Understanding How Children Mature

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.




The Parent-Infant Bond

The bond you form with your children may affect the relationships they make as a adults.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Given the opportunity, parents and babies naturally form a strong relationship with each other. This relationship is often called the parent-infant bond. For the parent, this bond is woven of love and responsibility. For the infant, it is his first -- and perhaps most important -- relationship.

Psychoanalysts have theorized that the first love relationship a baby experiences with a parent sets the stage for all later interpersonal relationships. They contend that if you don't have this necessary parent-child relationship in your formative years, you won't be able to love as an adult. A number of psychologists and psychiatrists have found support for this view. For example, John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, studied children growing up without parents in the first years of life; he found that these children often had problems relating with others and forming bonds later in life. From such studies, psychologists have confirmed what most parents knew all along -- how important sensitive, responsive, and consistent parenting is to child development.


However, it is also important to point out that babies may not have to be with their parents all the time, despite the emphasis in Lamaze classes and parents' magazines that there is a critical period for parents to bond with their babies. Supporters of this position state that parents who are separated from their newborns after birth have difficulty forming that essential parent-infant bond. Citing studies conducted with animals, they point out that mother mice often refuse to care for their young if they are separated right after birth.

Fortunately, humans are not mice, and more recent research suggests human mothers generally are quite able to be loving mothers even if they must be separated from their babies as a result of prematurity, illness, or other reasons.

Nonetheless, positive changes among health care providers have occurred because of recent recognition of the process of bonding. Many hospitals have dramatically humanized the way in which parents and babies are treated. Parents are allowed greater contact with babies, particularly in intensive care nurseries. There, parents can now often participate in the feeding, handling, and general care of their babies right away, instead of waiting until their infants are released from the hospital.

Naturally, this bond will change as your child grows and develops. Over the course of the following sections we will document the stages of growth that your child will go through until the age of three. In the next section, we will begin with birth through two months.

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.


A Child's Responses, Birth to Two Months

Reflexes, like grasping, are your baby's way of keeping you close.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

From the moment of birth, characteristics of both you and your baby allow you to begin developing a special relationship. Newborn babies are very effective at getting their parents and other adults to take care of them.

Physical Appearance

Have you ever noticed that most animal babies are considered cute and cuddly? Some scientists believe this is nature's way of ensuring that animals (including human beings) care for their young. This is why your baby's physical appearance alone makes you feel warm and good inside. In fact, the more characteristic features a baby has (large head, rounded, chubby features), the more positively he is seen by adults in general. Studies report that adults look at chubbier babies more and express a greater desire to play with and take care of them. Even parents have been found to be more responsive to their children when they are cute and attractive than when they are not. Apparently, new babies endear themselves to their parents and grandparents, in part at least, just by the way they look.



Many of a newborn's reflexes (unlearned behavior patterns) serve to ensure physical proximity to his mother. During your baby's first examination, your baby's doctor may demonstrate how your baby's hand forms into a tight grasp around your fingers. In the early months, the grasp reflex is so strong, your baby can almost support his own weight. When a newborn is startled by a loud noise or a sudden change in position, his arms flail out to the side and then are quickly brought together, as if he were trying to grab onto his mother. This reflex is called the Moro, or startle, reflex. This and other reflexes are believed to be remnants from our evolutionary ancestry.

The Cry

Any parent can tell you that a baby's crying is a very unsettling sound, one that is not easy to tune out. Although it is sometimes annoying, think of your baby's cry as her first means of communicating with you.

Crying is a highly adaptive response from an evolutionary viewpoint, probably designed to get the caregiver to attend to the baby's needs. In fact, four out of five times a parent interacts with a baby, it is because the baby cried. Crying alerts you to your baby's needs. Most parents quickly respond by trying to find out what is wrong, checking to see if the baby is cold, wet, hungry, or just bored. In fact, babies may have different cries for different reasons. Parents can often recognize what their babies' cries mean.

Many parents think they can actually identify their newborns by their cries. This may be an accurate perception. Psychologists have studied the acoustical features of individual babies' cries with sophisticated technology-spectrographs that record sound patterns. They have found that babies may be identifiable by unique "cryprints."

Although all babies cry, wide variations occur in how much time a baby spends crying. Some babies may have what is commonly referred to as three-month colic; others may cry only when distressed, hungry, angry, or in pain. Fortunately, by three months most babies dramatically reduce the amount of time they spend crying.

You may be able to help your baby to cry less. It has been found that parents who quickly attend to their babies' crying during the first three months by picking the babies up seem to have babies who cry less at nine months. Contrary to old wives' tales, you are not spoiling your baby by comforting her and relieving her crying.

What works to soothe a crying baby varies depending on your baby's age. Once you have determined that your baby is warm, dry, and fed, you can employ age-old soothing techniques. These techniques change with your child's developmental changes. Of course, the best way to quiet a young baby is to pick her up. Next comes holding a very young baby so she can look over your shoulder, combining closeness and distraction. Newborns also like to be swaddled in receiving blankets. Rocking, giving something to suck, and providing some sort of auditory stimulation, such as music, helps reduce newborns' crying about half the time. Sometimes, simply touching your baby or letting her know you're nearby can make her stop crying.

Looking Patterns

Although a newborn baby can't see objects at a distance very clearly, he is quite able to see your face when you hold him in your arms. In fact, that's about all he can see. Newborns tend to look at areas of high contrast (such as a black object against a white background) and the outside of images (such as a hairline on a face). Thus, a parent's face is an optimal visual stimulus for a baby.


When you hold your new baby, you may notice he naturally molds his body to cuddle with you. This molding ensures maximal body contact between the two of you and makes you feel warm and loving.

Unfortunately, not all babies like to cuddle as much as their parents would like, instead squirming in their parents' arms. This may just be their nature -- and not a reflection of parenting skills. Developmental tests of infants, such as the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, measure newborns' reactions. One of the tests rates babies from "very resistant to being held" to "extremely cuddly and clinging." One study indicated mothers had difficulty teaching resistive newborn babies to cuddle. The more a mother tried to cuddle an unwilling baby, the less the baby cuddled.

