Parenting Your Pre-Toddler–With Confidence!

Tips for parenting the 12-18 month old range. This age is not quite full toddler yet, but also beyond babyhood. This is called the “pre-toddler” range.

pretoddler happily smiling

“Confidence comes in part from knowing what to expect at each stage of a child’s development” (On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise page 24).

The pre-toddler age is a time of transition. Between 12-18 months old, your child is neither a baby nor a toddler. During this transition time, there are some big changes.

Change can be hard, but by the time your child is 12 months old, you should be accustomed to changes. Your baby changed a whole lot from birth to now, right?

But that last few months of the first year get quite comfortable for most families. The baby’s schedule stays the same. Baby’s eating habits stay the same. Sleeping is usually unchanged. You get kind of comfortable.


Then 12 months happens and things start to change. Your child starts to suddenly eat significantly less food–so much less you worry she will shrivel away.

She will also most like start to change her needs in napping. Some are ready for one nap a day as early as 14 months, while others aren’t until 22 months or so.

>>>Read: Dropping the Morning Nap (from 2 to 1 naps): Transition Time

Even if she doesn’t go to one nap, she will at least shorten naps, which will send you back to troubleshooting and worrying about naps again.

And discipline? Bring on the tantrums!

And that little baby is suddenly seeming quite grown up. Her comprehension is really showing through and perhaps her communication as well. You start to wonder what it is you should do with a pre-toddler?

Never fear. Even with these changes, you aren’t in new territory.

“…you are not entering a totally new arena of parenting during the next six months but extending the training that you are already familiar with”

(page 24)

Your world still easily revolves around eating, sleeping, and playing.


What are some changes that take place in the eating arena during the age range of 12-18 months? (pages 24-25)

  • Your child will go from mostly purees to mostly eating exactly what the family eats.
  • Your child might go from bottle feeding/breastfeeding to drinking milk from a sippy cup.
  • Your child will go from being carried to and from the table to coming and going himself.
  • Some children will be using a booster seat instead of a high chair by 18 months old.
  • At 12 months, he might have dinner on his own, unable to wait for dinner with the family. By 18 months, he will most likely be able to wait.
  • My addition, your child will start out being spoon fed by you, but by 18 months he should be able to feed himself with a spoon (not perfectly, but he can do it).

>>>Read: Tips for Feeding Your Pre-Toddler


The only change in naptime during this period is a possible drop of the morning nap.

Some children are ready to drop the nap as early as 14 months. Others will not drop it as pre-toddlers.

Some children drop it cold turkey. Others drop it some days and still take it others for several months. Still others will slowly shorten the morning nap little by little before dropping it altogether.

If your child drops his morning nap during this age range, it will have a large impact on your waketime each day.

>>>Read: Dropping the Morning Nap Guide


If your child is no longer taking a morning nap, that means you will have an entire morning to fill rather than just 2-3 hour blocks.

This often will lead to more discipline issues.

“…a pretoddler is too young to reason with but too mobile to be left alone. He needs loving supervision and guidance” .

(page 25)

Let me just say that many children seem to drop this nap right around 18 months old. So most of you will have this dropping happen at an older age, which does seem to make it easier to fill the morning hours.

But let me encourage you that while it can seem a challenge at first, I love it when the child goes down to one nap. It is my favorite time.

Once the child is settled into one nap, he should take one nice, long nap. So instead of the two hour afternoon nap, you will get a 3-4 hour afternoon nap. You also will have this large chunk of time in the morning. You can run errands, go to the park, and visit friends. You can do things more leisurely and take your time.

Don’t force the dropping of the nap. Forcing less sleep leads to sleep problems eventually. Take things at your child’s pace, but going to one nap is something to treasure, not dread.

>>>Read: How To Fill Toddler’s Time When Transitioning to One Nap


I remember when Brayden turned 12 months old. He seemed so old to me. I was instantly hit with all of this pressure in my mind to train him up to be a good boy. My mind lept through ten years in ten seconds. I didn’t know what to do or where to start.

I turned to On Becoming Toddlerwise. It gave direction, and though it was written for 12 months and older, much of it was beyond the 12 month old.

They didn’t have Pre-Toddlerwise then. We made it through just fine, but I think it is great that there is a pre-toddlerwise book now to help parents ease into this time period.

With Kaitlyn, this age went along quite smoothly. Again, no pre-toddlerwise to turn to yet. I wasn’t scared that time. I wasn’t worried about the future. It all just flowed nicely.

The difference?

I think it was simply experience. I knew what to expect in the coming months. When she threw her first tantrum, I didn’t wonder where I had messed up. I knew there were plenty more ahead. I had confidence because I knew what to expect.

