Understanding Cognitive and Social Development in a Newborn

Parents who promote a feeling of basic trust allow their children to develop deeper human relationships in later life. See more baby care pictures.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

 

 

 

Newborn Cognitive Development

A newborn's cognitive development grows at an astonishing rate.
A newborn's cognitive development grows at an astonishing rate.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Cognitive development is associated with acquiring knowledge in the broadest sense. This includes the development of memory, perception, and judgment as well as the accumulation of facts. For a general discussion of newborn cognitive development, including the nature vs. nurture debate and an explanation of so-called normal development, keep reading.

Your Baby's Cognitive Development

In the seventeenth century, English philosopher John Locke described the infant mind as a tabula rasa, or blank tablet, waiting to be written upon. Two hundred years later, William James said the infant is so heavily "assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin and entrails at once" that he sees his surroundings as "one great blooming, buzzing confusion." As recently as 1964, one medical textbook claimed not only that the average newborn was unable to fix his eyes or respond to sound, but also, "consciousness, as we think of it, probably does not exist in the infant."

Now we know better. In the last 15 years, the number of studies of infant cognition have increased enormously. There are many disagreements about various findings, but researchers definitely agree the newborn comes into the world not as a passive receiver, but as a participant, ready and eager to interact with the environment. For example, although by adult standards the newborn has extremely poor vision, he can still discriminate between light and dark and focus on objects from 8 to 12 inches away. Babies' intellects are working, and working very well, long before they can talk. They perceive a great deal, and they have decided preferences as well.

From the beginning, your baby prefers to sleep in one position or another. By eight weeks, your baby is able to differentiate shapes, liking faces more than inanimate objects, and sees colors, reacting especially strongly to the bright primary colors red and blue. Your baby can distinguish the sweet taste of sugar water and prefers the smell of bananas to that of shrimp. Infants prefer higher-pitched sounds, and within a few weeks, your baby recognizes and responds to his mother's voice. In short, the senses participate in the developmental process from the moment of birth. As a Yale University psychology professor who has studied infants for more than 40 years has said about the newborn's zestful approach to life, "He's eating up the world!"

Genetics Versus Environment

Infants vary tremendously in their capabilities, just as adults do. Some of this variation can be traced to inherited differences. Recently, in fact, geneticists have postulated that, in addition to controlling skin, eye, and hair coloring, genes may control behavior under certain environmental conditions. No matter what a baby's genetic inheritance, though, her environment must supply warmth and nourishment, both emotional and physical, if the baby is to reach her full developmental potential.

A great deal of conflict exists over the degree to which intelligence is inherited. It does seem clear that intelligence is not fixed at a rigid level at birth, and many environmental factors can affect the level of a child's intelligence throughout her development. Some cognitive psychologists today believe that while perhaps the outer limits of intelligence are fixed at birth, a child's environment can make a difference of as much as 40 points in her IQ (intelligence quotient, the number indicating the level of a person's intelligence as shown by special tests). This figure is staggering when one considers it is the same as the range between the value for borderline mental retardation (80 IQ points) and the value for the average college graduate (120 IQ points). Other psychologists who have conducted classic studies of identical twins separated at birth have been more conservative, saying environment can cause a difference of as much as 20 IQ points.

Theories about the genetic inferiority or superiority of certain ethnic or racial groups cannot be proved. The differences among the environments of home, nation, tribe, and culture make genetic comparisons of entire races or ethnic groups scientifically unverifiable. Given the tremendous differences among human beings, the best we can do is speak of developmental potential when trying to gauge intelligence in a young child.

"Normal Development"

Remember: Everything you read or hear about normal development for a child at a certain age refers to what is expected of the average child. But keep in mind that the "average baby" does not exist in reality. Every baby at some time probably will be "ahead" of other children the same age in some ways, and "behind" in other ways.

Whatever his individual differences from the norm, you can expect your baby to develop at an incredible rate during the first year of life, in a head-to-toe direction: He gains control over his eyes, neck, and hands before learning to use his legs for walking. In the beginning, your infant is very much mouth-oriented; the sensations of sucking and mouthing give the most pleasure. Soon, the ability to use the hands develops. At about five months, your baby grasps toys, and his learning is related to the ability to manipulate. By about ten months of age, your baby recognizes and smiles at familiar people and may display anxiety when strangers are present. At about the same time, the baby becomes expert at crawling -- and at getting into everything. At about one year, he begins to walk alone, a true milestone in his development.

In the second and third years, toddlers become increasingly independent and curious, a combination that makes them dangerous to themselves and everything about them. You will have discovered the necessity to carefully childproof your home by the time your baby can crawl, but the hazards increase dramatically as your child becomes more agile and more investigative. During the second year, your child's rapid increase in the ability to communicate through language represents a big breakthrough. "No" becomes a favorite word, and temper tantrums may be frequent as he encounters frustration over boundaries you must set.

