Tuesday, October 20, 2009

8-10 months: Learning to stand; the view from the top is very exciting!

We’ve mentioned many times that “every baby is different,” and it is probably more apparent between 8-10 months than at any other age! One baby may skip crawling altogether and go straight to standing or walking, while another may be perfectly content not to try to stand on her own for a few more weeks. Either way, change is in the air as babies work hard to achieve developmental milestones, and just as parents think they’ve got a nice routine worked out, sleeping and feeding patterns become disrupted once again. Yes, it’s frustrating, but when your baby is focused on achieving each exciting step, fatigue and hunger just aren’t the priority!

Social Development

By 10 months stranger anxiety is in full force. Continue to let baby take her own time getting to know new people or familiar people that she hasn’t seen for awhile. Separations may also become more difficult. As babies get more independent, they actually become more dependent on you as a safe haven. Prepare her when you leave by saying goodbye and reminding her that you will come back. Frustration becomes more intense and frequent at this age. I can remember my daughter rocking on her hands and knees crying out of frustration at not being able to get her hands and knees to move forward in coordination. It was almost comical, except for the times she awoke at 2am to practice in her crib!

Physical Development

As mentioned above, babies may wake to practice each new motor task during the night. As each new task is achieved, sleep will return to normal. Keep in mind that learning to stand brings a whole new perspective to baby’s view of the world and a whole new height for parents to baby proof (forget about hiding untouchables on top of tables or furniture now!) After babies learn to sit without any support, their next goal is crawling, followed by standing and walking. Soon they will pull up on furniture to stand and cruise along the couch. Some may even let go of the couch and take a brave step away.

Babies preoccupied by motor drives also prefer not to waste their precious learning time eating. Breastfeeding mothers may take this as a sign that it’s time to wean, but as babies become more independent, it’s important for them to have a safe place to come to between adventures, and what better place than their mothers’ arms during a feeding. Feedings can become quite the challenge when babies become mobile! Whenever possible, let him finger feed himself (with development of the “pincer grasp” baby can now pick up small objects with his thumb and forefinger.) Don’t be alarmed by messy feedings as babies practice this new skill and explore their food. That’s how they learn!

Cognitive Development

All of this new independence might make some parents start to think about discipline and wonder what is appropriate for a baby this age. I knew my daughter was ready for some limit setting when she crawled toward our dog, tried to touch his food bowl, and then quickly looked back at me with big eyes and just a twinge of a smile. Yes, I had told her to stay away from the dog’s food bowl about a dozen times, and yes, it appeared she remembered that she was doing something I wouldn’t approve of. Really the best discipline at this age is diversion. So, as I said “Yuck! No dog food!” I swooped her up and redirected her attention to a fun toy in the other room. Really, she wasn’t testing her power over me; she was just sweetly asking me to set that boundary for her so that she felt safe. The important thing when setting limits is consistency, and almost like déjà vu, I relived that very episode (baby to dog bowl, baby looks at me for disapproval, I say “Yuck. No dog food!”and steal her away from the scene to divert her attention) many, many times over the coming weeks.

By this age, babies also become goal-directed in their behavior (see dog food example above!). They also enjoy repetitive games like peek-a-boo more than ever because their understanding of object permanence and person permanence (understanding that caregivers still exist after they are out of site) are strengthening. They are better able to remember object locations and even begin to anticipate events and may try to make them reoccur. They also look for their caregivers after they leave the room. Parents can practice peek-a-boo or hiding games to help babies develop trust that their parents always return.

As evidenced by my daughter’s dog food incident, by about 9-10 months, babies are learning how to assess danger by watching their parents’ facial expressions. They begin to search for “emotional cues” from their parents as to whether there is approval or disapproval of their actions. Babies this age also love to learn by imitating and because they have developed more memory, they can watch you play with a particular toy one way on Monday, and repeat that same type of play on Tuesday themselves.

Next time: 12 months: The independent toddler starts to walk around; the drive to master walking will keep her busy day and night!

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