Milestones like this get easier with more kids. When McKenna was a 14 month old, I hardly even realized I had a pre-toddler. It was all such second nature to me now that it just doesn’t phase me. I don’t say that intending to brag, but to point out how to parent with confidence. As for Brinely, I don’t really remember even thinking about what to do with her at any age–it was all old hat.

So how do you parent your pre-toddler with confidence? By knowing what to expect and how to react appropriately.

Parenting Pretoddlers pinnable image


On a very simple level, you know what to expect during the months of 12-18 months old.

You know your child will eat less food. You know he will start to feed himself more and eat more of what you are eating at each meal.

You know he should start walking. You know to watch for signs he is ready for one nap. And you know you will need to be creative in adding activities to your morning when he does drop that one nap, but that once you are both settled into it, you will most likely find a one nap schedule the easiest you have experienced thus far.


On Becoming Pretoddlerwise:...Shop on Amazon
Parenting pretoddlers pinnable image

This post originally appeared on this blog June 2010

16 thoughts on “Parenting Your Pre-Toddler–With Confidence!”

  1. Hi Val – Thanks for this post. My daughter is 17 months old, so this is definitely our stage right now. She dropped to one nap (officially) about 2 weeks ago. It's going rather smoothly, she wakes in the morning between 7:30-8, and her nap is at 12. I feed her a small meal before she goes down, but she doesn't eat a whole lot. She is only napping 2 hours, then waking up happy. Do you think she is getting enough sleep? I know all kids are different, and she is usually happy the rest of the night until about 6:45, then we start our bedtime routine and she is down at 7:30.The one kink is sometimes when she wakes up from that nap (probably 50% of the time) she has done her daily poo. I'm not sure if this is hindering her from sleeping longer, but there also isn't really anything I can do to regulate it. Any ideas are greatly appreciated. Please let me know if you think all sounds well :)Thanks!! Rachel

  2. I'm in the same boat. My son wakes up between 7:30a and 8:00a and then takes his nap around 11a. He will sleep two hours and be fine until 7:30p. He sleeps just fine through the night. I have tried delaying his nap to 12p or 1p, but by then he is so tired that he won't sleep at all…and then is cranky all afternoon and evening until bedtime.

  3. Great post for me right now!! Thanks! My daugther just turned one last month, so we have just hit the pretoddlerhood phase and she is my first. So it is very nice to have a heads-up on what to expect the next 6 months!

  4. This post was right on time for me. My daughter turned 15 months old on June 8th and just a few days after that she started having the mini-fit. It was totally unexpected for me. At home, she walks around the livingroom area freely because she is great about not touching things she's not supposed to. So I noticed last week that when I take her somewhere and let her walk, she sometimes doesn't want to hold my hand and will have the mini fit. This happened at the park and the post office!

  5. Rachel,A great indicator for sleep is her happiness and obedience level. So if she is happy and content, then she is probably fine with two hours. But do keep in mind that sleep deficits build up over time. She could still be evening out from being good to going toward overly tired, so if she suddenly starts being cranky, I would consider that her nap needs to be longer.Does she have independent play in the morning? Most BW kids seem to poop in independent play. If she does and just isn't doing that yet, she should over time. She should work it all out.

  6. You are welcome Dave and Elaine!Kina, that is normal 🙂 You will both become better and knowing what to expect and how to handle those situations 🙂

  7. I don't know what to do. My daughter has slept through the night since she was 4 months (except for sickness and teething). She has always gone down great, no worries. To set the stage, she now has a little sister who is 2 1/2 months old, and she is almost 17 months. Just in the last two weeks I have had nothing but problems with her sleep. She screams and cries going to bed. She hasn't been sleeping well during the day either, sometimes she needs two naps, but there are times she will only take one, either because of things going on or because when I put her down in the afternoon she would just talk. My other daughter is starting to get on a schedule, but this has thrown me for a loop. I know she is exhausted, she doesn't wake up happy anymore. But I don't know what to do. Today, I gave her two naps and for her first she went down like a charm, but I woke her up because I wanted her to get a good afternoon nap too. This afternoon she talked and whined a little, but slept. She woke up crying. And then tonight putting her to bed she has been hysterically crying off and on. She uses sign language and tells me "all done" while crying. It breaks my heart! What am I doing wrong? I know God doesn't give me more than I can handle, but boy am I exhausted! It drains me in more ways than one to not have her like this.

  8. Oh, she also doesn't really suck her fingers anymore. She used to suck her first two fingers, and then cold turkey she stopped. This was all around the same time though. I don't know if it was her teeth bothering her fingers or what. So maybe that is factoring in too?

  9. Gloria, I bet it is hard for everyone with the young ones all around. Hang in there! I would guess it is hard for you to keep your mind focused on one child and keep everything straight, so I strongly suggest you keep a log of nap times and results so you can see if a pattern emerges.I would guess it is teeth that is causing this, especially with the lack of finger sucking. Have you tried giving pain killer to see what happens then? She is at the age when really painful teeth usually emerge.

  10. Several people have commented about their pre-toddler sleep issues here so hopefully this is the right place! My DD is 16 months and we went to 1 nap 2 months ago, earlier than I wanted but her little body just would not take a second nap, no matter what I did. The nap seems to be settling at 2-2 1/2 hours but my real concern right now is her nighttime sleep. Once she falls asleep it is fine but she is taking FOREVER to fall asleep, sometimes over an hour and a half. She is quiet for the most part, sucking on her fingers and playing with her blanket but she isn't sleeping, so of course this leads to waking up early. I have tried putting her down earlier with the hope that even if it takes 45 min-1 hour to fall asleep she would at least get more sleep. That worked for one night (and really I think it was b/c her nap was only 1 hour that day). So, I guess my question is: is this normal for this age? Could teeth be doing this? She is only getting about 10 hours of sleep. She is happy enough when I go get her at 8 but is exhausted all morning and usually doesn't listen well in the afternoons. I know it can't be normal to take over an hour to fall asleep. It usually only takes 15-20 minutes for her to fall asleep for nap. Here is our schedule right now:8am – I get her (if she falls asleep by 2030 the night before she will usually wake up at 0730 but if it is any later, she's up before 7)1130 – lunch1200 – nap1500 – I get her (lately has been sleeping from about 1215-1430)1800 – dinner and then I try to get her some more exercise before we start bedtime routine1915-1945 – We've been experimenting with bedtimes throughout this range but nothing seems to be helping and at best she'll fall asleep at 2030, at worst, 2100.#2 is due in October and it is depressing to think that the older one might still be having sleep issues :(Thanks in advance.

  11. Sorry, I should qualify this real quick. The taking a long time to fall asleep didn't start when we moved to one nap; it started about 12 months but she usually could get 11-12 hours still; it is only in the last month that she has been taking a long time to fall asleep and then waking up super early. And, the days that she acts exhausted and doesn't listen are when she gets less than 11 hours of nighttime sleep. That one hour seems to make a huge difference! Thanks!!

  12. Erika, I wouldn't call it normal, but I also wouldn't call it abnormal. There are a variety of reasons it could be happening.Taking a long time to fall asleep is usually because of either a too short of a waketime or a too long of a waketime.If she previously was going to sleep well with this one nap schedule, then she might need bedtime moved back a bit. If so, I would move it in 5-10 minute increments at a time.If she has never really gone to sleep well since moving to one nap, then it could go either way. Usually, early morning waking is because of a too-late bedtime in children this age, but she is taking a long time to go to sleep, so it could be that she is just overly tired. I would keep notes and slowly try different bedtimes.Oh…I just saw your second comment. Since she has always been taking a long time to fall asleep, I would question other things like if she is comfortable (maybe she would like a pillow?), warm enough/cool enough, noises around the house. I would also question her bedtime routine. Is it consistent and conducive toward sleep?After you have addressed all of those issues, I would work with bedtime time.

  13. Hi! I referred to your blog often when my son was little, and he's now 15 months. I was feeling very "lost" this morning in how to parent him, and suddenly it occurred to me that I should check to see if you had any wisdom. I feel so much better, and I'm off to buy the PreToddlerWise book! THANK YOU for giving me a boost of confidence!

  14. Hello! My girl is 16 months now and we had no issues with her sleeping schedule. She's always taken 2 naps. As soon as I put her down for a nap she fell asleep immediately. We travel alot and take our pak and play. She's never had any issues sleeping in there but recently we moved temporarily to another state. We go back and forth every 2 weeks. Weather is hotter in the new place and the apartment is smaller but she has her own room. She's sleeping in a pak and play. The first night she fell asleep immediately since we were flying all day. The next morning I tried putting her down for her first nap around 9am (she wakes around 6:45am) and refused to sleep so I let it go thinking she's slowly phasing out the first nap. I gave her lunch and around 12:30pm tried putting her down for a nap. She still refused and cried, I ended up putting her in her stroller around 2:30pm and she fell asleep. I tried the whole thing over again the 2nd day and she cried each time I put her down for a nap. We are on our 3rd day in the new place and today she didn't even take a nap. Her bed time is 7pm and she was so exhausted that she barely ate. I'm exhausted as well, any advice you have for me would be appreciated. Thank you!!

    • Try to get the room temp the same as she is used to if possible. Are you traveling time zones? When you back to then original state, does she sleep like normal? It could just be her becoming more aware and realizing she is in a different location. It could be some early separation anxiety. It could also be random teething pain. She could have an ear that didn't pop when flying (McKennas ears do this and she is in pain for a whole around then).


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