As your child grows and changes, you will probably notice his development seems not to occur steadily, in an even line, but rather in spurts.

Parental Expectations

Comparing your child's development with that of the children of your friends and neighbors is futile and unproductive. A common failing of parents is to exaggerate a bit as they try to show their children in the best light, and what you hear is not always the truth. The most glowing (and the most overstated) accounts of babies' accomplishments are likely to come from parents whose children are long past the stages about which they speak. You will hear that one friend's baby slept through the night at two weeks, another's walked at nine months and spoke complete sentences at 18 months, and still another's was completely toilet trained at a year. If you worry that your child isn't living up to standards set by others, you will upset your own tranquility and find it impossible to enjoy and appreciate your baby. In addition, you set your child up for a life of low self-esteem and an endless struggle to meet your impossible expectations.

Even the most accurate and realistic of developmental schedules worked out by pediatricians and psychologists after their observations of thousands of children cannot tell you exactly what your baby should be doing at any given period. These schedules are helpful if not taken too literally, but you should use them only as guides to give you a general idea of what to expect from your child. Every baby develops at a different rate, and if yours is slow to roll over or build a tower of blocks, it doesn't mean he is less intelligent than your friend's or neighbor's child or than the average baby profiled on the development charts.

A child's maturity level may be more likely than his IQ to determine the rate of development. Some children are late bloomers; they simply mature more slowly than others, but often their accomplishments ultimately equal or surpass those of others. Some children develop at an average or above-average rate in one area, such as motor skills, and at a below-average rate in another, such as language. You may wish to take the sex of your child into consideration, too. In general, girls mature more quickly than boys. They usually walk earlier, talk sooner, show more early interest in intellectual skills such as printing and drawing, and become toilet trained earlier.

Promise yourself from the beginning you will respect and love your baby as a unique individual, different from any other, with his or her own beauty and charm. Constantly practice the art of accepting your child as is, without ranking or comparing her with others. Be aware that while the environment you provide is, of course, important, genetics control certain facets of a child's potential. It is not your fault if you do not rear a genius nor is it entirely to your credit if you do.

As stated above, it is believed that the nurture aspect of a baby's existence can do much to enhance her abilities. On the next page, learn about what you can do to promote your baby's development so she can reach her full potential.

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.

Promoting a Baby's Development

As a parent, you will play an important role in determining what kind of person your child eventually beccomes. As you learned on the previous page, a child's IQ can vary quite a bit depending on their upbringing. You can actively promote your child's cognitive development by providing a safe, nurturing environment. Read this section for suggestions on additional steps you can take to promote your baby's development.

Promoting Optimal Development

Children who are loved for what they are, not for what they will become, develop a sense of security and belonging. Parents who promote a feeling of basic trust allow their children to develop deeper human relationships in later life; therefore, they contribute in a positive way to the formation of their children's personalities. By building on feelings of trust, honesty, integrity, and reliability, parents can do a great deal to promote optimal development.

Ideally, your role in promoting your child's development starts at the moment she is born, with the close body contact that begins the bonding process. When this initial physical closeness with the mother is not possible for one reason or another, bonding can be accomplished later through loving and touching. The first three years of a child's life are extremely important developmentally, and the greatest gifts you can give your child during this period are your time and your enthusiasm for her developing skills. Your child learns during every waking moment, and your best function is not so much to teach as to provide a stimulating environment and an emotionally supportive atmosphere. Follow your child's lead; don't push and don't try to rush her. For play to be rewarding and creative, your child needs appropriate toys, but she also needs warm and nurturing attention and guidance. If you entrust the daily care of your child to someone else, choose that individual carefully. Children must be with people who love and value them if they are to learn to love and value themselves and others.

Even infants need privacy, time to themselves. The environment in which your baby learns and develops should be a protective one, safe and secure. She needs a quiet, peaceful place to sleep, and, when awake, she should not be constantly at the center of an overly active household. Keep visual and auditory stimuli toned down to provide a calm atmosphere in which your baby develops her perceptions of the outside world.

Toddlers also need periods of peace and quiet away from people and activities. They need time to recharge their batteries, to rest, and to organize their inner lives. Children who are overstimulated, spend their days in crowded quarters, and are never alone except during sleep tend to be excitable, dependent upon others for their entertainment, and unaware of their own abilities.

Another essential in your child's development is your guidance -- the setting of limits, the enforcing of boundaries. A child needs parents who set limits appropriate to her age level at each step of development. Self-control and inner discipline develop only after limits are firmly set. Overall consistency is important because it builds up feelings of security in the child.

The basic idea is to try to achieve for your child balances between routine and variety, sameness and contrast, protection and freedom. Trust your own instincts, advises prominent pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton. Children are remarkably adaptable, and you cannot fail to be successful in promoting your child's optimal development if your aim is to provide a deep and warm personal relationship with your child as well as an appropriate world of toys, experiences, and instruction.

