Babies: A developmental overview

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All children are different in their rate of development in each area , such as movement, talking and getting along with others. This information is meant only as a general guide for this age period. It's important not to compare your child to other children too much. And don't expect more of your child than he's yet able to do - it will only be frustrating for both of you.


What an exciting time! You and your baby are discovering each other, and your child is discovering the world. Your newborn is dependent on you for everything, but has more capacities and abilities than you'd think. The best way to learn about your baby is to spend lots of time with him. You'll learn about his temperament, about how sensitive he is to touch, sounds and sights, about what upsets him. Each child is unique and requires different care.

Newborns go through a cycle of sleeping, eating, crying and being alert. Many sleep 18 out of 24 hours, but it's often in short periods, and usually during the day more than the night. You'll have to help him learn the difference between night and day, such as by darkening the room and keeping things quiet at night. During the first few weeks, many parents feed "on demand" (whenever the baby seems hungry), but by about three months you can begin to establish a routine.

Crying is your baby's easiest way to get attention and tell you what he needs. You cannot spoil a baby by meeting his needs in the first year of life. It's common for babies to cry more and more during the first six weeks. Then it usually eases off, as they learn to soothe themselves. When your baby cries, you should go to him and try to figure out if he is hungry, wet or just needs to be held. Not responding to crying often makes a baby cry more. A newborn isn't trying to please you or upset you - he doesn't know how. He just lets you know when he needs something, or is upset or happy.

To help your baby learn about the world, make sure he has safe things to look at (like mobiles and pictures), listen to (like music or a rattle), feel (like fabric or soft toys) and hold and bite (like teething rings, rattle, plastic cups and bottles).

Three months

By three months, your baby should be a little more predictable for eating and sleeping times. She'll also have longer periods of being alert, and will be more interested in what's around her. She'll be good at eye contact with you and will smile at people more.

She'll move her arms and legs more, reach for things and enjoy looking at objects. She'll also be making cooing sounds, like "ooh" and "aah," and will enjoy listening to you talk to her. Whenever you're with her, carry on a running conversation - you're actually helping her learn to talk by letting her hear lots of language sounds.

Six months

By six months, you'll probably notice that your baby is happier being with you and other people he knows well instead of with strangers. Making your baby feel protected and comforted will promote a secure attachment. He'll try to get your attention more, and will like being close to you, having you read stories and so on. He'll also enjoy two-way games, like peek-a-boo. Seeing himself in a mirror and seeing other babies will also be popular.

By now, your baby can make some gestures to show what he wants, such as raising his arms when he wants to be lifted. He also likes to make things happen, such as shaking an object to make a noise. He can also move a toy from hand to mouth, and bang a spoon placed in his hand. And about now he's probably responding to his name, looking up at you when you say it. He coos, chuckles, gurgles and makes some consonant and vowel sounds. He can probably stay alert for about two hours at a time.

You'll notice he shows more emotions and moods, and they can change very quickly. He can express sadness, anger, happiness and excitement. He can also begin to quiet down on his own - an infant can self-soothe by sucking, but still needs his parents to comfort him when he is overwhelmed.

One year

At about a year old, your baby will be actively learning about what's around her, with fearlessness and curiosity. She will be walking alone any time now, and can grasp objects with thumb and forefinger. She'll be really focussed on you, and will want to keep you in sight as she explores. The more a caregiver is available to a child, providing a relationship she can count on, the more it promotes forming a secure attachment. She learns to function independently, because she feels confident and safe.As she tries to become independent, she needs to be allowed to feed herself and help with dressing, such as by putting her arms up. She learns by doing things over and over, and will like the same stories and games repeated. You'll notice that she's also a great imitator of adult behaviour - she likes to "perform."

She'll say her first word about now, and she can follow simple commands, like "come to Mommy," and understand simple questions, like "where's the ball?". She's also starting to learn what "no" means. Make sure your home is safe, because she can get around more now. It's a good idea at this stage for both child and parent to socialize with other babies and adults, such as in play groups or coffee groups.

18 months

As your child approaches 18 months, he is feeling more independent, and also as if he's the centre of the universe - but not in a bad way. He's learning that he's a separate person, which is wonderful and scary for him all at the same time. Your child may try to learn about your limits by testing you in different situations. As he becomes more of an individual, he'll be very curious and "get into things."

Physically, a child of this age typically can go up and down stairs with his hand held, throw a ball, sit down from standing and "dance" to music. He can also stack a few blocks, turn pages in a book, scribble, and fill and empty containers.

Socially, your child will enjoy playing near other children, but not necessarily with them - there isn't any sharing yet. He can feed himself but is still messy; he can also drink out of a cup. He's beginning to pretend play and initiate activities. He doesn't understand "later" though, so still probably wants everything right now.

He can use about 10 or 20 words, but understand many more, and babble away in what seem like sentences but may as well be a foreign language. You can probably understand him about a quarter of the time. He uses gestures a lot now, and likes to play "what's that?" a great deal.

Things to remember about infancy:

  • Long before your child can talk, he is trying to tell you things by sending you cues about what he needs, wants and feels Babies are learning language before they begin to speak. Even when he's only a few months old, your baby will be testing different types of cries, gurgles, facial expressions and so on to see how you and the other people around him respond. He'll learn to repeat the types of cries and movements that produce the results he wants. Learning how effective he is at "making things happen" helps him to develop self-esteem and a willingness to try new things. When your baby makes sounds, repeat them and add to them.
  • You can't spoil a baby by responding to her needs. Babies are born with a need for human contact. And in the process, you're learning more about her, and she's learning more about you - in particular, that she can count on you.
  • Learning to "read" your baby is often fun and can seem easy. You smile, he smiles. He reaches out, you take his hand. But it can also be hard. For example, if he turns his head away when you speak, it feels awful, like rejection. But he's just telling you he is overtired or overstimulated. Or perhaps because he is very sensitive to noise, he may be telling you he needs your voice to be softer - or just to leave him alone for the moment. It will take some trial and error to figure out what your baby is trying to tell you, so don't be discouraged.
  • Your baby forms a "secure attachment" to you as you respond well to your child's needs and care for her. Babies need to know they can rely on you for consistent care. The routines and rituals you establish are part of the secure base you provide for your baby. This attachment becomes part of the brain's wiring and sets the basic model for all future close relationships.
  • Quality time depends on quantity of time. All the occasions when you're able to spend a few minutes with your child won't necessarily be happy, special times - when you seem to be close and communicating with each other. You have to spend lots of time getting used to each other and bonding for those special moments to occur. And when you really focus on your child, even during routine, everyday things, those moments will happen more and more.
  • Toys don't replace your personal attention. Giving a child toys and other safe things to play with is an important part of providing a stimulating environment, but playing WITH your child is also essential to your child's well-being.
  • Even when you seem to be pulled in many directions at once, it's important to make time for your baby. If you have a partner, try to work it out so that you take turns with chores and with spending time for the baby. Housework isn't the highest priority. Build a network of friends, relatives and neighbours - we can all use a bit of help.
  • Babies experience relationships through their senses, so lots of talking, cuddling and eye contact are the way to tell your child you love her. It's not humanly possible to always be there when she wants a hug, but do notice when she's "asking" for one and do your best to deliver. You can't spoil a baby by meeting her needs.
  • Babies are most ready to learn when they are calm and alert, in a quiet environment. This is a good time to spend with them, and to play.

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