By the time your toddler is twenty-four to thirty months old, he or she will be able to create mental symbols and ideas. These multisensory pictures allow your toddler to form a mental image of his or her wants and desires, and your toddler can label it with words. This means that instead of tugging your sleeve to pull you to the cupboard for a cracker, he or she will simply look at you and say, “Cracker. Now!”

As your toddler learns to use verbal shortcuts to get his needs met, he is connecting the physical sensation of hunger with a desire to do something about it. Your toddler is tapping previous encounters with the feeling of hunger and remembering how to get relief from that feeling, and he is doing it with words  rather than actions.

Making the transition to a life that includes mental symbols is exhilarating but also exhausting. As your toddler takes big steps toward understanding the world in a new way, she will also be frightened from time to time because so many ideas will be swimming in her mind. With an imagination working overtime, your toddler may become more dependent or clingy and may have nightmares.

You can help ease your child’s transition to a life of the mind by offering calming embraces as he or she learns which new ideas are real and which are fantasy. Your toddler depends on you to be a nurturing, secure base.