Recognizing Your Child's Uniqueness

Environmental influences alone cannot explain the variability in a child's development. Your child's temperament plays a significant and active role through interaction with your own parental style. Unfortunately, mismatches sometimes occur between the temperaments of parents and their children. However deep their love and respect for each other, these parents and children simply have trouble getting along, sometimes all their lives. It is important that parents come to understand the differences between themselves and their children, what makes their children tick, and how they can best help and guide them. In especially difficult cases, a specific management program instituted by a therapist can help improve the fit between a parent and a child.

The term temperament means the unique behavioral style of each individual. Many psychologists and others have described what they believe are the most easily identifiable characteristics of various types of temperaments and personalities. For example, one category of temperament often referred to is the "easy child." The easy child is characterized by biologic regularity (of the bowels, bladder, and feeding cycles) and adaptability. At the other end of the spectrum, the "difficult child" displays biologic irregularity, withdraws from new situations, has negative moods, and adapts slowly. Then there is the "slow-to-warm-up child" who is somewhere in the middle, combining some of both kinds of traits.

Keep in mind that terms such as "easy" and "difficult" are subjective. The parent's temperament and experience come into play. What is easy or difficult for one may not be for another. Also, make sure that you don't equate "easy" with "good" or "difficult" with "bad." And finally, note that temperament is not necessarily stable, particularly during the first months of life.

So what should you expect from your child? Turn to the next page for an overview of cognition theories by four of the foremost experts in the field: Benjamin Spock, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and Arnold Gesell.

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.

Theories of Cognitive Development

The biggest factor in a child's development is, of course, the parents.
The biggest factor in a child's development is, of course, the parents.
Publications Intl, Ltd.

There is no single set of parenting instructions that if faithfully followed assures you of perfect results. Too much human variation and experience not embodied in any particular theory must go into parenting, making it impossible as well as unwise to try to follow just one method of child-rearing. This does not mean parents should not be interested in the findings of child-development researchers. The better informed parents are, the better able they are to choose from among the many expert attitudes and viewpoints those they believe will work for them and be compatible with their temperaments and lifestyles. On this page, we provide a general outline of the theories of cognitive development as taught by four experts in the field.

The Experts on Cognition

A single article such as this cannot possibly cover all the work that has been done on cognition. The following sampler attempts to put into perspective the basic premises of four of the major theorists: Piaget, Gesell, Erikson, and Spock. All believe there are stages or periods of development, but each emphasizes a different approach to the study of a child's thinking and learning patterns. Remember, these discussions are very general.

Piaget and Gesell.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who may be called an interactionist -- that is, his theory is that intellectual development results from an active, dynamic interplay between a child and her environment. Arnold Gesell, an American pediatrician who did his research at the Yale Child Study Center, may be called a maturationist. His theory is that heredity promotes unfolding of development in a preordained sequence -- on a timetable, so to speak, with few individual differences. Both men have contributed a tremendous amount of knowledge about the growing infant and child. Although they stand at opposite poles, both have recorded facts useful to parents and professionals alike in making meaningful observations of child behavior. Piaget's contributions to learning theory have helped shape many educational programs in our schools, while Gesell's schedules of behavior development are still used as clinical and diagnostic tools by pediatric developmentalists.

Erikson and Spock. Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst of children at the Institute of Child Welfare in California, and Benjamin Spock, the dean of American pediatricians, may be discussed together. While Piaget and Gesell emphasize motor and intellectual development, Erikson and Spock are most interested in the emotional development of children. Although they, too, think of development in terms of stages or periods, they differ from Piaget and Gesell in their stress on the importance of individual differences among children.

Piaget's four theoretical stages of development. Piaget describes four theoretical periods, or stages, of child development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Consideration of these periods has spurred a great deal of research, most of which has tended to support Piaget's conclusions about children's cognitive development.

The four stages are very different from one another; each reveals a different way in which an individual reacts to his environment. As an interactionist, Piaget believes each stage in development occurs as a result of interaction between maturation and environment. He also believes intelligence or intelligent behavior is the ability to adapt. Even nonverbal behavior, to the extent that it is adaptive, is intelligent.

  1. Sensorimotor. In the sensorimotor stage (birth to two years), the infant is transformed from a creature who responds mostly with reflexes to one who can organize sensorimotor activity in response to the environment -- to reach for a toy, for example, or to pull back from a frightening stranger. A baby gradually becomes more organized, and his activities become less random. Through each encounter with the environment, he progresses from a reflex stage to trial-and-error learning and simple problem solving.
  2. Preoperational. In the preoperational stage (two to seven years), a child's thinking, by adult standards, is illogical and focused entirely on himself. He begins to use symbols to represent objects, places, and people. Symbols -- images that represent some object or person -- are sight, sound, or touch sensations evoked internally. In play, a child acts out his views of the world, using a system of symbols to represent what he sees in his environment.
  3. Concrete operational. By the concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years), a child begins to gain the ability to think logically and to understand concepts he uses in dealing with the immediate environment.
  4. Formal operational. He has arrived at the formal operational stage (12 years and older) when he starts thinking in abstract terms as well as concrete ones. Adolescents, for example, can discuss theoretical issues as well as real ones.

