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Understanding How Children Mature

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.
©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.