At a mere 4 months, my daughter, Rachel, began to shriek when I would pass her to anyone else, even her dad. Separation anxiety, a friend told me. Too early, I thought. All the books said that's a month-9 milestone.
But my friend was right. Rachel was early, and for months she yelped at each separation. But because I was so focused on stopping the crying, I didn't consider that the weeping itself signaled a step forward in her cognitive development. Memory, it turns out, is one of the first features of intellectual growth to show itself, and Rachel's wails revealed that hers was rapidly blooming. It allowed her to hold an image of me in her mind's eye then react at each departure, much to my chagrin.
"Parents tend to focus on the physical milestones, like walking, and split them off from a child's intellectual, social, and emotional growth," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, in New York City. "But everything happens together. All those physical abilities are controlled by the brain, and as they begin to develop, so do other aspects of the child."
Rolling over, for instance, not only shows that muscles are developing on target, but it also feeds the baby's confidence and emotional well-being. If I'd had that perspective when Rachel was a baby, I might have been more understanding of her crying and more able to have fun helping her along, instead of worrying about the timing of her achievements. More of what I wish I'd known in the first six months:
Betty Holcomb is a freelance writer in New Jersey and author of The Best Friend's Guide to Maternity Leave.
Rocking and reaching outMovement now begins and won't stop anytime soon, as your baby learns to flex and toss, wiggling and woggling every which way, reaching and grabbing, chewing and sucking, starting to explore everything within reach.
Milestone: rocking, then rolling
These are the months when deliberate action takes over, as your baby's cerebral cortex develops, giving him the ability to control and direct his movements and emotions. Rolling over marks the beginning of this period. Along with physical control, he's developing "sensory integration," meaning he puts all his perceptions -- sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touch -- together.
And with his newfound ability to move, he can explore more of the space he inhabits and the qualities of the objects you give him, finding out what's hard, soft, hot, or cold. He's able to lie on his back and look at his hand, put it in his mouth, or hold a little rattle and shake it. Being able to direct his movement also allows him to be a more social animal -- wiggling when you come into the room, laughing to reveal his pleasure. It won't be long before he lifts his arms, showing you he wants to be picked up.
Milestone: reaching out
Her fine motor skills are also developing, letting her reach and hold, even pass objects from hand to hand. By 3 or 4 months, babies begin to gauge where things are in space, and they plan an action -- such as grabbing a pacifier -- that boosts their knowledge of the concrete world.
I remember the day Rachel grasped her rattle and shook it; delighted, she shook it again, then handed it to me. This sequence had taken a few weeks to progress, after her first awkward grabs and grips. I'd shake the rattle and smile as we passed it between us. And so it went for a while, until she learned, a few months later, to drop it and get me to pick it up.
In that simple action, she demonstrated that she could manipulate things with her hands, learning more details about how her toys worked. She could make the rattle produce a sound, which revealed her first understanding of cause and effect. And, most dramatically, it showed that she could play (and get me to play along with her).