Summary of Cognitive Leaps from 18 months on

I have been documenting the cognitive leaps that children go through from 18 months on. The book Wonder Weeks describes these cognitive leaps where a child, at a predictable age, becomes fussy, but then has a burst of new ability following this. Their research ends at 18 months, and they found 10 leaps in these first 18 months.

I put together rough notes with my first child and by getting feedback from moms. I have been able to add more detail as my second child goes through the leaps. If the leaps are numbered, it means more detail was added and they are more likely to be accurate, because my second went through them (so I have more data points). If the leaps are not numbers but instead have “##” as the number, they are rough notes and likely need refined.

I will be making a video series with more in depth knowledge about each. I will also document these in my Observant Mom book series (Toddler one coming by the end of the years).

If you have input about these, please email me at helloamber – at- gmail (dotcom). I like feedback of all kind and I am especially interested in the possible neuroscience behind these leaps.

Glad you visited 🙂

Observant Mom

Leap 11

Enunciation; Fine Motor Skills; Knows Many More Words, mostly nouns

Starts: 18 months

Stormiest: 18 months, 1 week

Ends: 19 Months

Fussy Period Summary

•             Very clingy

•             Meltdowns

•             Sleep schedule jumps around

New Abilities Summary

•             Says new words, about one new one per day

•             Many fine motor skills

•             More respectful of others, e.g., doesn’t step on their brother

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 12

Greater Persistence of Thought and Action: Follows a Story Better; Knows More Words, both nouns and verbs; Can count up to 2

Starts: 19 Months, 3 Weeks

Stormiest: 20 Months

Ends: After 20 Months

Fussy Period Summary

•             Sleep problems

•             Extra crankiness

•             Wants to be held and put down over and over

•             Wants a lovey to go with them places

New Abilities Summary

•             Says many words, mostly nouns and verbs

•             Builds more things

•             Follows simple instructions

•             Understands simple, dramatic stories

•             Knows 1 or 2 colors

•             Can understand the idea of counting

•             Tries to sing part of song

•             Can arrange objects as to represent something real, e.g., Mr. Potato Head

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 13

Concrete to Abstract Thinking: Understands Abstract/Drawn Ideas Better; Many Practical Life Activities; Responds to Questions; Understands Adjectives Better, e.g., the cow’s nose

Starts: 21 Months, 1 Week

Stormiest: 21 months, 3 weeks

Ends: 22 months

Fussy Period Summary

•             Cranky, asking to be held a lot

•             Picky, e.g., about what clothes to wear or other similar issue

•             Stalls at bedtime

•             Wants a lovey

•             More demanding

New Abilities Summary

•             Practical life activities explodes: turning lights on and off, buckling seat belts and such

•             More complete sentences

•             Simple conversational flow in how they speak

•             Responsive to questions

•             Capable of learning many colors

•             Counting (up to 2 or 3) becomes refined

•             Concrete to abstract matching games

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 14

Memory Expansion

Starts: 22 Months, 3 weeks

Stormiest: 23 months

End: 23 months, 3 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Clingy

•             Defiant

•             Crying

•             Skips naps

•             Wants mommy and only mommy at certain times

•             Demanding of time

New Abilities Summary

•             Learns many words rapidly in a short amount of time

•             Persists at activities that are more open ended and require visual discrimination, such as putting a train track set together

•             Increase in memory, such as singing almost an entire song

•             Very careful in handling and transferring objects

•             Initiates conversations

•             More complex sentences, with subjects, objects, verbs, and adjectives

•             Re-enacts simple stories

•             Better at puzzles, knobbed cylinders

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 15

Persistence and Insistence: Comes Back to a Challenge Day after Day

Starts: 2 years, 0 months,1 week

Stormiest: 2 years, 1 month

Ends: 2 years, 1 month, 1 week

Fussy Period Summary

•             Bossy

•             Whiny

•             Won’t nap, stalls at naptime

•             Clumsy (may be from not napping)

•             Takes clothes off

•             Shows fear

•             Wants things done the exact same way as days earlier

New Abilities Summary

•             Can count up to 10 accurately

•             Persists at a challenge day after day

•             Remembers how something was done from a few days ago

•             Very conversational

•             Speaking skills are now at two sentences, e.g., “Hi, mommy. It’s nice to see you.”