If your baby does not want to be cuddled all the time, don't be alarmed or assume you're doing something wrong. Remember that your baby is an individual, and adjust your desire to cuddle him to his responsiveness to being cuddled. However, you might see that your baby starts to respond more to your touch and presence in the second and third months. Continue on to the next section to learn how your baby develops during this time.

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.


A Child's Reactions, Two to Three Months

Your baby will gradually begin to smile more at people than at the objects in the room.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

In the first few months of life, your baby will begin to interact with the world around him. Here is what you can expect.

Patterns of Looking

At two to three months, babies look more at their parents than at strangers. This helps you feel your baby has formed a preference for you, which, in turn, strengthens your affection and love for your baby.


In actuality, of course, babies begin to look more at their parents because they see them the most -- and a familiar stimulus is often a more attractive one. Babies also like to watch objects that change a little bit each time they look at them. Because faces change all the time, your face is an ideal stimulus.

Babies at this age are beginning to understand what faces are. A two-month-old baby can differentiate pictures with scrambled faces from pictures of faces with correctly placed features. By the time they are three months old, babies may be able to discriminate facial expressions well enough to identify the eyes, nose, and mouth.

The Social Smile

Not only do babies smile more, they begin to smile socially -- they smile at people more than at objects. Your baby's smile probably reflects the fact that faces are familiar objects, not that a truly social process is taking place. Nevertheless, when you smile at your baby, your baby can smile in response. Like all parents, you'll find there is nothing like those first smiles to make you fall in love with your baby all over again.


In talking to their infants, parents (as a matter of fact, nearly all adults) conduct themselves in a way that would be considered extremely odd under other circumstances just to get their babies to look and smile at them. We make all sorts of exaggerated, funny faces when we look at our babies. The routine parents go through with their babies has been described as a dance. Your baby looks at you, locks his eyes on yours, and then looks away. You then use your routine of funny faces to get your baby to look back at you. In this dance, it is as if the two of you are taking turns in a finely tuned conversation or dialogue.

By three months your baby assumes a greater role as the initiator of the sequences of play and interaction. In the first month, your baby followed your lead; at three months your baby can begin the dance as well.


Your two month old is beginning to adjust to your biological rhythms. Many babies sleep through the night by this time and feed more regularly and less often. Failure to make these adjustments to your sleeping and waking patterns can be a major source of strain on your relationship with your baby. Especially fatigued parents have a hard time enjoying their babies. If your baby continues crying excessively and does not seem to be falling into any sort of routine with you, a call to the baby's doctor is in order.

The differences you've noticed in your baby will only increase and continue in the new few months. Turn to the next page to learn about other exciting milestones such as laughing and babbling.

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.


A Child's Interactions, Four to Five Months

Special smiles just for parents begin appearing at four months.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Babies at four and five months begin to take their first steps toward speech. Here's how the process begins.

Special Smiles

Special smiles just for parents begin appearing at four months. A smile spreads across your baby's face when he sees you but not when he sees anyone else. This behavior implies not only recognition of you -- a cognitive skill -- but also recognition of your specialness -- a social skill. This, of course, produces an incredibly strong emotional response from you. It makes it more fun for you to be with your baby and play with him. In fact, it may be hard for you to pull yourself away to do household chores or return to work. This, in turn, brings great benefits to your baby, providing him with two ready playmates to teach him what he needs to learn.


Babbling and Cooing

Isn't it wonderful to hear a baby beginning to make sounds, to coo and babble as you play with and talk to her? Your baby's babbling and cooing evoke a strong response from you, just as her smiling does. Your play begins to take on a real conversational quality. Now, each of you is more likely to take a turn -- you respond to your baby's cooing with words and funny faces, and your baby answers with more cooing and babbling.


Some babies begin to laugh even before they are four months old, some as early as five weeks. Laughing occurs about a month after your baby first smiles. A sudden, intense (perhaps surprising) stimulus can make a baby laugh.

But you may notice sometimes your baby is not sure whether to laugh or cry. Laughter appears to be an emotion on the cutting edge of fear. Theories regarding laughter suggest babies laugh at objects and events that are almost, but not entirely, understandable to them. Objects and events that are too confusing, however, make them cry. Four to six month olds tend to laugh more from a touch stimulus (such as tickling) and when you talk in a silly way to them.

Your baby's laughing helps form an emotional link between you, making your play a lot of fun. We like to see babies laugh, so we repeat whatever we did to get them to laugh again and again. By doing this, your baby is learning to gain some control over his environment. Through laughing, babies can also learn the kind of effect they have on other people.

Feeding and Sucking

By four months of age, in all probability, either your baby has found his fingers or thumb to suck on between feedings or you have offered him a pacifier. Several factors may influence the amount of time your baby spends sucking just for fun. More sucking is likely to occur, particularly with breast-fed babies, when you begin to wean your baby. (Oftentimes, weaning is more difficult for the mother than the baby. That special dependency relationship may be difficult to leave behind.)

When teeth begin to erupt, you may see your baby chew more on hands, fingers, and any available toys. Weaning and teething frequently take place simultaneously because of baby's biting.

Most babies like to suck on something between and during meals. If babies have the good fortune to find their own thumbs -- some do this as early as three weeks of age -- they may be able to calm themselves down. Nonnutritive sucking (sucking for pleasure and not for nutrition) is one of your baby's first means of exploration. Babies use their mouths for exploring the world by touching and tasting objects.

People used to believe the amount of sucking babies did would have lasting effects on their personalities and behavioral patterns. For example, some thought babies who didn't suck enough because of bottle-feeding (or because the holes in the nipples were running too fast) would grow up to have "oral personalities" and would be thumb-sucking school-age children and smoking adolescents.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Contrary to the old wive's tale, excessive sucking will not negatively affect a baby.  

