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Days of Discovery

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[XREF {#one} {Birth to 3 Months}] | [XREF {#two} {4-6 Months}] | [XREF {#three} {7-9 Months}] | [XREF {#four} {10-12 Months}] | [XREF {#five} {13-15 Months}] | [XREF {#six} {16-18 Months}]

While you can't know everything that's going on in your baby's noggin, you can look for certain actions and interests that will serve as clues for detecting how your little one's mind is developing  -- at some point, he'll pull away the peekaboo blanket to find you or raise an eyebrow while waiting for you to take your turn in "conversation." You'll share his delight when he hits a ball, sends it rolling, and has a look on his face that says, "I did that!" There may even come a time when a cry coming from the crib stops faster than you can make it out of bed  -- he's finally realized that his pacifier was what he needed to get himself back to sleep. Each of these activities marks a step on the road of cognitive development, which can be an exciting path of discovery for you and your baby. The timeline below will help you track his progress in the three most important areas of cognitive development at this stage of his life: communication, bonding, and self-discovery. Don't get nervous about "meeting" these developmental dates: Every baby is different, and there are no hard and fast rules about when a child "must" reach a developmental milestone.

Birth to 3 Months

Communication Shortly after birth, your baby will be able to recognize your voice, as well as others he's heard while in the womb. He'll communicate mostly through four separate types of crying, which will be used to express hunger, anger, pain, or frustration. By 2 months of age, he may recognize the same word when it's spoken by different people.

Bonding By responding to his cries, your baby learns that you care for him and about him, and this in turn fosters a sense of trust. Around 6 weeks of age, you'll see your baby's first true smile and hear those wonderful "ooh" and "aah" expressions of delight. As he learns to focus both eyes on the same point, he notices more details around him and starts to make eye contact. He pays so much attention to adult faces, in fact, that he starts to mimic expressions.

Self-discovery Your baby starts to make logical connections based on his experiences and his reflexive reactions, which is how self-soothing begins. For instance, a baby putting his thumb in his mouth sets off a reflex to suck, which is soothing to him. He makes a connection: If I'm upset or anxious, I put my thumb in my mouth to feel better. Not thrilled by the image of a 6-year-old thumb sucker? Don't worry: As your baby encounters exciting new sensations, he'll likely move on to other obsessions.

4-6 Months

Communication Your baby is now old enough to tell from your tone of voice whether you're happy, and he's also recognizing and responding to his own name. In addition, he's starting to connect the sounds of speech with lip movements. During this stage, it may sound like your little guy's on his way to being a multilingual genius, because he's playing around with combinations of sounds that you probably haven't heard before. All babies have the ability to make all of the sounds of all the world's languages, and through babbling (and listening to you, of course), they separate the sounds that are part of their language from those that aren't.

Bonding Much more so than he was able to before, your baby can now distinguish you from other adults. He realizes that when he has needs, you're the one who will be meeting them. When he comes in contact with other people, he may respond with smiles and happy vocalizations to those he knows, and with squirming and crying to those he doesn't. He's starting to recognize the fact that people and things exist even when he can't see them, so peekaboo becomes funny, rather than a situation that elicits a panicked response ("Where's Mom? Where's Mom?!?").

Self-discovery Using the information he's gleaned through sensory exploration (touching, tasting, etc.), a baby at 4 to 6 months is beginning to compile mental images that he will use for recognition. He's starting to understand that other people and things are separate from him, and that an action he undertakes has an effect; for example, when he slaps a ball, it rolls away. Eventually, this will provoke him to modify his behavior in order to make things occur on purpose. Remember, though, that when he tugs on the cat's ears, he's not being bad; he just wants to see what the cat will do.

7-9 Months

Communication Your baby will now be altering the intonations of his babbling to match those of your speech, mimicking the singsong nature of language without using the actual words. He's also beginning to truly comprehend some words and can tell when one word ends and another begins. It's likely that at some point you'll wish your baby would stop repeating the same syllable over and over again, but what you may not realize is that he's practicing different intonations and volume levels.

