Playing with infants is a joy and a challenge. With so many play ideas listed on google and in baby books, how do you choose where to begin each month? Cutting-edge research on infancy now can guide mothers and fathers to make great choices that meet and advance development.
If a parent understands what’s happening in their baby’s mind, not only in their physical changes, then brain and body milestones will be optimized in a very important way. The playtime will then take into account the parent-baby bond. The bond begins even within utero when the baby hears the mother’s voice that is recognized at birth!
Years ago, it was thought that babies were born in a kind of mindless symbiotic state. Not so!
Babies are social from the start. In the beginning, the baby can’t know that the breast belongs to the mother or that he is an entirely separate being from another human being, but he still shows his preferences and feelings.
How does an infant during the first month send playful messages to the caring person?
Watch a baby nursing, and you will see when she moves her head away for a breath, or when you speak to her in a “motherese” singsong voice after several minutes, she averts her head.
These simple head gestures are telling the mother, “I need a break.” The baby surely is not rejecting the mother, only informing her. If the mother reads the message correctly, she can follow her baby’s direction.
Infants from the start know what they want and need and will tell you if you learn to read their sounds and body language.
The baby, who needs a breath, is telling her mother she can stop nursing from one breast for a moment before she latches on to the other breast. The eager mother can quiet herself to lower the stimulation that this particular infant is—at that moment—finding too arousing.
What Mothers and Fathers Learn from their Infants Moment by Moment During Each Month of the First Year
I am about to highlight significant facts to guide your play month by month that generally aren’t popularized in baby books.
Because so much is happening so fast, get your mobile phone on video, and you will have a two-minute movie every day to send to everyone you love. In even less than a minute for each video, you will save significant moments for sure.
I will share with you ideas researchers have discovered about your baby that will help you understand how playing is simply what babies do most of the time because they are learning all the time.
Infants live in a two-person social world from the start. At birth, they can differentiate human faces and voices from other sights and sounds—and they prefer them. Mommies’ voices take priority over other sounds around them. Infants actually discriminate between sounds early on.
Baby’s Social Vision
Your baby’s line of sight or vision is most clearly focused at the distance of a person holding them. It’s as if they are designed to see the people who love them more clearly than anyone or anything else.
Play While Meeting Daily Needs
With that in mind, you can think of making the most of the baby’s earliest needs into play. When you change a diaper, sing to your baby, narrate in a high singsong voice what you are doing, and smile at your delighted baby.
Diapering definitely isn’t only about being clean—it’s about touching skin to skin, soothing, and playing. That is, having fun as you and your baby become acquainted. You’ll have lots of opportunities for this play. Don’t miss out!
As a newborn, babies connect sound and vision. If a baby hears a noise, he will look in that direction, suggesting he already expects to see something to which the noise directed him. Yes, your baby is already beginning to show expectations. It’s remarkable that her mind is so alert so young.
Sounds in a household are always happening. Watch your baby turn her head to them or wiggle her toes in response to the stimulation. Your environment is offering playtime without one toy.
But be alert when your baby is overstimulated. Does she cry when you turn the vacuum cleaner on for the first time? If she’s sensitive to auditory stimulation, she might, so what to do?
Turn it off and smile at your baby, letting her know you understand her. Now you’re not only understanding her signals, but you are also communicating with her. Your smile in reaction to stopping the noise is an early conversation. These early conversations are playing.
Babies want and need to feel understood if trust is to be fostered—an essential necessity for babies. Babies learn to trust when we are attuned to their messages when we play.
As early as forty-two minutes after delivery your infant wants to imitate you. You are the most exciting object being watched. Take a pacifier out of your baby’s mouth and make a movement with your own mouth.
Does your baby try to copy you? Yes? No? Day by day this may change, and this is playing!
Social Play Builds Trust and Bonding
When your baby gazes at you and her eyes widen, she is communicating once again. She wants and even seeks to initiate social play. You make funny faces, and she watches you so closely.