In Piaget's view, then, the development of knowledge is an active process and depends upon interaction between the child and the environment. The child is neither the possessor of a preformed set of mental abilities nor a passive recipient of stimulation from the environment. From infancy onward, movement increasingly gives way to thought, and learning continues to be an interactive process.

Gesell's maturation theory. Like Piaget, Gesell deemphasizes individual differences among children and stresses the importance of maturation. Unlike the Swiss psychologist, however, Gesell sees maturation following an inherited timetable; abilities and skills emerge in a preordained sequence. Gesell believes because the infant and the child are subject to predictable growth forces, the behavior patterns that result are not whimsical or accidental by-products. Those patterns are, in his view, predictable end-products of a total developmental process that works within an orderly sequence. He describes four fields of behavior: motor, adaptive, language, and personal-social. In his view, the organization of behavior begins well before birth and proceeds from head to foot. In a summary of behavior development, Gesell describes the following landmarks:

  • In the first quarter of the first year of life (birth to 16 weeks), the newborn gains control of muscles and nerves in the face (those involved in sight, hearing, taste, sucking, swallowing, and smell).
  • In the second quarter (16 to 28 weeks), the infant starts to develop command of muscles of the neck and head and moves her arms purposefully. The baby reaches out for objects.
  • In the third quarter (28 to 40 weeks), the baby gains control of her trunk and her hands -- grasping objects, transferring them from hand to hand, and fondling them.
  • In the fourth quarter (40 to 52 weeks), control extends to the baby's legs and feet, and also to the index fingers and thumbs, to allow plucking of a tiny object. The baby begins to talk.
  • In the second year, the toddler walks and runs, speaks some words and phrases clearly, acquires bladder and bowel control, and begins to develop a sense of personal identity and of personal possessions.
  • In the third year, the child speaks in clear sentences, using words as tools of thinking. No longer an infant, she tries to manipulate the environment. She displays tantrums.
  • In the fourth year, the child asks many questions and begins to form concepts and to generalize. She is nearly self-dependent in home routines.
  • By age five years, the child is very mature in motor control over large muscles; she actively skips, hops, and jumps. She talks without any infantile sounds and can tell a long story and a few simple jokes. She feels pride in accomplishment and is quite self-assured in the small world of home.

Erikson and Spock.While Piaget and Gesell emphasize motor and intellectual development, Erikson and Spock are most interested in the emotional development of children. Although they, too, think of development in terms of stages or periods, Erikson and Spock differ from Piaget and Gesell in their stress on the importance of individual differences among children. The classifications that follow are Erikson's; Spock's findings appear also.

  1. The period of trust covers the early months in an infant's life and is so called because babies need to establish confidence in their parents and in their environment. This period of trust provides a solid foundation for further development. Spock calls infants at this stage "physically helpless and emotionally agreeable." Some babies, however, are more difficult to understand and their cries for help are not clear. Their parents can't separate the cry of hunger, fatigue, or the discomfort of wet diapers from the cry for attention. Problems frequently occur because of parental inexperience or because there are marked differences in temperament between parent and infant.
  2. The period of autonomy is one in which a toddler strives for independence; it represents the development of self-control and self-reliance. Spock speaks of the child at this stage as having a "sense of his own individuality and will power" and as vacillating between dependence and independence. Parents of such a child must learn to accept some loss of control while maintaining necessary limits.
  3. The period of initiative covers the preschool years, during which a child gains considerable freedom. Spock calls what the child does during this period "imitation through admiration." Fears are a common problem, and the child has an active fantasy life. Preschoolers frequently have difficulty separating from their parents, often caused or reinforced by the parents' own problems in separating from their offspring.
  4. The period of industry. In the period of industry or work completion, the school-age child learns to win praise by performing and producing results. Spock describes this period as one in which the school-age child tries to fit into an outside group of friends and to move away from his parents. Parents react to this declaration of independence in several ways, frequently feeling hurt or disappointed. School-age children still need plenty of parental support despite their surface attempts at self-assurance. Parents should give support in a way that shows respect for the child's feelings and pride.
  5. Adolescence is Erikson's fifth and final stage of development. He describes the teenager's task as one of establishing identity, finding out who he is and what he wants to make of his life. Teenage experiments with relationships and development of a view of reality by means of constant testing may be very hard on parents. Spock describes adolescents as very peer-oriented. He stresses the need for parents to continue to set appropriate limits, instill worthwhile values, and provide positive role models.