Bonding At this point, your baby not only craves attention, he actively seeks it out. He may begin to crawl toward and latch onto people he knows, fulfilling his desire for physical contact. At this age, separation anxiety comes into play, so he may seem a little more clingy than usual, especially around unfamiliar people. This, too, is part of the process of attachment. Being patient and comforting while encouraging a baby to explore lets him know that even if he looks away, you'll still be there when he needs you.

Self-discovery Games like peekaboo and patty-cake become fun around this time, and the frequency of "conversational" baby talk increases as well, since this is when your baby develops the concept of taking turns.

10-12 Months

Communication As your baby puts together strings of varied syllables (still copying your intonations and rhythms), he sounds like nothing so much as a person having a conversation in gibberish. But make no mistake  -- it does sound like a conversation. This is the period when many babies say their first real words. On the receiving end, he probably understands up to 50 words that you say.

Bonding As your son becomes more mobile and alert, he'll become aware of many new aspects of his world, and his exploration of these will bring him into contact with other people and unfamiliar situations. When he's not sure how to react, he'll look to his parents to know how to; he'll be doing this by reading their body language and facial expressions. Even though he's venturing into the unknown, if he sees a parent smiling, he'll react in much the same way. In the reverse, a sad or anxious look on Mom's or Dad's face could set him to howling.

Self-discovery As a baby's perceptions of the world and reactions to it become clearer (and more appropriate), he develops little schemes, or formulas of action, for dealing with situations. These formulas are an infant's first truly intentional complex actions. If a ball rolls behind a chair, for example, he'll develop a scheme to crawl around the chair that's in the way in order to reach it, grasp it, and hang on to it.

13-15 Months

Communication By continuing to store words and their meanings in his head, a baby at this age is waiting for the time when he can use them. He's expanding his understanding of spoken language and identification of objects in his environment, and is in the midst of a developmental stage in which he will start to associate words not only with objects but also with actions, which is why the words "go" and "bye-bye" may be his latest favorites.

Bonding There aren't as many bonding milestones between 13 and 15 months as there were before and will be in the future; instead, this is a time when parents and babies build on their past work, fleshing it out and refining it. You'll see more of his personality flowering, and he'll start to anticipate how you will react to his actions and emotions. Although it's almost impossible to believe, his trust in you will continue to grow.

Self-discovery Baby is off and running, literally, and you're not far behind. He's also learning how to make things happen. Like a little scientist he does things, then repeats them to see if they will produce the same results. To fully experience and understand things, he wants to touch them when they're encountered. And this is why if he's not supposed to touch something (such as the garbage can or water in the toilet), it will then hold a special fascination for him.

16-18 Months

Communication A toddler this age has the potential to learn up to nine words a day from the vocabulary circling around him and is well on his way to using two-word phrases, rather than singular words with accompanying confusing gestures. Significantly, you'll notice that when he does use multiple words, they'll be in correct order and employ logical syntax. Statements made by him will now be along the lines of "More juice" and "My toy" rather than "Juice, juice" and "Toy mine."

Bonding Although a 16- to 18-month-old may be fiercely independent, he still needs his parents nearby in order to feel secure. His range of emotions is expanding, but what's tricky for you is his tendency to go from giggling to crying in the blink of an eye. Patience on your part will carry the day; before long he'll probably be far more outgoing than you'll like.

Self-discovery When a child is this old, he has a cache of mental images and uses them in his mind to anticipate potential actions he might undertake. By combining these mental images with the formulas of action he has continued to polish, he can now solve problems in his head with little or no experimentation. An example of this would be his ability to recognize himself in the mirror. For fun, you can test this by placing a dot of lipstick on his cheek and putting him in front of a mirror. Before, he may have touched the dot on the mirror; now he touches the one on his own face.

These early months of your child's life really are only the beginning. As he becomes more mobile and curious, he'll use all the information he's stored and skills he's learned in order to explore even more territory, creating connection upon connection until all those baby synapses are wired and running smoothly. You'll be relieved that certain doors have locks and that cabinets have been babyproofed, because he'll have some moves up his sleeve you won't have anticipated. In other words, as much as you're marveling at how bright your baby is, sometimes you'll stop to contemplate whether your toddler may be becoming a little too smart for his own good.