The Beginnings of Functioning Independently
The Child's and Parents' Challenges and Accomplishments
By Olive M. Pemberton, Ph.D.



Your baby's world expands tremendously from the seventh through the twelfth months. There is lots for this little one to learn - more, in fact, than he'll be expected to learn in his first year of school. His motor skills, cognitive skills, and emotions are now growing and increasing at a rapid pace. There is an explosion of activity going on in him. Just think, by this time he has learned to get from his belly into a sitting position, and then pull up to standing. These are major accomplishments in a few months time. No wonder he has such a big smile and makes loud noises that seem to say, "Hey, look what I can do!"

Many Brain Cell Connections Happening
We need to remember that the time span for major foundation development for the above mentioned skills occurs from conception through the first five-and-one-half years of life. These include: Sensory Motor - touch, taste, hearing, sense of space, smell, sight; Emotions and Social Skills; Learning - vocabulary, math, music; Nonverbal Communication - that's more than I could handle for one semester in college.

However, scientists have proven that the earliest experiences a child has during the first three years are the most crucial. The more positive and varied the experiences, the greater the number of healthy connections that are made between the brain cells, resulting in healthier emotions. As Joseph Le Doux says, in his book, "The Emotional Brain", "Emotions are the thread that hold our mental life together . . . emotions influence every other aspect of our mental life, shaping our perceptions, memories, thoughts, and dreams."

Challenges and Accomplishments
Joseph Chilton Pearce in his book "Magical Child" states, "Childhood is a battleground between the biological plan's intent, which drives the child from within, and our anxious intentions, pressing the child from without." Feeding and sleeping are just not as important now for your little one as is exploration. Allow him to master his new skills - then he'll come back to eating with increased interest, and he will sleep more like a baby again, says Berry Brazelton in "Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development". Have various finger foods or zwieback available for him to nibble on. Fussing with him to eat now could start a pattern of unhappy meal times for a long, long period.

Brazelton, too, says that his need to master his skills is a strong instinctive urge at this time. And, they intensify. The parents' challenge is to watch and enjoy this thrilling development in their baby's life. Crawling and continued expansion of the infant's world are big and exciting events for the family. Someone needs to be focused on this little one all of his waking hours for safety reasons, for learning, and for encouraging him in whatever efforts are being made to be independent. He can develop a good amount of self-confidence and courage in all of these new escapades if given encouragement and appropriate experiences.

Parents' Values Put on Trial
Parents need to consider making the decision between a "museum" type environment that their child must exist in, or a care-safe "home" that permits growth. Much of the time the home can look like a disaster area now. Patience is required to deal with this important period of learning, of which this is only the beginning, while remembering that their baby's curiosity is a blessing not a curse.

Learning the difference in sizes of objects, and differences in things by color, taste, sound, or touch can only happen when he experiences these. Learning to focus on an object while he is crawling or cruising is exciting for him, but sometimes he may need mommy's or daddy's help to remind him of her goal. Now there is more understanding of each other's body language, and of signals and cues between parents and baby, giving her more confidence to communicate her own feelings. This will help him to develop spoken language skills more easily later on. Around the ninth month he is learning what you mean when you tell him, "Don't do that," if he is throwing food around. And, he is learning how to express, "No, I don't want that," by shutting his lips tightly and shaking his head "no." When he throws food, you remove it from his reach and firmly say, "Don't throw the food," as you shake your head "no." Even though you are firm, it is still light and playful and that makes him pay attention. Of course you know that you have to repeat this many, many times until he learns and remembers. Hollering at him or hitting him only scares him, and then he can't learn what you are teaching him.

Baby's Fragile Social Side
All of his energy that is being directed toward this burst of learning and wanting to be in control, which is creating a desire for independence from mommy, is causing this precious one to be emotionally fragile. "His sensitivity will need to be respected in many ways," says Bra-zelton. Being exposed to noises that are too loud, changes that are too abrupt, leaving him with someone who has been familiar (including grandparents), will bring out his fragility. Necessary separations, like day- care or substitute care, may be painful and noisy. Let him know how much you missed him upon your return. Avoid unnecessary separations and changes as much as possible during this fragile time. Help him deal with this separation anxiety by playing peekaboo and other games with him. Carefully introduce him to important strangers so he can learn about them. Don't overprotect him. But remember what a major and demanding time in his development he is experiencing. He is difficult and disorganized because he's working on so many new skills. And there is an instinctive feeling that being less of a baby means Mommy will be less of a Mommy.

Parents Modeling Social and Coping Skills
The last three months of this first year bring advanced learning of the give and take game. It is the basis for future meanings of sharing and taking turns. Moderate and gentle guidance measures are needed to start, but require repetition, repetition, repetition. Again, you are helping his brain cell connections to happen for good learning. Moving him rhythmically to music is not only a joyful activity, but also a tension reliever. As new growing situations cause stress for him, rocking, rhythm activities, and play with one or both parents can help him to better cope and remain calm.

He is making more and more sounds with consonants, trying to imitate adult words. Gently giving him a constant flow of short, descriptive sentences about what is going on encourages his language abilities. Asking him to make choices by speech and by pointing helps him to know he has the right to express his individual wants and desires in ways other than crying. This is allowing him to recognize who he is.

The increase of his motor skills that make crawling, standing, cruising, and walking possible are increasing his feelings of independence and freedom that are exhilarating for him. It must be how a turtle feels when it is able to get off its back and onto its legs. I encourage you to read the books I have mentioned, or others you know about. Do enjoy this time with your baby - this is the first year of learning for the rest of his/her life.

In my next article we explore the wonderful world of the two year old. THE BEGINNINGS OF FUNCTIONING INDEPENDENTLY, The Child's and Parents' Challenges and Accomplishments.

For those who are interested, I present programs on The Growth and Development of the Brain and Emotions from Birth through the First Three Years of Life to community organizations, churches and schools for a fee. Questions or comments can be sent by e-mail to:

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