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 short months before the 1-year mark:
Betty Holcomb is a freelance writer in New Jersey and author of The Best Friend's Guide to Maternity Leave.
On the go
By now, all that moving around and playing with things has taught babies a huge concept: Objects are permanent and separate from them. You can leave Mr. Bear in a room, and he's still there when you come back.
Milestone: playing peekaboo
"When Molly was about 9 months old, she started to really enjoy this peekaboo game: I'd hold up the cloth and say, 'Where's Mama?' and she'd rip it off and laugh. Then I'd put it over her head and say, 'Where's Molly?' and she'd pull it off and laugh again," says Goldberg.
The awareness that things exist even when they're hidden gives your child a whole new perspective. "When a baby drops something and expects you to pick it up, or plays with a jack-in-the-box, he's showing he's learned that things haven't disappeared just because they are out of sight," says Galinsky.
The downside is, he's more likely than ever to express separation anxiety. He now knows that when you leave, it doesn't feel as good as when you're in sight. So he wails, hoping to bring you back. You can reassure him from the next room by calling out to him and letting him know you're nearby. Eventually, he'll discover that you'll always come back (or that he can go to where you are).
After all, feeling secure and loved is central to all other learning, to the desire to push himself, to achieve all those physical milestones, to be part of the world.
Milestone: baby steps
Your baby's now a toddler, signifying the beginning of a new life phase, one that will thrill and terrify you both. On the most basic level, walking frees up your child's hands to carry items while she moves about independently. That kind of control -- the ability to drag a favorite toy or book from one place to another -- endows her with a sense of power and competence that wasn't possible before. By incorporating everything she's learned from all the other milestones -- about space, objects, and people -- she can now bring you things. This turns a purely physical skill into a game, as well as a rich social interaction. For instance: She comes over to you with her little toy duck and you say, "Thank you." You quack a few times, in all likelihood to her extreme delight, and then she takes her duck away and you say, "Bye-bye, duck."
And so the first phase ends, with your baby integrating all the knowledge, social skills, and confidence she gained when she learned to roll over, sit up, become mobile, stand, and walk. Now she's ready to accomplish more, in her own way, on her own terms. She has become, in essence, her own little person -- a far cry from the helpless creature you brought home from the hospital. "It's breathtaking to watch these milestones unfold, along with all they signify," says Karen Deerwester, who teaches parent-education seminars in Coral Springs, Florida. "There's just no other word for it."