Although Piaget, Gesell, Erikson and Spock approach the subject of child development from differing viewpoints, there is helpful information to be gleaned from each. You may find it useful to think of your child's development in terms of her interaction with her environment when she's newborn, but later gain more insight from the emotional approach. What you've learned above are only the basic theories of each expert, but hopefully it provided you with a good base of knowledge on what to expect cognitively from your developing child. On the following page, you can find out about the progression of your child's speaking skills.

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.

Language Development in a Newborn

It may not sound like words, but your baby might start trying to talk to you at three months.
It may not sound like words, but your baby might start trying to talk to you at three months.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Language means a great deal more than talking. From the day your baby is born, you and he communicate, carrying on conversations through eye contact, smiles, and body language. Your baby reacts to your voice and the sound of your heartbeat. His primary tool of communication is crying. By the age of two months, your baby probably has developed different cries to indicate hunger, pain, fatigue, and discomfort. This section details the milestones of a baby's language development and provides tips for encouraging your child to speak.

The Development of Speech

Your baby's earliest noncrying speech sounds are the throaty noises that come with increased production of saliva -- the gurgling, sputtering, cooing, and squealing that begin at about three months of age.

Soon he begins to string together and repeat consonant and vowel combinations, like "ba-ba-ba." Be aware it's a rare baby who follows any timetable for developing talking skills; children vary in this as in any other area of development. It may be at any time between six months and a year that your baby calls one or two very important people by name (most likely, "Mama" and "Dada"). In fact, an early talker may know and use as many as a dozen words at one year of age. They are probably all nouns, his versions of the words for such familiar objects as cookie, juice, dog, and cup.

You know your child really is anxious to talk as adults do when you begin to hear continuous jargon, strings of meaningless gibberish, complete with inflections that make them sound like a stream of talk in a foreign language. This kind of talk may go on for a long time after your child is able to make himself very well understood with real words, usually when he plays alone. Between the ages of one and two years, your child probably has a vocabulary of about 50 words (no doubt one of them is "No") and enjoys singing along with you to familiar and repetitive songs. Don't be surprised if your child seems to hit a plateau in speech development when he learns to walk; it's difficult to work hard on two skills at once. Children usually begin to string nouns and verbs together to make sentences of two or more words sometime between 2 and 2 1/2 years of age, and an early talker may even add a preposition (under the table) or an adjective (big dog). By the time your child is three, he may have a vocabulary of as many as 300 words. You'll perhaps notice that the frequency of temper tantrums and periods of frustration decrease as your child finds the words to express anger and desires.

Encouraging Your Child to Talk

Encourage your child to talk all the time you're together, as you go about your daily activities. A few ways to consciously aid language development include the following:

  • Speak directly to your baby often, giving total attention to her. Get down to your child's level physically, and look her in the eye.
  • Speak slowly and distinctly, describing what you are doing with and for the baby, using all the appropriate words -- parts of the body, pieces of clothing, kinds of food, favorite toys. Use the same words for similar objects when your child is younger than two years of age; call all footgear shoes for example, not sandals or sneakers.
  • Keep explanations and directions simple. By about 15 months, your child is able to do what you ask if you say something like "Bring me a diaper." You'll cause confusion if you use a long sentence that begins with "Run into the bedroom, will you, and..."
  • Use picture books to help your child develop word-object associations, pointing out familiar objects often and asking her to find the dog, the baby, or the house in pictures. Play word games, teach your child finger plays, and sing songs that have accompanying actions.
  • Give your child your attention when she speaks to you. Wait patiently for her to get out the right words to finish a thought instead of finishing it yourself or giving what she asks for before the words are out.
  • Be equally patient in answering all your child's questions, however endless they seem to be. Practice expanding a bit on a question by giving additional information. For example, if your child asks "What's that?" about a squirrel, add to your answer the fact that the animal is in the tree because it's looking for acorns to eat.
  • Discourage baby talk and incorrect grammar, not by correcting your child, which is discouraging and makes her hesitant about talking at all, but by repeating the words or the sentence correctly.

Keep in mind that language development includes "receptive" language (the understanding of words) as well as "expressive" language (the speaking of words). Throughout early childhood, and especially during infancy and toddlerhood, children always can understand much more than they can say. So if your child isn't saying much, even up to two years of age, there probably is nothing to worry about as long as you can see that her "receptive" vocabulary is increasing steadily.

As your child's speaking habits mature, she can interact more meaningfully with you. Her social interactions take on a new level of complexity, and her frustration lessens as her ability to express herself increases. Turn to the next page for a complete discussion of the evolution of a newborn's relationship with her parents and other immediate family members.

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.

