and her sense of self making her a real little comedian which (sort of) makes up for the belting tantrums and throwing of food

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 15, 2021

Two-and-a-half-year-old child

Physical development at two-and-a-half years old

By two-and-a-half your toddler seems to be getting bigger by the day. She may even be growing out of her cot or cot bed by now and be ready for a 'big girl bed'. There are lots of toddler beds on the market, or you can go for a standard single. Avoid high-sleepers or top bunks at this stage though – it's still a long way to fall. If you're worried about your little one moving into a big bed, put plenty of pillows on the floor to soften any falls. You'll probably find if she does fall out, she doesn't even wake up and you'll just find her asleep on piles of pillows later in the evening. If her newfound freedom from the cot means she's going for night-time wanders, you can always try a stairgate on her bedroom door until the novelty wears off.

She's getting more dextrous and, over the next six months, will be honing those pro tower-building skills until she can make a tower of up to eight bricks (although not always under pressure). When she draws, she may well now make horizontal and vertical lines – she might even draw a basic stick person – and can copy a circle and other shapes, as well as use scissors with help. In general, she's much more adept at handling small objects.

Her gross motor skills are coming on apace, too. She can jump and hop, stand on one leg and take a leap forward using both legs together. It feels like she's moments off being able to do the whole of the Hokey Cokey. And that is, after all, what it's all about.

Will my child be dry by two-and-a-half?

Not all children are potty-trained by this age, though most are dry at some point between now and three years of age. If potty training has gone well, she may ask to go to the toilet and be mostly dry during the day. Being dry at night usually takes a fair bit longer.

How can I encourage my two-and-a-half-year-old's physical development?

Lots of physical activity – out in the fresh air if possible – is key to developing children's strength and gross motor skills. Riding a balance bike or scooter will help improve their coordination, as will learning to throw and catch a large, lightweight ball. Kicking a football towards a target will help improve their balance, too, as they have to stand on one leg to do so.

Cognitive development at two-and-a-half years old

She may have shown signs of resistance and stroppiness before the age of two, but at two-and-a-half, she develops a diva-ish attitude that would make Mariah Carey quake. She likes to do things her way and can become furious if you offer suggestions or advice. Sometimes she doesn't know what she wants to do but knows it isn't anything you've got on offer, even, incredibly, the park or an ice cream.

It can sometimes feel like it's hard to make her happy, although funnily enough, there is a sense of humour lurking – due to emerge closer to three. The trick to getting through the tantrums stage is to be completely saintly yourself (or at least learn to pick your fights). Remember, she's not really a manipulative, selfish little beast (she's just doing a good impression of one), so set aside enough time for her to try to dress herself, feed herself and clean her own teeth (assuming that's what she wants) without urging her to get a move on.

By two-and-a-half, she understands a bit more about cause and effect, so begins to compute that if she grabs that knife he may cut her fingers off.

She's keen to name things and compare them, being able to say, not always correctly but with a sense of injustice, that Lizzy has a bigger biscuit than she does – this sense of fairness really takes a hold around now, and it hangs around for a good few years.

She can also understand simple time concepts, such as 'We will go the park after we've had lunch' but still makes a fuss because she'd prefer it to be the other way round.

Your two-and-a-half-year-old will help to clear up and put things away because she's keen to behave like an adult (not realising that adults hate putting things away and would rather pay someone else to do it). Make the most of this love of sweeping and dusting while it lasts and before she gets to grips with the concept of paid labour.

How can I make bedtime easier with a two-and-a-half-year-old?

Now is a good time to start a bedtime ritual that's a bit more 'grown-up'. She may like to have a teddy in bed, to have her light on for a little while, or a nursery rhyme CD playing.

But this is also the time when she decides she'd rather be downstairs – although when she's down there she'll probably be sobbing with tiredness and making everyone else unhappy. If you've recently moved her into a proper bed, think about having a gate placed at her door so she can't simply follow you out of the room. Usually the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Restlessness at night is common and may be due to her being anxious about saying good night to you and you leaving her. This is partly to do with her growing realisation that she is a separate person, which you can imagine is a pretty heavy concept to get to grips with.

Another bedtime issue that's quite common at this age is nightmares. It's worth checking, especially if you have older children, that she isn't seeing things on TV that are too grown-up for her to cope with – but even a toy or game might be enough to give her the night-time frights. Lay the groundwork by making sure the hour or so before bed is calm, quiet and a screen-free zone. If your child does wake in the night with a bad dream, try to get her to stay in bed rather than coming downstairs, comfort her and stay with her until she's sleepy enough to drop off again. Nightmares can seem really frightening and she will need help to cope with them, but they're nothing to worry about and usually are a stage they grow out of quickly.

