Ages & Stages: Infant Development
The first year of an infant’s life is both fascinating and startling. For years, psychologists have thought that babies were incompetent creatures who were unable to comprehend the world around them. Today we know that is untrue. At six to ten days, the newborn can recognize the mother by her smell. Some studies reveal that newborns can move their bodies in rhythm to the meaningful speech of adults. Babies at two weeks will look at their own mothers more frequently than they will look at strangers. It is apparent that very young infants can begin to make some sense of their new environment. As they grow older during this first year of life, their body language, intelligence, and social interactions also increase.
The major part of the infant’s first year is devoted to survival. The infant is completely helpless at birth and is totally dependent upon the parents for help. Being fed, held, touched, looked at, and talked to have a significant impact on the growth of the child. There is so much activity that the average baby sleeps from 16 to 20 hours each day. In fact, there is so much going on during the first year that it is impossible to notice everything.
The first year is an important one for the child’s physical growth.
- Automatic reflexes such as hand-to-mouth (0 to 2 months)
- Can focus on objects 8 to 15 inches away (newborn)
- Makes cooing, crying, and grunting sounds (newborn)
- Will use eyes to follow you (2 months)
- Will lift head when on stomach (2 months)
- Sucks fingers (2 months)
- May be pulled slowly by hands to a sitting position (2 months)
- May be starting to teethe (4 months)
- Can sit up without support for a short time (7 months)
- Can begin to crawl by pulling self forward with arms and dragging legs and stomach (7 months)
- With help of furniture, can pull self up to stand (7 months)
- Likes to pick things up and drop them, only to pick them up again (7 months)
- Feeds self pieces of food with hands (7 months)
- Starts practicing walking but continues crawling (10 months)
- Likes to eat meals using fingers, begins using one hand more than the other (10 months)
- Begins a tottering walk with legs wide apart (12 months)
- Sits independently on hard surface (12 months)
Physical and intellectual development are closely related to one another. The child learns about the world through exploration of objects, by moving around, and through interactions with the parents. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, helped us understand how children learn. He believed that intelligence involves adaptation to the world. Such adaptation means that the individual is capable of interacting effectively with the environment.
The behavior of infants during the first year, and subsequent years, is to help them understand, adapt, and interact effectively with their world.
- Reflex behaviors, like sucking, are practiced (0-2 months)
- Begins to recognize familiar voices or faces (2 months)
- Responds to strangers by crying or staring (2 months)
- Likes repetition of simple acts like sucking, open and closing hands, etc. for sake of activity (2 to 3 months)
- Baby still cries but also laughs out loud (4 months)
- Can imitate sounds; watches your mouth with interest when talking (7 months)
- Child uses responses to solve problems and to achieve some goal. For example, a child may move one object to get at another (12 months)
- response to and imitates facial expressions of others (5-12 months)
Language develops very slowly during the first year of Life. At birth, babies cannot say anything. By the end of their first year, their vocabulary increases to about two to eight words. An adult’s vocabulary is largely determined by the speech they heard in the first three years of life. The first two years are the most important.
Babies, however, do communicate their needs even without language. Crying is a way babies let their parents know they are either wet, hungry, tired, or frightened. Mothers and fathers soon learn the difference between a cry of fear and one of hunger. By the second month, babies begin cooing – a way of showing their pleasure. Babbling begins during the fourth or fifth month. Syllables are repeated over and over again.
Parents who talk to their babies, and praise and reinforce their efforts at communication, help facilitate the development of language.
- Respond to speech by looking at speaker (0 to 12 months)
- Makes crying and non crying sounds (0 to 12 months)
- Babbles by repeating some vowel and consonant sounds (0 to 12 months)
- Attempts to imitate sounds (0 to 12 months)
- Babies begin to “understand” many words or phrases such as “no” or “come” or “bring.” (1 to 12 months)
The stages of social and emotional growth are described by Erik Erikson. In the earliest stages, birth to one year, the child struggles with learning to trust or mistrust himself and others in his environment. The degree to which a child comes to trust the environment, the other people, and himself, depends to a considerable extent upon the quality of the care the child receives.
The child whose needs are met, whose discomforts and fears are quickly removed, who is held, loved, played with, and talked to develop a belief that the world is a safe place, and that people are dependable and helpful.
The child who receives inconsistent and inadequate care and who is rejected develops a basic mistrust of others, his environment, and self. For this child, the world is not a safe, fun place to be and people are not to be depended upon to have needs met.
Although the child is actively involved in developing trust or mistrust in the first year, the same issue arises again at each successive stage of development.
- Likes high pitched voices and will usually quiet down when they hear them (0-2 months)
- Smiles spontaneously (0-2 months)
- Loves to be played with and likes to be picked up (4 months)
- Responds differently to strangers (may cry) than to familiar persons (4-6 months)
- Babies make give joyful kicks and gurgle and laughed to engage mother in play (5 months)
- Knows that mother exists even though she may not be visually present (5 months)
- May become attached to a particular toy; play time is important (7 months)
- Child is beginning to learn to be independent. May go a little away from you, but will quickly return (10 months)
- Child will Express frustration (through crying) for failure to master some tasks (8 to 10 months)
- Child loves an audience and will repeat any behavior that gets attention (12 months)
- Tantrums may occur. Based on needs and limited abilities, a child may desire to have or do something that cannot be achieved (12 months)