Understanding Cognitive and Social Development in a Newborn

Baby girl is sitting on a double bed with her mother and they have baby toys and stacking cups around hem. The little girl is high-fiving her mother.
Parents who promote a feeling of basic trust allow their children to develop deeper human relationships in later life. SolStock / Getty Images

In passing suddenly from the watery, dark environment of the womb to an existence outside the mother's body, the newborn is cut off from his former dependence on his mother's blood supply. The baby must begin to use his own lungs to breathe air and his own stomach to digest food.

 An infant spends his first days recovering from his mother's labor. Mechanisms for breathing, digestion, circulation, elimination, body temperature regulation, and hormonal secretion must stabilize to begin this new and independent life. As this reorganization takes place, infants are at the mercy of their reflexes, startling easily in response to sudden changes and flinging their arms out in panic if they feel themselves falling. Thus begins an increasingly independent existence for the baby, a process we call development. Learn about the phases of a newborn's mental and social growth process in the following sections:


  • Newborn Cognitive Development Cognitive development encompasses the acquisition of knowledge and includes everything from a baby recognizing her mother to learning to sing the alphabet song. In this section, we tackle the widely debated "nature versus nurture" topic as it applies to your baby's development, including expert opinions on the effects of environment on intelligence. We examine what constitutes normal development of a baby and provide a general outline of what behaviors to expect when. Finally, this section discusses reasonable expectations and warns against comparing your child with other children.
You, as a parent, control or compose a large part of your child's environment -- which means that, having already supplied the "nature," you are now supplying the "nurture." Your contributions can help your baby's development, as you will learn in this section. Read about the importance of building trust, bonding and spending time with your newborn. Learn how to provide stimulation with toys and conversation, and the importance of allowing your baby to enjoy alone time. We also discuss knowing the limitation of your influence and acknowledging your child's uniqueness.
There are dozens of child development theories, but the four experts discussed in this section have contributed some of the most valued insights in the area of cognitive development. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, explains the acquisition of knowledge as an interplay between a child and his environment, and describes four stages of cognitive evolution. American pediatrician Arnold Gesell theorizes that genetics decide the timetable for development. According to Gesell, maturation develops from head to foot at a predictable pace. Both Erik Erikson, a child psychoanalyst, and Benjamin Spock, the dean of American pediatricians, take a more individualized approach to the subject.
A child's communication begins with her first cries and gradually expands to include facial expressions, gestures, and, finally, speech. But long before your baby utters her first words, she's been listening to the speech around her, learning to recognize patterns. This section examines the milestones of language development, from babbling to syllable repetition to word formation. Here you'll learn when you can realistically expect to hear baby's first word and her first sentence. Also included are guidelines on providing encouragement by speaking distinctly and simplifying directions and explanations. Also read about the difference between "receptive" and "expressive" speech.
A newborn's initial social circle will naturally include his parents, immediate family, and primary caregiver (if someone other than a parent). This section addresses the development of relationships between a newborn and his parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Learn about the phases of a baby's parental bond, from complete dependence through the first stages of independence -- including an explanation of separation anxiety and advice on handling it. Find out how a baby reacts to his siblings initially and how that relationship evolves. Plus, read some tips on making family gatherings enjoyable.
Although babies enjoy the sight and company of other children their age, they are too young to interact in any meaningful way. As you'll read in this section, children under the age of three generally engage in parallel play, which simply means playing next to one another. Learn about the progression from parallel play to associative play, an unstructured play where children tend to vie for the same toys, to cooperative play, in which children begin to share and follow rules. In this section, you'll find guidelines to establishing and joining play groups. You'll also learn the dos and don'ts of birthday parties for children.

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.