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Understanding How Children Mature

A Child's Development, Twelve to Eighteen Months

Feeling secure is crucial to your child's development.
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.