•             Very persistent at challenges, e.g., a jigsaw puzzle

•             Can verbally state emotions

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 16

Decision Making : Alters Their Course if One Isn’t Working; Can answer a question if asked

Starts: 2 years, 1 months, 2 weeks

Stormiest: 2 years, 2 months

Fussy Period Summary

•             Wants to be held

•             Wants to cuddle

•             Cries for seeming no reason

•             Asks for help

•             Stubborn/wants their own way

•             Fearful

•             Plays jokes, e.g., hides things from you on purpose

New Abilities Summary

•             Can make a decision after someone asks them a question

•             Can alter their course if one way isn’t working

•             Compares many things, e.g., big and small, or loud and quiet

•             Initiates conversations and activities a lot more

•             Initiate jokes and games with others

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 17

Deliberate Rearranging and Creation: Putting on Plays from Books, Recreating a Pattern from a Picture, Sorting materials by length or size

Starts: 2 Years, 3 Months, 3 Weeks

Stormiest: 2 years, 4 months (but after this is still pretty bad) and 2 years, 5 months

Ends: 2 years, 5 months, 2 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Fear of abandonment

•             Confusion of fake things as real things

•             Doesn’t nap

•             Bossy

•             Defiant

•             Possessive of primary caregiver

•             Major meltdowns

New Abilities Summary

•             You can see them thinking

•             Follow a pattern to build something, e.g., Tantagrams

•             Pretends like they are a favorite character, e.g., Snow White or Thomas the Train

•             Might put on a play based on a book or build a model of a city or train track from a map

•             Moves around furniture and items in the house

•             Plays with language; very fluent

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 18

Understands Sequence of Events: Understands yesterday, today, tomorrow; Gives reasons for actions; Asks about Past Events

Starts: 2 Years, 6 Months, 1 Week

Stormiest: 2 years, 7 Months

Ends: 2 years, 7 months, 2 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Carries lovies around

•             Wants to be near primary caregiver

•             A desire to stay up until very late at night, talking

•             Deliberately tells mistruths

•             Refuses naps, even though very sleepy

•             Very jealous

•             Will not want to leave a fun activity

New Abilities Summary

•             Understands, “First this, then this”

•             Understands “yesterday” and “tomorrow”

•             Remembers past events and wants to talk about them again

•             Beginning steps to sounding out letter sounds to read a word

•             Uses the word “because,” e.g., “I am not going to cry, because I am happy.”

•             Beginning concern to solve problems/help others but without particulars, e.g., a baby is crying and they say “We need to help the baby!”

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 19

Creative Matching of Solutions to Problems: Comes up with Unique Solution to Problem; Can Learn New Things on the Spot

Starts: 2 Years, 7 Months, 3 Weeks

Stormiest: 2 years, 8 months

Ends: 2 years, 8 months, 2 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Refuses naps, screams that you left them alone

•             Keeps stalling at bedtime to do one more thing

•             Very particular, e.g., insists on wearing a particular shirt, dress, or pants

•             Refuses to move to solve a very simple problem, e.g., a toy is a few feet away but they won’t get it but instead cry for it

•             Jealous if caregiver gives attention to another child or person

•             Tells deliberate mistruths, e.g., says mommy is daddy

New Abilities Summary

•             Can come up with a solution to a new problem that arises to them, e.g., if they notice it is cloudy, they might get an umbrella

•             Attempts to solve a much more complex problem on their own on the spot, e.g., putting batteries in a remote

•             Can correct themselves on the spot better, e.g, they say something wrong and you say it the right way, they say it then the right way.

•             Matches a song to what is going on

•             Colors objects properly

•             Makes up a play about so and so helping someone else

•             Identify themselves as “thinking”

•             Says, “I don’t know”

•             Beginning empathy, or, rather, concern for others

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Summary



Leap 20

Holds on to Ideas Mentally Longer and Uses Those Ideas: Can compare and act on ideas not immediately present to them

Starts: 2 Years, 8 Months, 3 Weeks

Stormiest: 2 years, 9 months

Ends: 2 years, 9 months, 2 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Stalls at bedtime

•             Cries easily

•             Possessive

•             Blocks people from moving

New Abilities Summary

•             Clever in figuring out how to get their own way, e.g., if they get to use a phone after a bath, they ask to take a bath often.

•             Can notice a pattern between things even if they aren’t immediately in their sight, e.g., while looking at a tomato says it looks like an apple

•             Follows and commits to more longer term verbal instructions better, e.g., “The safe spot is the side walk, Please stand there.”

•             Sensitive to what you think of them

•             Demonstrates that they do not want to hurt someone else

•             Asks “Why?” often

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 21

Budding Morality, Strong Opinions, Imagination, and Understanding Short Term Future Plans: Considers what actions are right to take when

Starts: 2 Years,9 Months, 3 Weeks

Stormiest: 2 years, 10 months

Ends: 2 years, 10 months, 2 weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Whiny

•             Possessive of primary caregiver

•             In seeming disbelief of what is in front of their eyes, e.g., complains that butter is not on bread when it is.

