5 Ways to Enhance Your Baby's Motor Skills

Motor control starts in the center of the body and moves outward. See this article for tips on enhancing your baby's development. See more baby care pictures.
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The motor milestones that occur during your baby's first year may seem unrelated to one another, but in fact they happen in sequence. Development usually progresses from head to foot, with skills involving the head and arms developing before those that involve the legs and feet. Motor control also progresses from the center of the body outward, which means that your baby will be able to control her torso before she can manipulate her fingers and toes.

The following are some of the most important milestones from head to toe, and suggestions for enhancing your baby's development.

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1

Head Control

One of the first things new parents are taught is to support the baby's head because baby can't do it himself until about 3 months of age.

  • Once his neck muscles strengthen, he'll be able to do "mini push-ups," raising both head and chest off the floor.
  • By about 7 months of age, your baby will attain full control of his head and will be able to hold it steady for a long time while sitting on your lap or being held upright.

To help baby develop head control:

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1. Place your baby stomach-down on the floor. Do this several times a day to let him practice.

2. Entice your baby to lift his head. Put an unbreakable mirror or large picture in front of him, or get down on the floor face-to-face with him.

2

Reaching and Grasping

Babies can begin picking up objects with thumb and forefinger by 8 or 9 months.
Babies can begin picking up objects with thumb and forefinger by 8 or 9 months.
Lynn James/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Most infants start waving or batting at objects by 3 months of age, an impulse that quickly becomes more refined.

  • By 5 or 6 months, your child should master visually directed reaching, which means she's able to see an object and reach for and grasp it with her hand.
  • By 8 or 9 months, as your baby learns to grasp with her thumb and forefinger, she can pick up surprisingly small objects — crumbs of food, for example, and, unfortunately, bits of dust and dirt from the floor. You'll have to keep a watchful eye on baby, because she'll be tempted to taste whatever she picks up.

Try these four suggestions to encourage development of baby's eye-hand coordination:

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1. Install a crib gym. This allows him to bat at the objects overhead. (To be safe, remove it from the crib as soon as he can sit up.)

2. While your baby lies on his back on the floor, dangle eye-catching objects above him. Shake them three to eight inches above his head, giving him the opportunity to swipe at them.

3. To help your 4-month-old baby practice grasping objects, hand her rattles or other safe items to hold. Things that make noise when she shakes them, or have a nice texture to gum on, may encourage her to keep her grip.

4. Place several toys within reach. Let her grasp for things as she lies on her stomach on the floor.

3

Rolling Over

While gaining control of their unwieldy head is a gradual process, turning over is one milestone that seems to appear out of the blue in babies — a milestone that parents anxiously await.

  • At 4 or 5 months, your baby will be able to roll over in one direction only (either back-to-stomach or stomach-to-back).
  • She probably won't be able to flip herself in the opposite direction until 6 or 7 months.

You can encourage rolling by:

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1. Providing baby with plenty of space and opportunity to practice. The floor is always great for this.

2. Praise baby. Talk to her and encourage her as she practices rolling.

3. Hold an object of interest, such as a rattle or a baby mirror, next to her. This can catch her attention and entice her to turn her body to see it.

4

Sitting Up

By around 4 months of age, babies are able to sit when propped up.
By around 4 months of age, babies are able to sit when propped up.
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Once a baby can roll over, sitting up isn't far behind. Babies have a whole new view of the world when they learn to sit up. So it's as exciting for them as it is for their parents!

  • By about 4 months of age, your baby can sit when propped up.
  • By 6 months your baby may have some success sitting in a high chair, and sometime before 1 year of age, she'll perfect the art of sitting unaided.

To help baby practice sitting skills:

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1. Place him in your lap, facing outward, while you sit cross-legged on the floor. Your stomach and legs will provide the necessary support for his back.

2. Prop baby on a standard pillow or a U-shaped pillow. Let him experience the sensation of sitting with your supervision.

5

Crawling and Walking

Before crawling begins, a baby will likely get himself up on his hands and knees.
Before crawling begins, a baby will likely get himself up on his hands and knees.
Laurence Monneret/Getty Images

Between 8 and 13 months, your child will achieve some form of locomotion. Parents often view crawling and walking as the greatest physical milestones for their babies. While it's very exciting, you should remember that each child develops uniquely and at his own pace. If you have concerns about your baby's development about locomotion, discuss it with his pediatrician. But most babies will follow a recognizable pattern of learning locomotion:

  • First he'll likely get himself up on his hands and knees.
  • Next he'll rock back and forth in an effort to move forward.
  • He'll develop different ways of getting around, such as rocking, swiveling, rolling, and squirming on his tummy.
  • After about a month of this, you'll see him begin to progress toward a true crawl.
  • Many babies learn to crawl backward first, but it's not long before they learn to crawl in the right direction.
  • Not all babies crawl in the same fashion. In fact, some don't crawl at all and instead insist on walking with an adult holding their hands. Others bounce on their bottom, scoot along on their stomach, or do a "bear walk," crawling with arms and legs extended.

No matter which style of motion your baby chooses, this stage brings her unprecedented freedom and opportunity to explore.

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Try encouraging your baby to learn locomotion skills with these simple games:

1. Play crawling "tag." This can be great fun for babies who are learning to locomote. Crawl after your baby, saying, "I'm gonna get you!" Then crawl away, encouraging her to follow. Try hiding behind a piece of furniture and letting her "find" you.

2. Create an obstacle course. Fill the room with things your baby can practice crawling over, under or around.

Safety Tips

Now that your baby is moving around, it's essential that you provide him with safe places to play. Thoroughly babyproof your house and yard; this means protecting your baby from potential danger as well as safeguarding your valuables.

Your baby will begin climbing up stairs and furniture during this period as well. Unfortunately, most babies learn to climb up steps long before they're able to descend. You can try to teach your young one how to crawl down safely (feet first, on her tummy), but she'll still require supervision. Place a gate at the top of staircases, and another on the third or fourth step from the bottom (so your child can safely practice climbing on the bottom few steps). If the slats or spindles on a stair rail or landing are more than three inches apart, install Plexiglas or safety mesh so that baby won't fall through them.

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One of the greatest joys a parent experiences is watching the wonder, frustration, and joy as their child moves through the various stages of development. Each stage is unique and wonderful. Enjoy and treasure these moments of discovery with baby!

Reporting by Jenny Friedman, PhD

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

Content courtesy of American Baby.