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New Thinking on Infant Development

Memory and Recall

Old thinking: If your baby doesn't perform a trick (like clapping), he's forgotten how to do it.

New thinking: Babies know more than they reveal.

When I tried to get Eli to show his grandmother the "So Big!" game, he balked. Researcher Carolyn Rovee-Collier, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, tells me I should not have been surprised. Little ones often won't share a new skill with someone they haven't seen recently, especially if they learned it in a different place. "Your baby would probably not show Granny the trick at Granny's house before nine to twelve months of age," she explains. By 12 months, babies are better able to figure out if a stranger is friendly or not, and they're willing to demonstrate new tricks to a stranger in a new place.

What it means for you: Don't be hurt if your daycare provider tells you that your baby has been playing along with "Open, Shut Them," while you get only blank stares when you sing the song at home. It's simply easier for him to recall new information in the same location or situation where he first learned it.

Skill Building
Old thinking: Mastering a skill takes a long time.

New thinking: It can take a really long time.

When researchers at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst observed how 9- and 12-month-olds learned to handle utensils, they found that no matter how many times and how many ways they showed the 9-month-olds how to hold a spoon, the babies continued to alternate between effective and ineffective holds. Only by 15 months did the little eaters start to get it right on a regular basis. (This will come as no surprise to anyone whose dog has learned to lurk around the high chair.)

What it means for you: Be patient. Mistakes are a normal part of your baby's learning process; try to avoid getting frustrated with all the mishaps. After all, how would you feel if your husband smirked every time you asked for help with the DVD player?