Oops! Did you hear a bit of a cry, see a turn of the head, observe some body movement? Okay, she’s saying, “too much animation is stimulating me now.” “Please curb your responses, Mommy.”
When you listen, your baby feels what it’s like to be understood while playing.
Feeling understood creates the bond you are making with your baby. Watch, listen, raise your eyebrows, all in an effort to be attuned to your baby. Attuned play is what we’re after because it builds your early relationship.
No matter what anyone says with respect to expected milestones, each baby has his own timeline. Surely be mindful of basic parameters, but mommy’s job is to know her very own unique infant.
Give your one-month-old a chance to respond. Studies demonstrate that infants whose parents talk with them rather than at them, begin to learn to talk earlier. Pause and give your infant a chance to coo, gurgle, or giggle. In other words, pause to give her a chance to respond as you look into her eyes.
And, yes, look into her eyes. “Eye love” is playing. There’s nothing more thrilling than when your baby has his eyes on you. When he looks away, don’t call him back. Look and see what he has turned to. You’re having another conversation. This is play.
Research shows that infants generally prefer black and white and red and yellow. So, choose those colors for the cardboard and cloth books you read with your infant and for the moving mobile on the crib which, by the way, should be placed on one side of the crib or the other not centered overhead. Sides are where your two-month-old looks.
Tummy time is a favorite but monitor for how long. As your baby lays on her tummy, she will naturally try to lift her head. This happens bit by bit as she gets stronger. Patiently give her several opportunities a day to make her motor development playful.
Smile at whatever she accomplishes—that’s more conversation!
Your two-month-old loves to suck. His sucking reflex is very active with his fist and fingers. He is not only learning to soothe himself as needed but this is also playing independently.
Your baby may want some moments to himself, and he will be learning this time is enjoyable, too. You can join in when the baby is ready by giving him your little pinky to suck while you both gaze into each other’s eyes.
Soothing is a way of emotionally playing with your five-week-old. So, what can you do to soothe your young baby as you play? Cuddle, caress, rock back and forth, walk slowly, hum, or pat her gently on her little round bottom.
Give your two-month-old a lot of hugs to show your love, as well as to demonstrate how to share affection.
Imitate your baby’s sounds and exaggerate them. When she coos, coo back. When she says, “Ahh,” repeat it over and over. Imitating language is a game your infant will enjoy.
Plus, it builds self-esteem because you’re demonstrating that what she says matters to you.
It’s time to enjoy your baby when she spontaneously coordinates her expressions, gestures, and voice with your expressions, gestures, and voice. You will then be remarkably in sync with your baby.
It can be a magical age for playing, as you become even more connected to your baby in a very unique way.
Cause and Effect
By three-months-old, your baby will probably detect some cause and effect. For example, infants this age expect that the sound of a voice comes from the same direction as the visually seen location of the face.
How do they know so much so soon? They not only watch you carefully with all your playful smiles and sounds, but they also realize that some of their own actions influence your actions.
How do the researchers know this? They observe how babies do and do not understand the relation between actions and results.
Gently tie one end of a ribbon to your baby’s toe and the other end to his mobile, making sure there is a little give in the ribbon. When she moves her foot, the mobile moves. She will probably repeat the act, having learned she has this ability to influence an event. Then, if you give her a chance to do the same thing a week later, she will remember instantly and start kicking.
However, if you disconnect the ribbon, the baby will continue to kick, not realizing the change that occurred. In other words, she makes false assumptions; she doesn’t realize that she needs the ribbon’s direct connection to the mobile to make it move.
Try it and see for yourself. It’s fascinating. You may even notice that your baby coos and smiles as well, as if that will make the mobile move! She has a lot to learn even though she already figures out so much. So, try not to presume her view of cause and effect. It may not match yours.
Learning the Differences between Object and People
While smiling and cooing always get a reaction from Daddy, alas, the mobile doesn’t respond the same way as Daddy. The mobile does not smile back or move.
This difference between objects and people is something that your three-month-old doesn’t understand particularly well just yet, but she’s working on it.