Newborn and Family Relationships

Your family is your baby's first social circle.
Your family is your baby's first social circle.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Social behavior begins very early in the lives of human beings. Infants respond to people almost from the moment of birth. In fact, if you began the bonding process with close skin contact immediately after your baby was born, you probably felt she was definitely aware of you, reaching out to you. Newborns are attracted to human faces, and they like the sound of human voices, especially female voices. Soon your new baby's eyes follow your movements in a room, then her head turns to watch you. At three or four months, your baby responds happily to smiling people, then smiles at the sight of any approaching face. The baby smiles -- you smile -- her smile broadens. Thus, social interaction begins; the baby has learned to get a reaction from another person. She even tries to mimic you when you stare, stick your tongue out, or make faces. One day you'll notice your baby quiets if you speak or sing as you come near the crib. It won't be long until she makes a sound in response to your voice.

At five to eight months, your baby learns how to be cute, how to get your attention by pretending to cough or by doing something that has made you laugh before. She knows the difference between familiar people and strangers and may show fear of strangers. When your baby is somewhere between the ages of eight months and a year, she'll cooperate in the singing games and finger plays with which you've been entertaining her. Soon she adores having an audience and delights in performing the "bye-bye" ritual and any other routines that get attention.

On this page, we examine the newborn's first interactions with her family and through the first years. Remember that babies vary greatly in their social development. The indicated age ranges are guidelines, not absolute requirements.

The First Social Set: The Family

The immediate family -- mother, father, siblings, and a caregiver, if the baby has some kind of child care -- is your baby's first social set, a select and fortunate group. All of you will outdo yourselves to entertain and please the baby, and your greatest thrills come when he responds and reciprocates. Remember, though, that the key word in all human behavior is unique. Your baby is as different from all the other babies in the world as each snowflake is different from all others. Antics that sent your older child or your neighbor's baby into paroxysms of giggles and gurgles may very well make this baby cry and pull back. Take your cue from your child: If he startles easily or seems frightened by your loud noises, funny faces, or sudden actions, ease up.

At about one year of age, your child is extremely sociable. He loves being part of any and every family gathering and obviously adores everyone. The baby happily goes on your rounds of shopping and errands with you, pays and receives social visits with you, and thoroughly enjoys just being with you around the house. Anything goes, in fact, as long as a family member is close at hand.

But this changes. The push toward independence you've read and heard about becomes reality, and at a point when he is somewhere around 18 months of age, your baby appears to have outgrown any need for you. He barely acknowledges your presence in daily life, except to say "No" a great deal. Walking, running, climbing stairs, exploring, and satisfying curiosity about everything and anything are all-engrossing. Occasionally, he reverts to the old baby ways of love and play, but, in general, the child at this age concentrates so hard on self and environment, adults seem to exist for no reason other than to satisfy his desires. The exception to this behavior occurs when there's trouble; no one but Mommy or the primary, daily caregiver can handle a cut or bruise or make a stubborn toy work the way it should.

Sociability returns in time, but by the time it does, your baby's social set includes playmates and others outside the family. You are never again as all-important to your child as you were for the first year, which is as it should be. Learning to let go is among the most important of parents' lessons.

Separation Anxiety and Other Fears

Love takes many forms, and your baby may often show her love for you by resisting any separation from you. This is completely natural. Your baby is aware of total dependence on you for survival; if you are absent, fear takes over. Contrary to what many people think, you do not break your baby of needing you by forcing frequent or lengthy separations. The truth is the more secure you can make her feel, with your presence and by holding, cuddling, and reassuring her, the more confident and unafraid she will become.

You notice that something she once found frightening -- perhaps the vacuum cleaner or the dishwasher -- is no longer so from the safety zone of your arms. Other unreasonable fears come and go suddenly; some common ones are fear of dogs or cats, the ghosts and monsters that come in the night, emergency sirens, thunder, and people in unusual garb, such as doormen and nuns in habits, or those in costume, such as clowns or Santa Clauses. These frights pass and are forgotten if you support your child through them.

If your baby seems unable to be without you for a single waking moment, realize this is one of the many phases she will go through and do your best to go along with it. Don't force a stint in the playpen or an exercise period in the middle of the living room floor if your infant seems terrified of being in the center of all that empty space. Don't make an obviously reluctant baby go to someone else, even if it's a relative whose feelings are apt to be hurt by the rejection. Leave the door to the baby's room ajar at bedtime, and reassure her you're near by letting her hear your voice from wherever you are in the house. Try not to show irritation at what you know to be unreasonable fears; you only make your baby feel less secure than ever. Don't worry about spoiling a clinging baby or overprotecting her by avoiding situations you know frighten her. She has a built-in human drive to be mature and independent.

