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 between the months of 6 and 9:
Betty Holcomb is a freelance writer in New Jersey and author of The Best Friend's Guide to Maternity Leave.
From sitting to standing
By 6 months, most babies are looking you in the eye -- often while attempting to sit up. Soon they're off and crawling, slithering on their stomach, growing ever more independent. And all along, their brain is growing in response to that activity, committing the new skills to memory.
Milestone: sitting pretty
Take it from your baby's proud smile: Sitting upright for the first time changes everything. With his hands freed from the work of supporting his upper body, he can now hold his toys more easily, pull them apart, shake them with vigor, drop them, and pick them up. "Once Molly was sitting up, she played differently," says Rochelle Goldberg, a mom in Fairfax, Virginia. "She would spend more time with a single toy, taking a doll and just moving the arms up and down, seeing what it would do."
This milestone -- as well as others -- shouldn't be rushed. Your baby will sit up when his muscles and mind are ready, and it may not happen when you expect it to. Trying to hurry it can actually slow down development, says Karen Deerwester, who teaches parent-education seminars in Coral Springs, Florida. "For example, after a baby rolls over, some mothers, eager for the next stage, put their baby in a sitting position. But doing this won't help the child develop the muscles to get in the sitting position." Let your baby move as much as he can so he can do it for himself.
Milestone: on hands, knees, and feet
The transition that really opens things up for babies is learning to scoot or crawl. Once a child is mobile and can take off on her own, she can learn how big a room is and even chase Mom into the next room. As she moves about, she can even begin to place things in sequences, seeing how one action leads to the next.
"Kids this age get a sense of dimensions, of the properties of objects, of what things are, what shapes are, what they can do, and what objects will do," says Deerwester. "They learn volume by filling and spilling. They learn depth by taking risks and going to the edge of things."
You can't teach your baby to crawl, but you can ensure that she has the opportunity to try -- and make your house as safe as possible for when she does. Be certain that there's at least one contained area -- carpeted if possible -- in which she can scoot around and explore without being told "no" all the time.