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Brain-Boosting Games for Babies

Alexandra Grablewski

The Baby in the Mirror

Age: 10 Months Old

This is one of my favorite games because it's so simple and so revealing. All babies like to look at themselves in the mirror. But what do they see? A few years ago Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D., and Michael Lewis, Ph.D., came up with an elegant way to answer at least part of that question. You can try it when your baby is about 10 months old, and then repeat it every few months thereafter. All it takes is a mirror and a little lipstick.

Let your baby look at herself in the mirror for about a minute. Then pick her up, dot a small amount of lipstick on her nose or cheek, and place her in front of the mirror again. Most babies less than 12 months of age pay no attention to the smudge. A few smile or frown, indicating that they notice something is different.

Slightly older babies often pay close attention to the smudge. They may reach toward the mirror, demonstrating that they don't yet understand that they're looking at a reflection of themselves. By the age of 18 months, about half of all babies will notice the reflection and reach up to touch the smudge on their own face. This tells us that they not only recognize that the mark is out of place, but that they know they're looking at their own image.

With all of these games, it's important to keep in mind that there are tremendous differences among children who are developing normally. A sensitive newborn is not "better" or "worse" than a more easygoing baby. Similarly, a baby who touches the smudge of lipstick on his face a few weeks ahead of another is not necessarily "smarter."

Infants learn so much so quickly that they'll amaze you with new talents and skills almost daily. Since you're the expert on your baby, you can use this as a starting point to come up with your own games to enjoy the astonishing adventure of watching her mind bloom.

Contributing editor Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., is co-director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media and the author of five books on child development and parent-child communication.

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