Many babies are reluctant to be left with babysitters. When Mommy is out of sight, she is gone, and children younger than about a year of age cannot yet reason well enough to know she will be back. Some parents believe they simply must not leave their children at this point; others insist they must get out, and both they and their children are better for an occasional separation. If you're in the latter group, your best choice for a sitter at first is someone your child knows -- Grandma or another relative is often ideal. You may wish to have a sitter your baby doesn't know come for a visit or two when you are home, so the two can get to be friends.

If you must leave a comparative stranger in charge, have the babysitter arrive early enough to get acquainted with your baby while you are still there. Never sneak off, agree most parents; use a regular good-bye ritual that includes kissing good-bye and waving. Come home when you've said you will, and set the time as "after your nap," instead of "at three o'clock," for a small child who doesn't live by the clock yet. If you drop your child off at the sitter's house, even if a loving and beloved Grandma is the sitter, be sure to take along the favorite stuffed animal or blanket.

Siblings as First Friends

Your baby's siblings are his first friends. With luck, your children will remain good friends for life. But the relationship won't always proceed smoothly, and a certain amount of "sibling rivalry" is normal and expected. At first, your concern is to help your older child handle jealousy at being replaced by involving her in the care of the baby. As you teach the older child how to play with the baby and how to amuse him, you'll see the baby respond. The baby displays admiration for an older child's skills and accomplishments and the pure pleasure of being allowed in her company. Later, the younger child may be jealous of the older because of those very skills and accomplishments, but in the early days there's nothing like having a big brother or big sister to watch and love.

Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles

The time to start a loving relationship between grandparents and other older relatives is as soon as possible after the birth of your baby. The way to keep such wonderful relationships thriving is to keep contact open and frequent. Ideally, Grandma and Grandpa live down the street or around the corner, and the other relatives live not much farther away. You share holidays, and the families are often in one another's homes for quick visits or meals. When the kids are a little older, they look upon every home in the family as partly theirs.

Unfortunately, in the typical family today, extended family members are not always within easy visiting distance, perhaps not even in the same state or region of the country. Some of the people you wish could be close to your baby may be able to see her only rarely, when either they or you drive or fly to visit. Between visits, it is up to you to help your child remember the relatives and to help both the relatives and the child feel close to one another. Keep your relatives informed about your child's development; letters, phone calls, pictures, and video and audio tapes help. Show your child pictures of the relatives, use their names often, and tell stories about your childhood that include them.

A sad fact is long-distance visits are sometimes exhausting for parents, children, and relatives alike, and unsatisfactory for all because of unreasonably high expectations and too much togetherness in too short a period of time. Routines are upset, and the schedule of activities may be too crowded; there may be neither enough room in the house nor hours in the day for anyone to have the privacy and time alone that everyone from the oldest grandparent to the youngest infant needs.

Handling family visits with grace takes practice, along with consideration and goodwill. Lowering your expectations helps. Don't expect grandparents and other relatives to find your child perfect and your methods of child care irreproachable. Don't for a minute think your child will not, at some time during the visit, display unattractive habits and perform unpleasant acts normal for her age. Don't dream you can go all the places, see all the people, and do everything you want to. Above all, don't worry about the relatives spoiling your child. A little coddling and extra attention and a little relaxation of the rules make a visit more special and memorable.

Between the ages of one and three, your child is ready to branch out socially. Though learning to actually play with other children effectively takes a while, she wants to be around them, if only as an observer. She learns a great deal from this observation. Move to the next page for a discussion of your child's social interactions with other 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.

Newborn and Peer Relationships

Parallel play is one of the steps on your baby's road to true social interaction.
Parallel play is one of the steps on your baby's road to true social interaction.
Publications International, Ltd.

Your baby's social life with his peers begins just as soon as you see to it that he has opportunities to see other babies. You can put two babies in a playpen or on a blanket on the grass at three months old, and if they are both in happy moods, they'll make a picture both families will always treasure. Cooperative play with other children, the kind most adults consider real play, doesn't start until kids are about three years of age, but all children need the companionship of other children long before that. Of course, siblings can make wonderful playmates, but it is important for your baby to be around others who are close to him in age and size, at least occasionally. On this page, we discuss the development of social interactions between your newborn and his peers, including a discussion on play groups and birthday parties.

Playmates and Peers

Finding suitable playmates may or may not be easy, depending upon your neighborhood, your own circle of friends, and your personal inclinations and abilities in making new friends. If there's a public park near you, you may find this fresh air playroom the ideal place both for you and your child to take a break from the home routine. Many lifetime friendships, for both parents and children, have begun in parks. The parents socialize and trade child care tips as their babies doze in carriages; then later they share supervision duties as their children play on park equipment and learn to get along with others.

Some parents who have closely watched the social development of their own or others' children note that play progresses in quite predictable stages. The first stage is not play at all; babies younger than one year old are watchers. They examine their toys and everything they get their hands on very closely, and they stare at other people. You'll probably notice your baby is especially interested in other babies and small children and is well aware they are different from adults.

