The first three years of life are considered the most important years for the development of young children. This is the time when your baby will develop rapidly, going from a helpless newborn who’s movements are governed by reflexes to an interactive toddler who is master of his world.
Pregnancy provides the platform for the formation of 100 billion brain cells that are largely unconnected at birth. From birth to 18 months, connections occur at a rate of 1 million per second! The connections that your baby makes in these early years provides the platform for all future development and success in life.
As a parent one of your key roles is to recognize his development and to ensure that your baby reaches his milestones at the age appropriate times. With knowledge you will be empowered to scaffold or support his development as he begins to master his world.
Social and emotional skills
More important than any other area of development is your baby’s social and emotional development. It is critical to his achievement at school, happiness in life and success in his career and marriage. Happiness and success in all areas of life are all based on the ability to engage with others, form meaningful relationships and consider others.
Although your baby is born wired to socialize, he is very emotionally immature – unable to manage his emotions and not understanding that he is even a separate person from you at birth. Over the first few months, your baby will develop a bond with you, which is the foundation for all other relationships in life. He will then learn that he is in fact separate from you and will start to control his emotions by self-soothing. In the toddler years, he will develop friendships and engage with other people to achieve a common goal.
The following are milestones you should watch for and ideas for supporting this area of development:
- Social engagement – On day one and through the very early months, your baby will be focused strongly on your face. Given the opportunity he will mimic your facial expressions and even try to communicate with you.
To support this early social engagement, take time to talk to your baby, holding him 20cm from your face when you make eye contact. This is the distance that your baby can focus properly on your face.
When your baby makes an expression, copy it so that he knows that he can have an effect on you. Try to read your baby’s signals and use words to tell him how he is feeling. This validates him as a unique person and has been show to impact on intelligence, behavior and attachment.
Attachment to you is a part of the first year of life. A securely attached baby is easier as a toddler and has less behavior difficulties later
- Smiling – At around six weeks, your baby will smile. This milestone can happen earlier but consistent smiling in response to a caregiver should be established by this time.
Hold your baby and use your voice, touch and expressions to elicit a smile and reward your baby’s attempts with a reciprocal smile and even vocalize your pleasure at seeing the smile (we call this ‘marking’ the importance of a signal)
- Self-soothing – The ability to sooth himself is a skill your baby develops over time. The first attempts at self-soothing can be seen very early but by 9 weeks, you certainly should be seeing your baby settle with your voice, bring his hands to his midline and mouth and calm himself. This is an important milestone for overcoming colic, being calm and sleeping through, which happens later in the first year of life