These early theories have not been upheld. How babies were fed or weaned makes little difference in their later personality development. Frequent sucking also doesn't seem to have any effect on emotional development (or on dental development, until the permanent teeth start coming in), so you don't need to continually remove your baby's thumb from his mouth or deny him a pacifier. In fact, it is impossible to keep babies from sucking when they want to; some babies suck even when they have nothing in their mouths.

The upshot of professional studies is that a child's emotional development and stability are not related to how he was fed. Also, weaning has not been found to have long-term, resounding ill effects, either psychological or physical, on well-fed babies. Rather, such issues as parental warmth, maternal responsiveness, and the level of conflict in the home are related to development of secure relationships.

Problems in Interaction

By as early as four months of age, your baby begins to develop a specific relationship with you. Your patterns of play help you to form a lasting bond. But, in rare instances, problems can occur in parent-baby play.

Problems in interaction can best be viewed as a breakdown in the play sequence -- a misstep in the dance -- that inhibits mutuality (a back-and-forth togetherness) and turn-taking. Sometimes, the break is obvious to all concerned -- as in child neglect and abuse. More often, problems may be very subtle and can be identified only through frame-by-frame analysis of videotapes of parents with their babies. Some babies and parents show a beautiful rhythmicity and dance in their play, while others appear out of step. The misstep appears when what you expect to happen next just doesn't happen.

An example of this kind of misstep is seen with a mother who turns away just as her baby starts to smile at her. Problems can arise because the baby isn't learning that he can control his mother's behavior through appropriate social behaviors of his own. Psychologists would say the partners in such an interaction are noncontingent -- that is, one partner's response has nothing to do with the other partner's signal. Babies experiencing this type of interaction can "learn helplessness": No matter what their signal is, they are unable to adequately control their environment (in the example, the mother's response). For this reason, it is essential that all parents react sensitively to their babies' signals.

Another problem can occur if one partner in the interaction is overwhelming. Some parents "turn off" their babies by working too hard to sustain their attention. If, for example, a mother continues to intrude on her baby, moving closer and trying to coax a smile, even while the baby signals that he doesn't want to play, the mother is dominating the interaction by not allowing her baby a chance to be an equal partner.

There can also be a problem with the match between the personality style of the parent and the activity level of the baby.

Unfortunately, there are no set rules or easy answers for the right way to play with your baby,except to be sensitive to your baby's particular characteristics. Some babies are far more difficult to parent than others. Sometimes, just knowing why babies respond in the way they do is enough to free parents from any misgivings they may have and help them get back on the right track. But again, problems of this sort are rare. So, the best advice you may ever receive as first-time parents is to relax, have fun, and enjoy your baby!

Recognizing Your Child's Uniqueness

Every baby is different. Some of these differences come from you and the kind of environment you provide. But some of these differences seem to come with the baby at birth. One of these inborn differences is in his temperament, or behavioral style -- that is, whether a child is "easy" or "difficult" or "slow to warm up." Considering temperament is important because, unfortunately, gross mismatches occur occasionally between the temperaments of parents and their infants. These parents are bound, therefore, to go against the grain when trying to set limits for their children.

An "easy" baby shows biological regularity (in feeding, sleeping, and eliminating), predictable behavior, and adaptability. Almost any parent finds this kind of baby easy to get along with because she quickly adjusts to parental routines and expectations.

The "difficult" child, on the other hand, withdraws from new situations, has negative and intense moods, and adapts slowly. Although some parents take great pleasure in this type of baby, describing their baby's difficultness as "vigor" and "lustiness," more frequently, parents and teachers of "difficult" children feel threatened, anxious, and inept. If yours is such a child, it is important to keep in mind that your baby's personality is probably not your fault. A difficult baby's temperament often exists independent of parental attitudes and of management techniques.

Although the "slow-to-warm-up" child is somewhere in the middle, this baby sometimes causes more confusion for parents than either the "easy" or the "difficult" baby. Parents find these babies frustrating because their behavior is often so unpredictable. At times, they are a joy to be with, but changes in routine seem to throw them, causing great difficulty for their parents.

Parents are all different, too, so keep in mind that these assessments are subjective to a certain extent. Depending on personality and past experience, what is an "easy" baby for one parent may be a "difficult" baby for another parent and vice versa. Also, temperament is not necessarily stable, especially during the first months of life. Therefore, it is important to avoid allowing a label to become a "self-fulfilling prophecy." In particular, a baby who is regarded as "difficult" may be routinely treated in a way that reinforces this assessment. And as a result, he develops according to the expectations of those caring for him and not necessarily according to his true potential.

Your child's temperament influences the behavior and attitudes of peers, siblings, parents, and teachers. How your child fits with these significant people in her daily life dictates her patterns of adjustment to new situations. If you think that what appears to be a poor fit may detract from your baby's opportunities for growth and development, you might ask your baby's doctor about parent-infant programs available in your community. Parent-infant educators can help you understand your child's temperament and suggest some techniques to help make parenting easier.

Of course parenting is never easy. And, if you think you have it hard now, just wait until your baby can move around on his own. In the next section, we will learn about the developmental changes that accompany learning how to crawl.

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.


A Child's Behavior, Six to Twelve Months

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Learning to recognize your face will help your baby feel connected to you.

Your baby should learn to crawl around the time of his first birthday. As your child begins to explore the world on his own, a sense of independence starts to develop.

Face Recognition

By seven months of age, your baby may have begun to respond differently to different people. This happens as babies sharpen their visual perceptual skills and learn to recognize people by their faces. Face recognition is a gradual process acquired over the first eight months of life. Some babies can read their parents' facial expressions, too, because they are able to see subtle differences in faces. As with many developmental acquisitions, visual discrimination and perception of faces help your baby maintain contact with you.


Separation Anxiety

Your baby's protest at your leaving the room -- sometimes referred to as separation anxiety -- is a healthy reaction. Rest assured, it does not mean your baby will become an overly dependent adult. It is part and parcel of normal development.

Separation anxiety requires the advancement of cognition necessary for object permanence (you continue to exist in your baby's mind even when you are out of sight) and a special need for you that no one else can meet. Separation anxiety represents your baby's fear of losing you. In the earlier months, your baby probably woke up from a nap screaming; a year later, just calling to your baby from another room may be enough to help her wait for you. This change happens when your baby can remember who you are (even when you are not with her) and is confident you will come back to take care of her. Before your baby develops object permanence, when you leave the room it is as if you no longer exist-it's little wonder she screams when you are gone.

A one-year-old baby usually understands that you are a distinct entity. As babies develop greater motor control, they can move away from their parents and can see them from a distance, which helps babies to perceive themselves as separate individuals. This separateness helps babies begin to develop a sense of self.

Peek-a-boo, one of the most delightful games played with babies, supports your baby's beginning differentiation of self as separate from you. When you cover up your face, to a young baby, you really have disappeared: The baby cognitively inteprets the absence of your visual presence as your disappearance. When you uncover your face, you magically return. For an infant, the emotions of surprise and the joy of being reunited are very real in these games.

Peek-a-boo will continue to hold magical powers for the 18 month old. Your toddler will cover up her face with her hands so she no longer can see you. What will amuse you is the toddler's belief that if she cannot see you, you cannot see her either. Although the toddler will begin to recognize her existence as separate from you, she will not yet be able to take on another person's perspective (put herself in someone else's shoes).

Stranger Anxiety

By six months of age (sometimes earlier), your baby may have developed a very clear and strong preference for one parent or the other. This preference is exemplified by your baby's crying and clinging to you as a new adult approaches-this behavior is called stranger anxiety. Babies in our culture often show at least some form of stranger anxiety at some point.

A baby who only infrequently sees his grandmother may cry as she approaches to hold him. It is natural for grandparents to feel rejected by a grandchild's crying, but if the phenomenon is placed in the context of normal development, they should understand. If you have this problem, suggest they wait a while to become reacquainted with your baby before picking him up.

There are wide variations in the time when stranger anxiety develops and in the strength of the reactions. Some babies scream hysterically, look terrified, and cling tightly to you. Another baby's response may be to give you a dirty look as if to say, "Are you sure you want to hand me over to this strange person?"

When your baby's fear of strangers is at its peak, it is very tempting to sneak out of the room when you want to leave him with a babysitter. However, if you do this, your baby may become more upset than if you tell him you are leaving. Most parents agree you should never sneak off. Forewarning older babies and children, telling them what is going to happen next, is a useful technique to lessen and sometimes prevent distress reactions.

Stranger anxiety may peak, seem to disappear, then reappear again and again over the course of the next year, depending on your baby's experiences, temperament, and way of handling new situations. The process of becoming independent is begun at birth but is certainly not finished within the first three years of life; it continues in different forms throughout your and your child's lifetimes.

Babies' temperamental qualities may affect differences in the strength of reactions to strangers, but other factors -- the setting's familiarity, the tiredness of the baby, and past experience with strangers -- may also come into play. Parents who bring their babies to work with them may find their babies exhibit little stranger anxiety because they are used to seeing so many new faces every day. What is important to understand is that your baby's fear of strangers is a healthy reaction and a part of your child's normal emotional development.

Parents as Refueling Centers

With your baby's ability to crawl and move away from you comes the desire to use you as a secure base from which to explore. A developmental progression can be observed -- your baby first clings tightly to you, then moves away, returns for an occasional hug (or refueling), and then moves off but continues visually checking in to make sure you haven't gone anywhere.

While younger babies require a lot of holding, feeding, and playing on your lap, mobile babies no longer need as much of your continued, close -- at-hand attention. You may even be able to leave the baby in another room as long as you remain available and maintain some verbal communication. (Of course, you want to make sure the room is sufficiently childproofed so your baby's safety is not in jeopardy.) In one study with mothers and babies conducted in a two-room laboratory, the babies would not let their mothers leave them behind in one of the rooms; however, as long as the situation was under the babies' control, and they were the ones who chose to go into the next room, the babies ventured out of their mothers' sight and explored.

Your availability and occasional reassurance should support your baby's exploratory behavior. Babies of this age who are allowed this controlled freedom to explore, with the reassurance of verbal contact with the parent when out of sight, seem to fare better on later tests of emotional and cognitive abilities. Allowing your baby some freedom of exploration and control over the environment and not interfering unnecessarily with what she wants to do enhances your relationship with her.

Executive Dependence

Some psychologists have called this exploratory stage a baby experiences at 6 to 12 months one of executive dependence: A baby continues to be very dependent on his caregivers but also has some control over them. Your baby may easily become a tyrant in this stage -- for example, he may cry because he wants a cookie and then become frustrated because he no longer remembers what he wanted. Your baby can keep you hopping, trying to second-guess what his needs are.

While your baby's continued dependence on you may be frustrating at times, meeting his basic needs is essential for healthy emotional and cognitive growth. Your responsiveness and your habit of attending to and appropriately acknowledging your baby's signals, requests, and demands enable him to become effective in his interactions with the world. That kind of attention teaches your baby to think, "If I do something, I can have an effect. I can make something happen!"

After the first year, your baby's development starts to grow in remarkable leaps and bounds. In the next sections, we will learn about these landmarks.


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.


A Child's Development, Twelve to Eighteen Months

Feeling secure is crucial to your child's development.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

At this stage your child will start to reexamine you and the relationship you share. This can be a difficult time.

A Secure Attachment

A twelve-month-old baby has formed a meaningful relationship with you. (Here we are speaking to mothers because women have traditionally been the primary caregivers for babies. But what is discussed here applies to fathers as well.) Psychologists refer to this as a baby's "specific attachment." Not only does your baby clearly prefer you, but he also strives to avoid your absence and can use your presence to give himself security.


People used to talk about this relationship in terms of its intensity -- how much and how loudly did a baby cry when his mother left the room. They believed that babies with more intense reactions loved their mothers more. We now realize the intensity of a child's response to separation from his mother is less important than the degree of security he can gain from her presence. In fact, psychologists now classify children in terms of whether their attachment is secure. A secure attachment is shown with babies who seek closeness with their mothers. After a separation, when their mothers return to the room, these securely attached babies approach and look up at their moms.

Having a secure attachment is good for babies' long-term development. Securely attached babies end up having better peer relationships and emotional stability during the first six years. Of course, the seeds of this relationship begin early in life with the mothers' handling of their babies. Studies find that mothers who responded sensitively and appropriately to their babies in the first two to six months of life are more likely to have babies with these secure relationships. Surprisingly, the baby's characteristics early on seem to play little role.

Recognition of Self

About this time, babies can also recognize themselves in the mirror. One study examined how babies reacted to their mirror reflections. Lipstick was put on their noses, and observers watched to see if the babies would try to wipe the lipstick off. The babies all learned to recognize themselves in the mirror and wipe off the lipstick sometime between 9 and 24 months of age.

Because babies are becoming more aware of their separateness, they begin to recognize how vulnerable they really are without you there to take care of them. Try to think about how it feels to have your feet pulled out from under you. That's how your baby feels as she starts to realize that she is not you.

This happens right before your baby takes her first independent steps. Tolerance for frustrating and stressful events diminishes. At times, your baby seems like an emotional wreck -- quick to cry and not easily pacified. You wonder what happened to your nice, calm baby. Some psychiatrists have suggested the apprehension associated with walking may be fear of loss of support from the parent. All of a sudden, your baby is alone and separate. Independent walking, perhaps, marks the discovery of the solitary self.

Conflicting Feelings

Your baby experiences conflicting emotions as he masters walking. At the same time he is hanging onto you, he is pushing you away. With his first steps, striving toward greater independence, he seems to be saying, "Look at what I can do! I can walk and go where I want!" In the next breath, showing his extreme dependence, your baby seems to say, "Stay here. I can't be without you for a moment." All of this is healthy and normal.

Transitional Objects

By this time, your baby may have established a specially loved blanket or stuffed animal (a "lovey") that accompanies her to bed and to places she finds scary. This lovey is called a transitional object because it helps your baby in the transition between extreme dependence on you and the move toward independence.

Your baby's lovey provides security and comfort, particularly in fearful situations. It is important to respect your baby's desire to have this lovey with her.

Some babies maintain this attachment to a special lovey into the preschool years and beyond. There is no predetermined time for abandonment of a lovey; your child puts hers aside when she is ready. In most cases, the attachment is normal, and is outgrown naturally.

Perhaps the most important cognitive milestone for your child is learning how to speak. With communication comes understanding, but also manipulation. Learn all about this monumental time in the next section.

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.


A Child's Advancements, Eighteen Months to Two Years

When your child learns to speak it becomes easier to explore the world together.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Around this time your child learns how to speak. Along with the accomplishment comes a greater sense of individuality -- and some more unwelcome changes. Toddler behavior runs the entire gamut.


When your baby can communicate some ideas to you, your parenting job becomes a bit easier. You can ask what's wrong and your child can respond. His knowledge of just a few words can go a long way. You no longer are required to be a mind reader and try to second-guess your toddler to figure out what is bothering him.


Much younger babies use gestures and single words to make their wants and needs known. Your baby may have developed some of his own unique gestures to express different wants. Many eighteen-month-olds have command over a number of words. These single words can mean whole sentences. Some 18 month olds put words together in two- and three-word combinations.

Wise parents make use of their babies' natural ability to acquire language to make their jobs easier. In one instance, a mother was so quick to get everything for her toddler that he didn't need to talk. All his needs were met without much effort on his part. When his doctor suggested that the mother wait for her son to ask for what he wants, the little boy started talking in five-word sentences. In this situation, the mother had been too good at reading her son's signals.

If you have concerns about your baby's development of language, discuss them with your child's doctor. Babies prone to frequent ear infections occasionally have fluctuating hearing losses. If you suspect your baby isn't listening to you or does not understand what you say, you should check this out. Sometimes children have behavior problems because of poor hearing. Kids can be particularly difficult to manage when they don't hear what you say.

For some babies, having the words in their heads but not having the words come out right can be a very frustrating experience. There is so much they want to say, but they don't know how to say it. To help your child, try not to place too much pressure on your baby to say the words correctly. A lot of internal and external demands are placed on the almost-two year old. Not only are these youngsters trying to master an upright world, they are also trying to become competent users of language. This is a time when gentle encouragement, assurance, and firm limits are needed.


At eighteen months of age, your baby has an egocentric view of the world: She sees herself as the center of the universe and is unable to see the world through other people's eyes. The term egocentric, often used to refer to self-centered adults, also describes a baby's view of her position of power in the world: She, too, believes the world revolves around her.

At this age, your baby recognizes that parents can do everything for her. Adults serve a purpose for babies: They are a means to an end. However, while adults can give babies what they want, they can also make demands and set limits, which can be a source of conflict. For example, a mother can ask her toddler to begin to master independent living skills (such as giving up the nighttime bottle, using a cup and a spoon, and using the potty) before the toddler feels she is ready.

Feeding can be a potential battleground for parents and babies -- with the baby often winning. Babies can use the feeding situation as a way to control parents. A laid-back approach -- allowing the baby some selection of food and not forcing her to eat detested foods -- can prevent later feeding problems. You can also use some tricks, such as disguising the disliked foods with preferred tastes -- dipping a vegetable in yogurt or cheese sauce, for example.

Conflicts about self-care skills often center on dependence-independence issues. Some sort of balance must be achieved between your baby's dependence on you and your desire for your baby's increased independence. It may be best to deal with some of these skills -- such as toilet training -- at a later date since some readiness skills may be needed. There is no single timetable because children master developmental skills at their own rates.


One of a baby's first words is no. Babies often say no to your requests even when they mean yes. Some say it is easier for a baby to shake his head from side to side than up and down, but defiance is certainly also the name of the game. We have all seen many a two year old throw a temper tantrum right in the middle of the store because he didn't get what he wanted. These temper tantrums are disruptive and embarrassing but are all part of growing up. Though never easy to deal with, they are inevitable, and every parent faces them. And yes, the phase will pass!

This stage is characterized by a great deal of opposition. It's as if the toddler has to do the opposite just as a statement of his independence. This is a very important developmental step for your child. It is an assertion of your child's sense of himself as an individual. These difficult times are important for your child to separate from you and move toward becoming a distinct person.

Like everything else in development, the timetable varies from child to child. Some very verbal children don't hit the terrible twos until they are three. This is a consequence of the child's and parents' ability to talk about what the child is feeling, thinking, or wanting. Parents can explain a lot to toddlers, sometimes defusing a potentially explosive situation. Other times, these explanations are totally useless, partly because the baby doesn't have the necessary level of understanding to know what you are talking about. Also, at times your child just won't give in. It is very important for parents to sit down and talk with each other so they can establish priorities as to what's worth a fight and what isn't.

Intense Separation Reactions

Even though your baby has already experienced some stranger anxiety, she develops more intense reactions to separation at this developmental stage. Leaving her with a babysitter or dropping her off at the child care center may be more difficult. Remembering to take a favorite toy or lovey along may help with these leave-takings. Fear of new situations results partly because of your child's inexperience with them.

Established sleep patterns may be disrupted in this stage. So much time during the day is spent in motor activity -- walking and running -- that by the time evening rolls around, your toddler is likely to be too overtired to go to bed easily. In addition, you shouldn't be surprised if your baby starts to wake up again in the middle of the night. This may be because your baby is afraid of being alone. Night fears begin around 18 months of age. They may continue through the third and fourth year, changing in intensity and content. Three year olds can often tell you about dreams that wake them up.

At these early ages, your baby doesn't know what's real and what's fantasy, so nighttime, being alone, and dreams can be frightening experiences. You can relieve some of your baby's tearfulness by comforting her and telling her you are there and will protect her. On occasion, even letting your baby crawl into bed with you can give her a sense of security and you a good night's sleep.

Children's fears can be lessened through imaginative play and books. Play is a terrific means of working out difficulties your child may experience. Some of your baby's fears and worries can be worked out through your playing together. Each of you can take turns pretending to be the scary monster, which the other one banishes. Some delightful children's books cast triumphant little boys or girls as conquerors of nighttime monsters.

In addition to books, parents can use puppets to engage their toddlers, and older children, too, in lively reenactments of daily concerns and fears. Playing with puppets removes some of the tension associated with real-life discussions about upsetting issues. By giving the worries to the puppets in the realm of your play, some forbidding topics are no longer as unthinkable.

Toddlers need a regular bedtime routine. Many parents use the hour before bedtime to read books with their children. Reading to your child encourages her to read, and eighteen month olds find the same routine night after night comforting. Thus, a consistent bedtime ritual is good for your child's emotional and cognitive development and may provide a better night's sleep for both parents and child.

New Advances

As a parent, your role is to support your baby's move toward independence while at the same time recognizing his need to be dependent on you. Some children have great difficulty struggling to reach the next developmental milestone. Others make smooth transitions from milestone to milestone. Some experts believe development depends mainly on the child's growth or maturation, with maturation moving in an upward, cyclical manner. Occasionally, peaks and valleys do occur.

With this cyclical view of development, parents can see how new advances can upset children. Thus, with advances to each new stage of development, notably with walking, your baby's behavior may seem disorganized until he is sure of himself and has consolidated his new skills.


Neither eighteen-month-olds nor two-year-olds are very good at sharing toys. This, too, is a part of normal development and should be accepted as such. From your baby's perspective, her toys are an extension of herself. For someone to take a toy from her is a direct affront to her integrity. It's as if a part of her has been taken away. Parents are probably unrealistic to request a child of this age to share with other children. You can start to work toward that goal, but it may be too soon to reasonably expect to achieve it.

One helpful hint is to have a special set of toys designated for the play group. This way the toys don't seem to belong to any one person. You can also reduce aggression and fighting over toys with planned activities. The activities should be ones that are creative, messy, and fun, such as fingerpainting, or playing with blocks, sand, and molding material.

Difficulties With Changes

The toddler can get very upset if you do not carry out routines in exactly the same way.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Eighteen month olds are very ritualistic. The toddler can get very upset if you do not carry out routines in exactly the same way. Recognizing this, you can help your toddler by maintaining as consistent a routine as possible; then your toddler doesn't have to try to figure out what will happen next. You can also ease transitions by telling children what to expect.

A toddlers' typical ritualistic behavior may be due to his limited understanding of language. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking that eighteen month olds know more than they do. On occasion, parents should stand back and reevaluate why the child acted the way he did. Perhaps he did not understand what was said or asked. While toddlers understand a great deal, not all ideas hold the same meaning for eighteen month olds as they do for adults.

Because of this, your child's reactions to disruptions in his routine are likely to be more intense than they were earlier in his life. The toddler's distress and obstinacy are said to be, in part, related to the beginning development of his sense of self. To the toddler, parent and child are becoming two separate people, which may be a stressful adjustment.

The emotions of fear and worry may seem more apparent with toddlers than with young babies. Some two year olds appear quite wary when confronted with new situations. In particular, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and other loud noises can be pretty frightening. Toddlers don't understand the relationship between cause and effect yet and may attribute magical or lifelike properties to noises and machines. The toddler may even think these strange occurrences happened because of something he did.