 

Parallel play. Toddlers begin what's called parallel play. They play side by side or back to back, paying little or no attention to each other. They like being together, and they may occasionally enjoy watching each other play, but, mostly, each is interested in what he is doing. When your child is about 18 months old, you're likely to see some aggressiveness. Toddlers don't really know how to play yet; they don't understand sharing, and they haven't learned it's not right to hit and shove and bite other people. Use common sense in handling a battle between two toddlers. Of course, you can't stand by and watch a child get hurt, but be careful you don't teach your toddler it's all right to hit others because Mommy will see to it the others don't hit back. And be aware that if you spank your toddler for being overly aggressive, you teach him that the way to stop hitting is to hit.

Associative play. Associative play, in which children really play together, follows soon. This is unstructured play; there are no rules, but two children talk to each other and use some of the same toys. Attention spans and tempers are short, and egos are all-important, so you can't expect the fun to last more than about a half hour in most cases. You'll hear the word "mine" often. If the eyes of two children happen to light on the same toy at the same time, they'll both reach for it. Toddlers of this age really do want everything they see, unselectively. Reason won't solve the problem of contention; these children are not yet old enough to grasp the idea of sharing. You may be able to make use of a timer to set the end of one child's turn and the beginning of the other's, but sometimes you may simply have to put a toy away.

Remember that the quarrels that annoy you because they seem senseless help children develop social skills. If you interfere in any but the most serious disagreements, you deprive the children of a chance to learn how to get along with others. At this point, children almost always do best with just one other child, and they get along better and are able to play longer with one child than with another. It is important now that your child see as many others as possible so he can select the ones with whom he most enjoys playing.

Cooperative play. By about the age of three, your child becomes proficient enough at social relationships to begin cooperative play. This involves rules and sharing and turns and fairness; for example, in playing house, the "mother" must act like a mother; it's not fair for one child to knock down a tower of blocks the two have put up together; your child knows he can't use the swing while it's the playmate's turn. If you have older children, it's at about this point that you begin to see the sibling companionship you've been waiting for. While previously the older kids have probably enjoyed playing with the younger one as a sort of living toy, now little brother or little sister has learned enough to make proper responses in play situations and has become much more interesting. Imaginative role playing, such as playing school, house, and office, is fun for both the older and the younger kids. Parents often worry if they detect signs of shyness in their child. Some shyness is simply the result of a developmental phase; the child soon outgrows it and becomes outgoing and friendly. You can help your shy toddler or preschooler by encouraging non-threatening play with just one or two low-key children, not a crowd of boisterous ones. Be aware some children are simply less gregarious than others, just as some adults are. Don't push too hard.

Play Groups

One way to provide your child with a regular source of playmates of the right age is to form a play group with other parents. It's not too early to start a group when the children of three or four congenial parents who live close to each other have reached the age of 18 months to 2 years. Some parents choose to meet all together, children and adults, once or twice a week. Others prefer to take turns taking charge of the children. This approach makes the play group more like school and gives all the parents some time off. The parent in charge needs to devote total attention to the group to be sure no child gets in trouble, so everything must be ready before a session starts. Sessions should not last longer than two hours. An elaborate array of toys is not necessary; the ones your own child has are probably sufficient. By the time the children are about two years old, the play group may be expanded. Parents will probably then work in shifts of two, and you may arrange for meetings to be held in a public place, such as a school or church.

Birthday Parties

Your child learns that his birthday is a very special day when you bring out the cake with its single candle and the whole family cheers and sings. A balloon or two, the lighted cake, the singing of "Happy Birthday," the flash of the camera, and a few presents are probably enough to overwhelm all but the most sophisticated of babies. Some parents also like to include a few friends and their children in the celebration. It's best to handle this very simply, perhaps in a park or in the backyard if possible. Ideally, at least one parent should accompany every child. If you have a party at home and you can possibly manage it, provide nap space for exhausted babies.

By the second birthday, your child may have been to a party or two and may have some idea of what to expect. Still, even many three year olds are not yet ready for the full-scale party some parents like to put on. By the preschool and kindergarten years, kids can handle theme parties that involve six to a dozen guests and feature clever decorations and full-meal refreshments, games with prizes, craft-making sessions, and even professional entertainers, such as clowns or magicians. Until then, though, keep parties small and short, and plan simple and noncompetitive activities. Balloons, favors to take home, and the traditional ice cream and cake make as exciting a party as most toddlers can handle. Many excellent books on putting together children's parties are available, with ideas suitable for toddlers and young preschoolers.

It's truly amazing how much a baby learns in his first year. He develops cognitive, language and social skills that he will need throughout the rest of his life. Because developmental delays can presage more serious problems, parents are often concerned whether their child is exhibiting "normal" developmental skills for his age. The information provided in this article can assist you in making determinations about the aptness of your child's developmental skills.

©Publications International, Ltd.

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.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles