How to Measure a Toddler's Mental Development

While parents often measure their toddler’s height and weight, not everyone thinks to measure a toddler’s mental development. You might have noticed a jump in abilities from infancy to toddlerhood, as your child is able to make sentences, name objects, understand directions and even make choices. Children develop at different rates, but it's possible for parents to determine if their toddler is meeting expected milestones of mental development.

Consult a checklist of developmental milestones; you can find one on many parent-oriented websites, including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics at, and Zero to Three. These lists include the activities and abilities most children possess by a certain age.

Test your child's vocabulary and receptive language skills. Since language is the foundation for communication, it is an area of mental development you'll want to observe. Ask your toddler to imitate animal sounds or point and name objects in a book or store. A young toddler might know 50 words, and a 2- to 3-year-old 250 to 900 words, according to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University. Encourage your child to tell you a story; you will notice that toddlers, by age 3, should understand directions with two or three steps, which shows development of receptive language 1.

Observe your toddler's knowledge of academic concepts. While 1-year-olds often show their knowledge of objects by pointing, 2-year-olds can begin to sort shapes and colors and can name items in a picture, such as a cat or a ball. Children at age 3 can copy a circle with a pencil or crayon.

Notice your child's imaginative play; it should become more complex during the toddler years. An infant might jump from one activity to another without connection, but toddlers around age 2 will put together activities in a logical sequence. Toddlers might pretend to feed dolls or stuffed animals. Get involved in this pretend play and ask questions. Imaginative play inspires creativity, which is an important aspect of mental development.

Test your toddler's problem-solving skills using puzzles or sorting toys. Children as young as 2 years can sort shapes and colors, and 3-year-olds should be able to put together puzzles of three or four pieces.

See how your toddler does with drawing shapes. While a young toddler might show the ability to put scribbles on the paper, some 2- and 3-year-olds can copy circles and trace capital letters.


Developmental milestones provide guidelines of what most children are able to do by a certain age, and you can measure your toddler's mental development by observing his play and interacting with him. If your child does not meet an expected milestone, consult his physician for advice.