Some children hold onto their parents until they are comfortable and secure in a new setting. Yet at home, if all is going well, your child should be able to leave your side to play by himself in another room. Your child's caution and his checking in on you represent a beginning sense of reality. It is part of the normal developmental process, without which your child would not develop into a healthy, independent person.

Although at times your toddler will be difficult to manage, this is the age when it is even more important to be firm in setting limits, consistent in your demands, and nurturing during the bad as well as the good moments. Your role is to balance the toddler's desire for independence with his continued need for reassurance, love, and affection.

Your child's road to independence does not end at age three, but that time does contain many significant changes. Learn about what to expect in your child's third year in the next section.

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.


A Child's Independence, the Third Year

As your child grows older there are more activities you can do together, but also more potential conflicts.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The first half of the third year may remain difficult for you and your child as far as issues of control and dependence are concerned. Although your child's language and self-care skills are more advanced, in some ways your child continues to feel like a tightrope walker, occasionally teetering with uncertainty over what she can and cannot do. Try to recognize your child's need for independence. By promoting independence along with emotional support, parents can help their children through this stage. An extra cuddle or more lavish praise for good behavior helps to counteract some of the normal negative behavior.

Control and Discipline

One management technique that works quite well with toddlers is the use of praise. To help your child develop a positive self-image, you should encourage and delight in your child's new accomplishments and achievements. Praise ("That's good! I like that block tower."), hugs, and kisses are important ingredients in promoting a good self-image. At two and three years of age, a child's self-esteem-how she feels about herself-often reflects her perception of her parents' opinions of her. Interest in and enjoyment of your child's play set the tone for a healthy self-concept.


One of the most difficult jobs parents have is setting reasonable limits for their children. Letting your child know what's expected, what's tolerable, and what's unacceptable is a long-term process that continues well into the teenage years. As early as in the first year, for example, you set some limits by not letting your child stick her fingers into the electrical outlets.

You can defuse some potential conflicts by rearranging the environment so you don't have to worry about your child's hurting herself, breaking your valuable vase, or eating a poisonous plant. Childproofing the major living quarters in your house allows your child to safely explore many interesting and different objects.

Of course, changing the environment does not take care of those times when a direct confrontation is necessary. It helps to quickly and adeptly address the situation. Tell your child what you don't like about what she is doing. Give her a simple reason why, for example, pulling the tail on the cat hurts the cat. Parents don't need to use more than one or two sentences of explanation. Ask the child to stop. If that doesn't work, put the child on a chair for a few minutes either in the same room with you or in a different room for a time-out. After the allotted time has elapsed, you can then talk about what happened.

Later in the day, but not immediately afterward, be sure to let your child know you still love her by giving her a hug and a kiss. On a particularly bad day, you may even want to engage her in a very special time just for the two of you. The earlier you begin to set aside a special chair or place to be used for thinking about unacceptable behavior, the sooner your child learns that some behaviors are just not acceptable.

In the early years, parents take on the roles of care-giver, teacher, and playmate. Creating an emotionally supportive environment is essential for your child to become independent yet aware of her parents' love and acceptance. On occasion, behavioral extremes are acceptable for two year olds. As a regular pattern, however, the child who is always out of control or overly compliant is telling you something. These are warning signals that suggest you should take a good, hard look at your disciplining techniques. Ask yourself: Are my methods so loose that the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are unclear? Am I so rigid in setting limits that my child is afraid to upset me by resisting my controls? Am I providing enough time for relaxed activities and play with my child? Learning how to discipline a child takes time and practice.

By the end of the third year, with increased growth, maturity, and confidence, your child becomes willing to relinquish some of her insistence on being independent. She may even give up some of her executive independence ("I want to do it myself!") for your love and affection. She obtains great pleasure from praise and attention.

Her participation in such body management activities as feeding, toilet training, and dressing becomes a matter of routine. Although many three-year-old children continue to have high activity levels, their activity begins to be more directed, with a far less frenetic quality.

The secure three year old may allow you to help her set limits. This new stage has been called the stage of volitional dependence because the child's needs can now be brought under her control. Your child is less impulsive and more manageable; she understands an occasional explanation of rules -- and actually follows the rules, too. For example, when you are working in one room, you may no longer have to worry about leaving your child to play in another, but instead can trust her not to misbehave.

 Feelings and Emotions

Of particular importance, but sometimes overlooked, is talking to your children about how they feel. By the age of three, children experience a wide range of emotions: They feel afraid, mad, sad, and glad. While children may not have exactly the same meanings for these feelings that adults do, children can learn to label and identify good and bad feelings. Don't underestimate their capacity for understanding emotions and feelings.

Parents can help their children develop a language for expressing and dealing with feelings by giving the feelings names. While doing so, parents have a responsibility to manage their own feelings to help children deal with theirs. Sometimes, our own childhood experiences creep into how we handle emotions with our children. All of us have trouble with some feelings. For instance, difficulties with such feelings as anger and aggression may spill into our parenting. If we cannot tolerate angry feelings, we might try to prevent our children from displaying anger by saying "That's no reason to be angry!" when in fact a child may have good reason to be angry. Through the use of play, you can provide children with some emotional avenues for anger, fear, and anxiety.

Self Concept

Between their second and third birthdays, most children become fairly competent language users. They readily use the personal pronouns "I," "me," and "mine," particularly to defend ownership of their toys and possessions. They have great difficulty letting anyone else play with something that is theirs.

Around this time, your toddler can refer to himself by his own name. Sometimes, when playing with dolls or superheroes, your toddler may reenact earlier events. He may assign different roles to the dolls. If you sit down and play directly with your toddler, you can get a glimpse of the inner workings of his mind. This glimpse may be both delightful and unnerving, since you may observe firsthand how your child views your parenting style. Many parents have heard their sweet little boy harshly send his favorite stuffed animal to his room because it didn't behave.