•             A large time delay in responding to real events, e.g., after their head gets stuck in a shirt, several seconds after they are no longer stuck, they break out into tears about it.

•             Wants all toys, food, for themselves

•             Wants to stay up late

•             Strong desire to do things themselves, resulting in meltdowns if they can’t

•             Extreme, major meltdowns, probably in public

•             Bossy to others about their role as they solve a problem they are working on

•             Does not handle change well, even immediate change, such as moving a utensil

New Abilities Summary

•             Evaluates courses of action as right or wrong based on time to apply the action, harm done, or what is ideal behavior, e.g., show dad a picture you drew when dad gets home, try not to spill the milk while carrying it, don’t hit because it hurts

•             Can be involved in planning activities, e.g., bedtime routine

•             Fully understands short term future plans and makes their desired role in those plans known, asks about what the plans are, tells others where they should be in those plans

•             Vivid imagination, makes up simple stories, e.g., person at the door “might be a monster”

•             States their strong likes and dislikes

•             Understands something in a process even though it goes out of sight, e.g., food goes into your belly

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Leap 22

Follows Directions and Instructions, Understands the Function of Objects Better Picks the Right Tool for a Job

Starts: 2 Years, 11 months

Stormiest: 2 Years, 11 Months

Ends: 2 years, 11 Months, 2 Weeks

Fussy Period Summary

•             Wants a lot of attention

•             Whiny

•             Meltdowns

•             Wants to be “in” everything, including medicine and such that they shouldn’t be in

•             Wants to “help” do everything

•             Attached to your leg

•             Won’t accept “No” as an answer

•             Becomes a back seat driver, dictating what street they want you to go down

•             Plays with picking the wrong tool for a job, e.g., brushes hair with a book

New Abilities Summary

•             Does accept “No” as an answer

•             Understands directions of how to get around, such as how to get around a relatively new place such as a new restaurant or how to get somewhere familiar by car

•             Is much more willing to adhere to requests, even if against their own whim at the time, e.g., please don’t get into a pool that you are filling up with water

•             Better emotional control, e.g., collects themselves after they fall

•             Puts on plays of their own design

•             Interested in small details

Fussy Period Description

New Abilities Description



Preschool Leaps

Leap ## tbd
Leap of tbd
Starts: 3 years, 2 months, 1 week
Stormiest: tbd
Ends: 3 years, 3 months
Fussy period
Won’t eat
Sleep disruptions
Clingy, whiny
New Skills
Obeys requests better, such as “no hitting”
Plays nicer
Interested in good versus bad

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Deductive Reasoning/Imagination (tentative name—these may be separate leaps)
Starts: 3 years, 5 months, 2 weeks
Stormiest: 3 years, 7 months, 1 week (do not know if it’s 2 separate leaps or not yet)
End: tbd
Fussy period
Wants connection but might “ask” for it by hitting
Rearranges many things in the house, e.g., where garbage cans were or what sheets to use
Can be destructive in this rearranging
Sleep disruptions
Cries easily at stormier part
New skills
[These might appear at earlier leaps]

More focused on new and more complex activities such as coloring and gluing
Highly imaginative about what they might like to do, e.g., build a new road somewhere
Some if/then logic, e.g., set a plate out for dad if he’s home but not if he’s not home
May ask what the rules are
Can infer conclusions from observed facts, e.g., a garbage can is on the driveway but dad already put one away, so this one on the driveway must be a neighbor’s garbage
Can understand the simple moral themes of a story, e.g., “Luke has to decide to be a good guy or bad guy”

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Mastery (tentative name)
Starts: 3 years, 8 months, 1 week
Stormiest: tbd
End: tbd
Fussy period
Refuses to go to bed
Imagines fake threats against them, “Tigers are chasing me!”
Expresses fears about real things, e.g., snakes
Warning: Scary movies may be too much during the fussy period of this leap
New skills
Better mastery over skills, e.g, drawing
Recreates real objects as art in stunning detail; and initiates own projects
Can develop “encyclopedic” knowledge on a favorite topic
Interested in mastering writing letters
Tells stories; likes to pretend to be in stories; loves to watch even a feature length movie
Sensitive to what you think of them; they want you to see the good things
Estimates the amount of time something might take