How much should my two-and-a-half-year-old eat?

With dire warnings about childhood obesity ringing in your ears, it can be hard to know exactly what your child should be eating. At two-and-a-half, some children are happy to try lots of new things and finish a meal, while others seem to hardly eat at all. As a rough guide, a portion size for a child of this age should be about a quarter to a half of an adult-sized portion.

Lots of children suddenly go through a fussy stage around now and begin to refuse foods they had always liked previously. If possible, it's best to try to avoid turning mealtimes into a battleground by making them sit in front of cold scrambled eggs for an hour. Try just offering whatever meal it is, clearing it away without a fuss if they say they don't like it and giving them a healthy pudding of yoghurt or fruit. No child will starve themselves to death and if they are really hungry they can always have a more substantial snack such as toast later on. Most toddlers will eventually relent and start to broaden their diet again, but if you're concerned, speak to your doctor or health visitor who should be able to set your mind at rest. In the meantime, look out for tempting toddler recipes that might appeal to her.

Play and activities at two-and-a-half years old

Toddlers of this age who like colouring and craft will really come into their element around now. Their fine motor skills are much more advanced than they were, allowing them to draw people (if they do 20 stick fingers on each hand, get their name down for art school now) and they can also draw a circle and other shapes. They may even be able to use scissors, with help, to cut out shapes.

Her increased cognitive ability will allow her to spot the difference between objects and can do some basic jigsaw puzzles. These skills also mean she can 'replace' one object with another in her games, so she will use a piece of paper as a stand-in plate or push a block around the floor pretending it's a car. Watch carefully because you might just pick up a few tips for Santa here. If she's been pretending her doll is a penguin for the last week, chances are that a penguin will go down a storm.

What toys are good at two-and-a-half years old?

She will enjoy imitating you as part of her play, so make the most of this and buy the child a broom to go around sweeping the floor, or a watering can to help you in the garden. Remember she is almost constantly watching you, so think about what sort of behaviour you are modelling at all times – and try not to use any choice swear words as you go about your daily business.

Toys that encourage motor skills, such as outdoor games, a sandpit, balance bike or anything that helps her get her body moving are great. Craft sets – big jars of pom poms, stickers and more to stick and decorate – will go down well, too.

Friends at two-and-a-half years old

She may have some children she refers to as 'friends' even though they still play alongside each other more than together. But that won't stop them taking pleasure in each other's company, and it's a necessary stage in building social skills. You might find you have the occasional 'pretend friend' to play, too. This is completely normal at this age – and up to the age of about six, so don't worry that your child is lonely (or just plain bonkers) if you catch her chatting animatedly to thin air.

Developmental milestones at two-and-a-half years old

By this age, your child will probably be able to do some of the following:

  • Speak clearly and be understood by people who know her and people who don't
  • Put on her own clothes, though may still need help with buttons and zips
  • Jump off the ground with both feet together
  • Wash her own hands

She may also be able to do some of the following:

  • Balance on one foot
  • Name the main colours of the rainbow
  • Talk about her friends and know their names
  • Draw vertical and horizontal lines, and even representations of people

What else happens when my child is two-and-a-half years old?

As her understanding of the world develops, your toddler might start to develop fears and worries about you going away. She might suddenly become frightened of something she was fine with before, such as dogs, the dark, maybe even cars… But he might also become afraid of intangible things such as monsters under the bed.

“My toddler cries when I leave her”

As well as becoming afraid of things she doesn't quite understand, your child may also start to become upset again when you leave her. If you're having lots of tears at the nursery gate again, just when you thought you'd cracked it, don't panic. It's very common for toddlers of this age to develop attachment issues.

Try giving her a familiar teddy from home to take in with her, or perhaps a scarf or other item of yours with your perfume on to help her feel more secure. At drop-off time, go back to whatever has worked in the past, and whatever you do, don't hang around – make it a quick, chirpy goodbye, give her a kiss, reassure her you'll be back later and go.

Mumsnetters say…

"My two-and-a-half-year-old speaks fairly clearly, but makes a lot of grammatical mistakes. When referring to himself, he uses his name rather than 'I', and also sometimes uses 'you' rather than 'me'".

"Speech is one of the most variable developments between children. Some seem to pick it up quite easily from TV and others need to work more at it. As long as there’s progress, I wouldn’t worry".

"If you have a fussy eater, try a star chart. We've just implemented one with my son and after an initial refusal to eat any vegetables (besides those hidden in sauces) it finally seems to be working".