As your child becomes more independent, she will feel more comfortable being on her own.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

By three years of age, your child has a good sense of "me" and "you" and of "self" versus "nonself." With better cognitive capacities and a wider repertoire of experiences, the three year old has internalized memories of the significant people in his life -- his parents. As his sense of self grows, a child's personality represents more of what he will be like as he grows older. He readily displays his preferences and dislikes in how he interacts with the world; for example, some children already prefer very physical activities, while others choose quiet, sedentary play.

Aggression and Fighting

Fighting usually centers on wanting to have a toy someone else has. Aggression is a normal part of growing up and may be related to our survival instincts. Most children are fairly aggressive when defending their belongings and themselves.

There are no easy answers for how to handle excessive aggression. But it certainly doesn't make sense to the child or to the parent to handle aggression with aggression. Imagine this scenario: Two sisters are fighting over a toy. One parent comes in, yells at them to stop fighting, and hits one of them because the child won't give the toy back. What does this teach the children? There's quite a mixed message here -- it's all right to fight and to hit but only if you are bigger and more powerful than your adversary.

Parental handling does influence how aggressive a child will be. Children in families where physical violence, such as beating (as opposed to a mild slap on the wrist or a gentle spank on the bottom), hitting, or spanking, is used as punishment generally turn out to be more aggressive than other children. The least aggressive children come from families that are nonpunitive, nonpermissive, and nonrejecting. The parents in such families are consistent in their handling of aggression. They don't use harsh physical punishment or unnecessarily harsh language. They set firm and clear limits about what they expect of their children, and they are accepting of their children.

Consistency is important in whatever intervention technique you use to deal with your child's aggression. A useful technique is to remove the child from the fight and isolate her for a few minutes. Quick handling of the situation, before the fighting gets out of hand, helps. Once your two year old can talk, ask her to talk about how she feels or what she wants. Doing so helps her learn to express herself verbally instead of physically.

Sometimes, providing your child with an outlet for her pent-up energy helps reduce the level of her aggression. Just as with adults, active physical exercise helps release the tension and reduce the level of stress. Imaginative play also helps her work through aggressive tendencies. Parents can capitalize on the child's imagination to help work out conflicts.


It is especially wondrous and exciting to watch imagination develop in your child. Through the windows of your child's play and the talking he does to himself, the pictures he draws, and the stories he tells, you can actually follow your child, the little movie director, as he casts a set of characters into their various roles. Fantasy develops along with your child's more sophisticated knowledge of the world, although he cannot yet totally differentiate fantasy from reality.

Some children have such great imaginations that they tell the most unbelievable stories -- and sometimes get in trouble for doing so. Many children have imaginary friends. Sometimes these creations become scapegoats for the child's own behavior. When the child does something wrong, he may say the imaginary friend was actually the culprit. Usually, the presence of an imaginary friend is just a sign of a healthy, imaginative child. But imaginary friends can become too powerful: They can interfere with your child's ability to accept responsibility, their presence can exclude other friends, and they can do all your child's talking. Luckily, this doesn't happen very often. If you're concerned about your child's imaginary companion, you may want to consult a professional.


Presidential commissions have confirmed the profound effects of excessive television violence on children's aggressive behavior. These reports indicate that a steady diet of violent television programming is related to an increase in children's fighting. If you do not want to have a physically aggressive child, you may consider monitoring your child's television viewing habits. One way to do this is to count the number of aggressive acts in your child's Saturday morning cartoons. Then you can decide if you would like her to continue to watch them.

Cartoon-watching also seems to negatively impact children's activity levels. While they sit and stare at the television set, they appear zombie-like: Afterward, these same children act overexcited, running helter-skelter with little direction or content in their play. In all likelihood, a steady diet of superheroes and monsters can have negative consequences. Also, because two and three year olds are unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, the evil warriors and monsters may seem real to them, and the characters in some of these daytime shows can come back to haunt toddlers at nighttime, manifesting as nightmares or fear of the dark. To make matters worse, it is often difficult to tell where the cartoons end and the commercials begin.

However, television, in moderation, can be used for positive ends as well. Good educational programs, such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, have much to teach your toddler.

But always remember that too much television viewing, even of high-quality programs, can lead to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle. And even the best programs can't match the benefits of real experiences with real people.

Multiple Attachments

By three years of age, your child is likely to have a number of relationships with people other than his parents. He may have a favorite babysitter or just a good friend. He prefers to play with children his own age rather than playing with you, although he still enjoys and needs you. He and his friends can spend a long time at play without any fighting and with some sharing of toys.

As your child's world expands -- for example, when he goes to a child care center or preschool -- the influences on your child's self-esteem also include new people's attitudes toward him. It's essential for you to provide him with the security he needs so he can go out and explore his surroundings.

While your child may be quite ready to go off to preschool, once in a while he may slip back to his less-sure former self and not want to leave your side. These are normal separation reactions. His going to preschool is a big emotional step for both of you.

Here is an example of a three year old boy we knew. It was the first week of preschool. Every day the boy's mother walked him to the classroom, gave him a hug and a kiss, and said goodbye. Each time, the boy cried uncontrollably, refusing to take his jacket off for the whole day. Knowingly, the teachers respected the child's need to hold onto his jacket. For this child, removing his jacket meant that he was going to stay at this place without his mother. In a way, he was unsure that he was ready for all this independence. Both mother and child benefitted from the teachers' warm assurance that everything would be all right. Gradually, the teachers enticed the child into the fun the others were having.

Some preschools are quite aware of children's difficulties with separation and build this into their programs by slowly introducing children into the classroom. For some children, preschool is the first time they are on their own. It is, on the one hand, an obvious milestone, but on the other hand, it is just one of the many steps that take your child gradually toward independence.

As a newborn your child is completely dependent on you for everything from food to clothes to companionship. As your child grows physically, he also grows mentally and becomes more aware of himself and the people around him. It can sometimes be painful and sometimes joyous, but every child matures and becomes more independent. While no two children are alike, you now have a general idea of what you can expect during this tumultuous time.

©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.


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