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Rational Alternatives and Experimentation (tentative name)
Starts: 3 years, 9 months, 2 weeks
Stormiest: tbd
End: 3 years 10 months, 1 week (at the earliest)
Fussy period
Wants a say in things like where you go or how you do it and has a meltdown if you don’t do it a certain way.
New skills
Formally tests one idea as better or worse than another, e.g., builds a rocket and tests which can go higher
Capable of holding several factors in their mind mentally and making a decision, e.g., if a moving vehicle is near but doesn’t have their turning signal on to go the direction you are, you can still cross the road
Considers solutions to problems that may satisfy all involved.
Really wants to make their own decisions.
Verifies if statements said are right or wrong, e.g., if you say it’s raining, they go and check.
Shows stronger identification with their gender (don’t know if this is really related to the leap or not)

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Advocating Their Case (tentative name)
Starts: 3 years, 11 months, 3 weeks
Stormiest: 4 years, 1 months, 1 week
End: 4 years, 0 months, 2 weeks (at earliest)
Fussy period
Hitting, throwing, taking, acting out
Can be withdrawn, quiet, and clingy
New skills
Always listening, watching, and understanding what adults say and do
Puts together a case for themselves as to why they can do X based on the information they gather on their own now, e.g., I don’t need to give you this book because you already have a book.
Understands the rules of games better
Joins in many practical life activities, takes instruction, and executes them well, e.g., putting together a salad
An ability to take in several variables and make an exact right decision or come up with a solution has been characteristic of a child when they turn 4.

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Beginning Social Skills (tentative name)
Starts: 4 years, 2 months, 3 weeks
Stormiest: tbd
End: 4 years, 3 months, 2 weeks (at a minimum)
Fussy period
Wants their own way
Wants to stay up late
Spins in circles (while holding objects which crash into things)
Harasses others
Refuses to leave the house
Hops on pop (and mom)
New skills
Interested in social etiquette more, e.g., how to share a toy
Highly interested in reading
Interested in space and dinosaurs
Wants to figure out how things work
Offers realistic solutions to life problems, e.g., we can’t get coffee at the store so why don’ we make it at home.
Shows great skill in negotiating conflict

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Empathy, Emotional Restraint, Morals, and Big Picture History (tentative name)
Starts: 4 years, 5 months, 3 weeks
Stormiest: tbd
End: 4 years, 7 months
Fussy period
Refuses baths
Jumps on or hits dad
Wants to stay up late
Wants to do what you are doing or help you; gets upset if they can’t
Cuts things that should not be cut (explicitly says they do not know right from wrong)
New skills
Imaginary friends
Gets the moral of the story better and very interested in ideas on punishment, justice, empathy
Can recreate most of a play on his own or retell a story that has several paragraphs on each page.
Interested in “big picture” history
Capable of emotional restraint, of getting really angry but deciding how to respond
Expresses the knowledge that practice makes them better
Can learn to read many new words
Shows dramatic increasing empathy and desire to see others have fun or enjoy themselves. Shows respect for others, for instance by asking permission before doing something, to make sure the other person is OK with it.
Can play a board game with more strategy, e.g., Sorry
Can talk about a long range project, e.g., where to go on vacation

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Flexible and Imaginative solutions and Personal Responsiblity (tentative name)
Starts: 4 years, 10 months
Stormiest: tbd
End: 4 years, 11 months (maybe)
Fussy period
Up late at night
Wants more connection
Gets more violent when dad comes home
Purposely blames others for something they obviously did, e.g., “No you farted”
New skills
Very flexible in allowing what kind of solution might solve a problem. For instance, they now accept that a pair of black socks can work when previously they had only wore blue socks for a certain event
Says, “That’s OK. We can figure something else out.”
Can give general requests and they come up with their own solution. For instance, “We need something to play trolls in our play but we don’t have any,” and the child might bring back a different but similar figurine to be the “trolls.”
Wants to solve a problem by coming up with their own solution, e.g., catch a fish after making their own fishing rod
Admits responsibility finally for what they did. Might say, “I got really hurt when I did that, but it was my fault.”
Shows jaw dropping responsibility. Might carry their own stuff, clean their toys, take care of their siblings.
Can handle money well

Leap ## tbd
Leap of Realization of Mortality (tentative name)
Starts: 5 years (on the dot)
Stormiest: 5 years, 0 months, 2 weeks
End: tbd
Fussy period
Shows fears of realistic things, e.g.., tornadoes or fires
Needs lots of connection
Wants to play with others a lot and may hit or take to get the attention
Verbalizes their confusion, e.g., “Five year olds don’t know right from wrong”
New skills
Very interested in knowing how to respond to scary things, e.g., spiders
Extraordinarily kind and considerate
Capable of a more robust negotiation where you go back and forth to come up with a solution. My son loved to handshake and say, “Deal?”

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