Infants can’t discriminate between physical causality with objects, like when your baby’s foot- kicking pulls the ribbon and moves the mobile, and psychological causality with people, such as when a mother returns a smile or a coo. However, they can still detect the source of an action, where it comes from.
Who Initiates the Action?
Another interesting study to keep in mind as you watch your three-month-old develop, is that a baby at three months old can recognize the difference between self-initiated actions (as when they shake the mobile by kicking their foot), and actions that others initiate.
For example, the baby cannot reliably predict her mother’s actions. For example, a baby can be 100 percent certain that vocalizing will bring a feeling in her chest that resonates. But she can only be fairly certain that when she is making sounds, it will result in a mommy response. A parent does not walk over and return a coo every single time a baby vocalizes.
Babies play with trial and error just like we do.
Your baby may begin to rely on her own actions more than those of others—as self-initiated actions are the most reliable. But you can try to be as reliable as possible for her as you respond to her development and growth in encouraging playful ways.
How mothers and four-month-old infants interact indicates the kind of play they can have together. Parenting practices such as responsiveness, devotion, investment, and involvement are important for mother and baby.
Communication During Play
In 2016, Dr. Beatrice Beebe and her colleagues studied videos of mothers with their four-month-olds to determine the impact that their communications have on their attachment styles at one year. In this study, I discovered with Dr. Beebe just like how each partner affects the other from one moment to the next. I was watching a video. You will see what happens in real-time!
As you will discover, four-month-olds are very communicative—especially with their caregivers.
The Action-Dialogue World
Infants and mothers live in a “split-second world” during face-to-face interactions. For play to be effective, the two partners become predictable and anticipate each other’s moves.
But how do we know that four-month-olds can anticipate events?
In an experiment, infants aged three and a half months saw two series of slides of checkerboards, bull’s-eyes, and drawings of faces. One series was predictable; it alternated to the left and to the right in a steady rhythm as the images moved up and down. The other series was random in left or right positions; the infants could not detect a pattern.
The researchers videotaped the infant’s eyes and found that the infants were able to recognize the pattern of the regularly alternating series and even showed anticipatory eye movements.
Their eyes focused on the slide even a fraction of a second before it appeared. This ability to detect sequences of actions—to anticipate events—gives the infant a way of maintaining continuity in an ever-changing world.
Infants at this age are able to learn “As I do this, then I do that,” “As you do this, then you do that,” and “As I do this, then you do that.”
By five months, a baby can ordinarily recognize his mother—with all her subtleties. Experiences have produced memories of her caretaking, and when disturbing experiences occur, the baby knows that the mother will minister to him and make him feel better.
Such relief becomes “confidently expected.” Babies with this healthy relationship develop a “preferential smiling response” to their mother; this is a crucial sign that the baby has memory of his mother helping him.
Playtime Suggestions to Enhance Your Interpersonal Relationship
One of the first things to keep in mind while playing with your five-month-old is to continue with a lot of face-to-face interaction. Here are some ideas for play to please your slightly older baby.
Sight, Sound, and Touch
Your five-month-old will love hearing different sounds, seeing funny faces, and singing and dancing to a strong beat.
Increase your skin contact, cuddling with your tops taken off.
Since babies love to splash in water, bathe your baby for fun and for play, and start attending baby swim classes if you like.
An unbreakable baby-safe mirror is a lot of fun, as it allows your little one to talk with “another” baby! (Many, many months later, your baby will know she is the one in the mirror!)
Find balls and toys that make little noises, as they are very exciting to your sound-making cherub.
A Definite Must—Learning that Objects out of Sight Have Not Disappeared
Play peekaboo and observe how your baby’s focus will shift to the “boo!” This is because your play is teaching your baby “object permanence” (an object that is moved out of sight hasn’t disappeared). This is an essential learning experience that readily comes with playing.
Put colorful objects in front of your baby and move them back and forth, as she can now discern tiny items with a lot of color and can track moving objects. She’s watching not only where they go, but if they stay or disappear.
As your baby passes one object from hand to hand, interfere and take your turn, too. Interacting this way is playing.
Once again, the baby is learning when a moving object stays present—or—goes away but comes back. Shift the play to taking the object and putting it behind your back, and then making it appear.
During the seconds of its absence, watch your baby’s puzzled face followed by her delight when she discovers the object returns.
Hearing and Vision
Since your baby’s hearing and vision are almost completely developed, notice that your baby might understand her name. Whisper and sing her name to her and see if she turns to you when you spontaneously call her.
If your baby doesn’t babble, don’t worry. Quieter babies are also progressing. Even though their hearing is developing, they may prefer to focus more on tactile, visual play as they suck on fingers and toys with increasing intensity and bring their feet to their mouths to suck on their toes.
At six months old, your baby’s mouth is her focus for exploration and discovery. She loves to hear the sounds she can make. She is very social and interactive and physically even more capable—so play is more important than ever.
Each infant has her own level of pleasurable optimal excitability when playing. Below this level, an experience becomes uninteresting, and above this level, the excitation is too much.
The optimal level of excitation and stimulation varies for each baby. Your infant will regulate her own level of excitation by looking away or by gazing elsewhere and watching facial reactions.
Your infant shuts out stimulation that feels above her optimal range. She is not shutting you out, just the over-stimulation.
However, she seeks out new novel or higher levels of stimulation when the level of excitation is too low.
There is mutual regulation between you and your baby—just as there has been in earlier months and will continue to be progressing in the future.
An early coping function is developing so that your baby can discover that her caregiver will be a regulator of her levels of excitation—further enabling her to self-regulate her own emotions and stimulation. Be aware that this is essential to observe with all play activities.
Why Do Mothers Play Empathically?
Functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques or fMRI is a brain-scanning technique that measures blood flow to various parts of the brain as they are activated. These techniques have demonstrated why mothers play so empathically with their six-month-olds.
There is a neurobiological basis for empathy in mothers with children aged between six and twelve months. During experiments, mothers were instructed to actively imitate what they see in pictures of their own or of an unknown child.
Pictures were divided in distinct groups according to infants’ facial expressions (joy, distress, ambiguous).
The fMRI data showed that when mothers felt empathy with infants’ emotional expressions, this significantly activated large clusters of the limbic system of their adult brain. This occurs with increased maternal effort to understand their own children’s emotions in order to interact effectively with them.
So, while playing, you may now become more aware of how your emotions react to the emotions of your baby when you play together. The limbic system of your brain is working, and your baby feels in synch with you.
Memory, Music, and Emotional Moods
A study showed how good your six-month-old’s memory was using music. A baby that liked music could indicate when the volume was too loud by fussing. She would feel positive when her mother went to fix it. The baby seemed to associate the happiness in the volume change with her mother’s going to a particular place to change it.
On another occasion, a mother and baby listened as a baby cried on the radio. To the mother’s surprise, the baby puckered and began to cry, too. She was sensitive to the moods of other babies and imitated the other infant’s laughter as well as his crying!
Seven-month-old babies delight us with their emerging independence. They can amuse themselves on their stomachs for thirty minutes at a time.
Some babies learn to begin crawling through this independent determination! If your little one pushes a toy just out of reach, cries, and then realizes she has to solve the problem herself, she may scoot forward on her tummy to get it.
Your baby’s babbles and coos are his early attempts at communication. He not only responds to your voice tone, but he’s also starting to piece together the way words form phrases and sentences. Many babies this age will respond to their names and start to associate words with familiar objects.
So, take out those cardboard books and name everything on every page. Don’t worry about the story too much until your baby can name almost everything.
Then read the story and have her point to objects you name as you read. She’ll be delighted and find her way back to that book on her own. Engage your baby in conversation by asking him a question and responding to his “answer.” Narrate your day and emphasize simple words for familiar objects you both saw during the day.
Follow up new words by asking questions: “Do you want a ball? There’s your ball.” Watch her reach for it and then when you roll it continue to describe what you’re doing together.
Remember: pause and wait for his response so he can show his understanding. Then clap together about his achievement.
A Sense of Humor
As you play with your baby and watch him learn and develop, look for his budding sense of humor and emerging personality. Notice what your baby laughs at and what things he is drawn to. Follow his lead and make funny faces and see which ones make him smile.
Your eight-month-old is probably sitting securely now and starting to creep or crawl, initiating play and gaining more control over what she does in her environment. With her fine motor skills increasing, she is better at learning to grab, palm, and hold on to various toys.
This opens up her world to increasing interaction with others.
Play that Strengthens Object Permanence
Continue playing peekaboo, hide-and-seek, here and gone, and hello and bye-bye—you’re strengthening your baby’s sense of object permanence (the idea that things exist even when you can’t see them).
Watch your child explore new aspects of play with this new understanding that things that seem to disappear can be found a second later, and you will discover even more ways to spark your child’s imagination and curiosity.
Babies and Grammar
Interesting research has been done about eight-month-old babies and grammar. They learn grammar at the same time as they are learning words even before they start speaking.
Researchers in France have found that babies this age distinguish between parts of speech that serve functions like articles, pronouns, and prepositions and words of content such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
French researchers took a sample of 175 eight-month-olds who listened to four minutes of made-up language. By observing how long the babies looked at displays of made-up words, they were able to evaluate word preferences. So, grammar is now understood to be part of the eight-month-old’s world sooner than was thought.
The researchers discovered that the babies were more interested in new words including nouns, verbs and adjectives such as ball, run, or pretty, rather than functional words such as articles, pronouns and prepositions—the, he, or around.
What does this research mean to you and your baby when you play together? Keep talking and sharing with your baby using varied language.
What you say matters to your baby as she learns to speak, but remember: whatever you say, say it with pleasure as you are talking smiling and playing with your baby.
It’s exciting to see triadic interactions. Babies are now interested in watching several people interact and she happily joins in. She can play chase with Mommy and Daddy or give and take objects with two different people. She can also pass objects from one hand to another hand.
Her social world is expanding exponentially at the same time as her capacity to hold attention is longer, and thus it’s easier to stay social for increasing amounts of time.
Nine months is a fascinating time. There are many new developments that can be easily missed as you are busy feeding and dressing your much more mobile baby who keeps you actively attending to her.
I will explain what researchers tell us about how to play with your baby to optimize her expanding cognitive and affective (emotional) development.
By nine months your baby is sharing her attention with others frequently. The gesture of pointing is making a big impact now as she follows your line of vision when you look or point at something. This ability to focus her attention on what you’d like is called joint attention, and it is a major cognitive and emotional achievement.
Think first of the mother pointing. The infant must know to stop looking at the pointing hand and look toward the direction the pointing indicates. There is a target. What a discovery!
Your baby is going beyond her egocentrism, appreciating another’s line of regard, and detecting others’ intentions.
These extraordinary feats mean your baby knows another person has a mind. I cannot emphasize this remarkable understanding enough because it makes play even more complex.
Infants at nine months old can do even more than follow your line of vision when you point. After your baby’s eyes reach the target, he will look back at you. He is using your feedback from the expression on your face to determine if he has found the correct target.
Although your infant isn’t aware of his accomplishments, these are deliberate moves that will validate that joint attention has been achieved and now is shared.
This bulky research term is of great importance. Intersubjective relatedness refers to your baby’s ability to recognize others as separate from themselves. Thus, an interaction occurs when playing in a mutual way as mother and baby affect each other.
It is the psychological relation between the mother and baby that is expanding exponentially.
Think again about pointing. When your infant points by himself, his gaze will alternate between his target, like a toy, and your face until he sees that you have joined him with your avid attention toward that particular focus, his favorite toy.
Why is that so remarkable? Your baby is the leader in this game. He is initiating his play with you.
In the last month, you may also have noticed your baby reaching to his favorite object but checking back to your face to see if your reaction is new.
This is a new form of communication between you and your baby. He is looking for feedback and shouldn’t be ignored. Smile and join in the play.
Babies beginning at about ten months are starting on the learning process of discovering others have feelings. The idea that the mother and baby can share same or somewhat different feelings about an action is more significant to their relationship than just the behavior itself.
I am talking about affect attunement—the remarkable capacity to intuit what your baby feels and see the infant’s response to this engagement.
When mothers respond at a level of intensity that matches what they see in their babies’ expressions, and behavior communion takes place.
Communion means to share in another’s experience with no attempt to change what that person is doing or believing. In an experiment, babies did not react to their mothers’ responses when the responses were appropriately matched. They just continued the engagement because there was affect attunement.
However, if the mother over or underplayed the event with her reaction, the baby would stop as if to inquire what was happening. This is because of a mis-attunement.
Mothers and babies don’t need to perfect their understanding of each other’s feelings, but if the parent is aware of her baby’s reaction, she will be able to correct her attunement, so the baby feels understood.
In either situation, the conversation will continue. Conversation is play!
Play Through Narratives
To promote language development and engagement, detail for your baby the playing you do with her. Then you can even draw pictures of things you do together. This doesn’t require being an artist, just a willing participant. The baby will not be an art critic!
Then you and your baby look at your pictures naming what you and she see and talking about it. You’ll be doing most of the talking, but your baby will imitate what she understands.
This is a remarkable bonding experience. It also teaches continuity, sequence of events, cause and effect, and of course, language. But, most important is that you and your baby are responding to each other’s reactions with your attunement which will gradually go beyond the baby’s imitation to actual understanding of feelings.
All this is happening with a ten-month-old!
You will begin to notice your baby’s play is becoming increasingly purposeful. He takes a plastic hammer and pounds pegs into a hole. As mentioned above, if you narrate this activity, you will enjoy language and the emotions that go with the language during this playtime.
Your baby will also now begin to play out activities she observes. This is a major milestone. You will watch him diaper a baby doll. He will push a car if you go on a little trip. He will lay a stuffed animal or puppet’s head on a pillow the same way he goes to sleep.
You can add new elements to his simple stories, experimenting with whether he will go along with your new perspective or train of thought. Now that your baby’s imagination is starting to bloom, play takes on a whole new level of fun, excitement, discovery, and wonder.
Your eleven-month-old is becoming a toddler or wanderer. He is (or will be soon) cruising about, holding on to furniture or your hands. He may even let go and try walking on his own—so prepare yourself for more independence.
Some babies first try to stand on their toes or on one leg. Encourage this activity but be there for his falls. In fact, he may begin to be clingy again after trying these upright activities; readily respond to his needs for refueling with extra hugs!
How Things Work
Your infant is getting very clever. She wants to figure out by trial and error how things work. She wants to climb to the tabletop, but can’t yet climb on a chair (most likely).
She may figure out though if she piles blocks up she can step up on them and reach the tabletop on her own more easily. Keep an eye out because once she discovers how climbing works who knows the heights she’ll try to reach.
Your baby will love figuring out how to open and close cabinets. This is where baby-proofing is paramount for toxic cleansers within reach.
But pulling out wooden spoons and metal pots is better than any toy you have to purchase from a baby store. She discovers the sounds she can make like a little pot drummer and gleefully though loudly, will serenade you.
You will delight to discover how your baby begins to arrange and sort things by size and color. She’ll assemble her little collection and then take it apart—over and over again. She’ll also match, sort, group, and stack blocks and nesting cups in various arrangements that make sense to her.
Give her time to play by herself. She’s learning she’s good company for herself. She’ll find you when she needs you. Remember, you now have a mobile baby!
Babies are curious about different facial expressions. Make funny (not scary) faces for her to respond to. Remember once again that your baby cares that you know how she feels. Stay attuned to her moods and temperamental changes and voice her feelings as you understand them in words (like sad, mad, and glad).
She’ll gradually pick up on some of these words as you further develop your relationship. Yes! You have been building a relationship all these months.
To highlight this connection, you can continue to tell her stories about what the two of you are doing each day. Your baby knows she can count on you and trust you. That’s what’s most important.
Can you believe your baby is twelve months old—a one-year-old? As you’ve noticed, your baby is growing more sophisticated daily. At twelve months old, she can understand not only general cause and effect but also the differences between physical and psychological cause and effect.
For example, remember the experiment when babies made a mobile move with a string tied to their toes?
If the ribbon was taken away, they still kicked—as if the connection were there—until the novelty wore off. Some babies also thought that if they cooed and smiled, the mobile would move, because mommy always reacts to coos and smiles.
Now at one year, your baby better understands how events and objects influence each other much more clearly. Babies know right away, for example, that they can pull a cloth with a toy on top of it toward them, bringing them the toy. Even further, they understand that if the cloth is only next to an object but not under it, nothing will happen.
Interweaving Motor and Emotional Development in Play
Pointing and gesturing will become increasingly specific and purposeful. Your baby intends to have you follow her focus by watching her point. Her pointing will be combined with her eye and facial gestures communicating what she’s learning about her world.
Further, she knows how to get—or keep—your attention by pointing and even saying a word. All letter sounds aren’t equally easy to say, so her versions are what counts.
You may clarify how to say the word, but there’s no need to be her language teacher. If she calls a bunny, “hop-hop,” she obviously gets not only how to name something but has also caught on to how it moves!
Clap your hands to show your delight matching your emotion to her play.
Your toddler will still love testing object permanence, especially because she can go greater distances now. When she goes around a corner, she may look (or at least call out) to see if objects that were just there a moment ago are still in view. While she had no separation anxiety just a little while ago, she may now protest and worry.
Mommy Alert: This is progress, not regression. She’s older and wiser now.
Rest assured, she understands object permanence, but you are not an inanimate object that may be hidden and then reappear. You are the person who makes her feel secure.
As she is more mobile, it may become more difficult for her to be separate from you. Not until around the three-year mark will she be able, over many months, to master object constancy.
This refers to knowing that when people are out of sight, they have not disappeared forever but can return. At this time, however, while your baby can leave you and call after you or return to find you like an object she left in another room, that’s under her initiative.
Understanding the reverse—you leaving her—will not come easily. Continue speaking if you leave the room so your voice is a cue that you are still around. And don’t stay out of sight very long or your baby will be upset and maybe scared.
Games of peekaboo and saying “bye-bye” take on new dimensions of importance now and in the future. Stay attuned to her emotions.
I’ve just shared a tiny bit of all that goes on between you and your infant during her first year on this earth. I’ve emphasized how her mind is working and determining her play rather than just her physical milestones that are much easier to find online and in most baby development books.
The shifts and changes in your baby’s ability to use her mind to figure out and understand what’s going on in her daily life is definitely as astounding as her physical changes and movements.
In fact, if you regard her physical changes in the context of how they affect how her mind is developing, it’s far more exciting and rewarding.
We associate a mind with cognition. But hold onto the idea that a mind also processes emotion, not just burgeoning thoughts like words for objects and names of important people.
Beginning sounds and words are packed with emotion.
Saying “bye-bye” is quite a dramatic event. Your baby is on her own trying to figure out the sequence of time!
- What is now?
- What is future?
- If you close the door, will you be on the other side of the door?
- If you call out from another room, which room will you be found in, and how quickly?
Staying alert, aware, and attuned to your baby’s emotions are what build trust and a secure attachment, popularly called bonding. If you are attuned to her at four months, she will predictably have a positive, secure attachment at one year.
This means if you leave the room and she stays for a few minutes with a stranger, she will have a delighted reaction upon your return. She’ll not only notice your return but smile and want to re-engage with you.
This is an important signal—at this reunion—that you have accomplished the major task of the first year: a secure attachment.
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