For your child, the journey to independence is an exciting, frequently frustrating, and sometimes frightening adventure. By the time your child is three years old, she has made remarkable developmental strides -- some willingly, others less so. These strides are not only intellectual but social and emotional as well. Though still dependent upon you, your three year old has begun to establish her sense of self and many of the elements of her adult personality. In short, she becomes a person.

As your baby grows and progresses, you change, in her eyes, as surely as her self-concept changes. As she becomes more perceptive and more aware of herself as a separate entity, she casts you in a variety of roles. Some of these roles, such as caregiver and disciplinarian, continue for many years. Other roles -- such as the omnipotent creature who ceases to exist when your baby cannot see you -- are transitory.

Your awareness of the whys and hows of your child's ever-changing concept of herself and of you can make your child's journey to a healthy independence an easier one for all concerned. In this article, we will track the developmental changes in your child over the following sections:

  • The Parent-Infant Bond While it may seem obvious or redundant, the strongest and most lasting bond a child forms is with his or her parents. The relationship you form with your child, even in infancy, can significantly affect the relationships your child will establish as he matures. Clearly, any discussion of how children mature would have to start with the parent-infant bond. In this section, we will examine how you and your newborn interact, and the lasting effects that interaction can have.
  • A Child's Responses, Birth to Two Months In the first few months a newborn's behavior is mostly a series of instinctual responses and reflexes to outside stimuli. Reflexes like grasping or the Moro reflex come fully formed out of the womb and are completely unlearned behaviors. In this section, we will cover the newborns behaviors and modes of expression -- especially crying. Did you know that each child has his own distinct crying pattern?  We will also examine how your baby looks affects the way you or other adults will treat him. Even for an infant, looks are everything.
  • A Child's Reactions, Two to Three Months As soon as three months your child will appear much more responsive. This is just one example how surprisingly fast your baby's development will advance.  For instance, you might notice that your baby tends to look more at you than at strangers or other objects in the room. Also, your baby will begin to smile more directly at you or other people --what is called a "social smile." Finally, you will notice that your baby is able to participate more with you and react to your movements.
  • A Child's Interactions, Four to Five Months In the first few months of life, most newborn behavior is fairly interchangeable. This is partially due to the unlearned reflexes they are born with, but also because they lack many of the abilities people use to express themselves. By four months, however, your baby will start to have special smiles they use in particular occasions. Most children also start babbling at this stage, which is the precursor to talking. Babies will also begin laughing during this time -- a sound that will warm any parents heart. Of course, with this increases awareness of the world around them comes additional problems.
  • A Child's Behavior, Six to Twelve MonthsAs the world begins to open up for your child, you can expect a certain amount of fear and apprehension.  This anxiety manifests itself in two main ways: separating anxiety and stranger anxiety. Separation anxiety manifests itself when your baby starts crying as you leave the room. We will show you several ways to cope with this behavior. Another sign of fear in your child is stranger anxiety. This behavior will manifest itself in your baby's tendency to cry when people he does not recognize approach him. We will also explore your changing relationship with your baby as he begins to realize the ways he can manipulate his parents.
  • A Child's Development, Twelve to Eighteen MonthsYou and your baby have built a significant and powerful attachment during your first year together. At this point we will take a moment to reflect on this relationship and how it will contribute to your child's overall development. We will also explore your baby's growing sense of self-awareness. Around this time your child should be able recognize himself in the mirror. Finally we will discuss how your baby will use a transitional object like a stuffed animal or a blanket to begin transferring his dependence on you to self-reliance.
  • A Child's Advancements, Eighteen Months to Two YearsThe biggest change in the second year occurs when most children learn to speak. Once your child is able to express what he is thinking or feeling a whole new world of intimacy opens between the two of you. As you might guess from the name, your child will also enter the "terrible twos" around this time. During the terrible twos your child will believe he is the center of the universe. Your child will probably also discover the power of the word, "no," and employ it constantly. Strangely, your child's separation fears will also intensify during this period. While they say they want independence, they really need stability now more than ever.
  • A Child's Independence, the Third YearWe will conclude our journey of child maturity with the third year. In the third year the major conflict facing parents will be setting and enforcing rules. At this age, your child is old enough to disobey and willful enough to challenge your authority. We will offer some tips for dealing with confrontations and techniques to employ like the time-out. We will also look at your child's expanding self-image and the flourishing of his imagination. Next, we will question television's role in a child's life. Finally, we explore the mixed emotions that a parent feels when their children begin to pull away from them.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.