How Infants and Toddlers Develop

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               How Infants and Toddlers Develop
Babies and toddlers grow and change at an amazing rate! Their weak muscles become stronger
as they learn to roll over, sit, and walk. At first they coo, gurgle, babble, and cry in distress. Then
they begin to show interest, smile, and laugh. Before you know it, they are putting words
together, taking turns, and learning to share. As you watch your child grow, keep the following
three principles of development in mind.

The first principle is that developmental changes occur in an orderly way. For example, babies
first learn to hold their heads up, then roll over, and then to sit. Once they are able to sit up alone,
they don’t forget this skill. They naturally move on to creeping, crawling, and standing.

The second principle is that development happens at different rates for each child. There is a
wide age range in which normally developing children gain new skills. A child may be further
along in one area than another. For example, an 18-month-old may be putting lots of energy into
walking and running but may not yet be talking much.

The third principle is that during the first three years, there are windows of opportunity for
learning many basic abilities. A window of opportunity is a limited period of time—a few weeks
or months—when it is especially easy for a baby to develop a certain ability. At these times,
connections between brain cells have an unusual potential for multiplying and getting stronger.
You can tell when your baby has entered one of these periods because she begins to do new
things. Help her to open her windows of opportunity during these special times. As you play and
care for her, notice what she especially likes doing so that you can help her learn and build on
her natural tendencies.

For example, the first months and years are the window of opportunity for developing language.
Almost from day one your baby likes to communicate with you. She intently listens and watches
your mouth and eyes. As she grows, you can imitate her hums, coos, and babbles.

In addition to these three basic principles of growth, also keep in mind the four key areas in
which children develop: Physical—growing bigger and stronger and coordinating movements;
social—getting along with and communicating with others; emotional—recognizing, expressing,
and managing feelings; and intellectual—learning through the senses, remembering information,
solving problems, and thinking creatively.

How Infants and Toddlers Develop                                                      Page 2

The brain manages all four areas of development at the same time. For example, as your baby’s
eyes focus better and her muscles get stronger, she can pick up a small ball and throw it toward
you (physical development), smile and watch you toss it back to her (social development), gurgle
with delight (emotional development), and throw it again in a different way to see what you and
the ball will do (intellectual development).

Particularly in today’s high pressure, fast-paced world, parents sometimes fall into the trap of
trying to force their children to be smarter. You cannot make your child smarter by hurrying him
along and pushing him to perform. Each child follows his own built-in timetable. Pushing babies
beyond their natural abilities frustrates and stresses them. Recent studies show that high stress
over long periods may have a negative effect on a child’s brain chemistry and ability to learn
later on.

Here are a few simple tips for guiding and encouraging your child’s optimal development: Watch
your child with fascination as you observe developmental changes taking place. Enjoy and
celebrate each day with your child. Involve other family members in caring for and playing with
your child. And perhaps most important of all, be patient. Sometimes babies and toddlers seem to
backtrack, but not for long. Your child will continue to move forward in her development.

However, if you think your baby is developing very differently from what is expected, contact a
health care professional. You may also want to talk with a child development specialist in
Kentucky’s First Steps Program by calling 1-800-442-0087.

Your child is a one-of-a-kind miracle. Knowing how he develops enables you to be a more
appreciative, understanding, and effective parent. The time and caring you give him is a priceless
gift—a gift that will shape his entire future. Remember, the imprint of the early years lasts
forever, and your love makes all the difference in the world.


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