First tooth? First smile? First step? Celebrate the landmark leaps in your baby’s development
One of the best things about bringing a new little person into the world is the amazing sense of pride that comes with watching him learn and grow. Each milestone brings a flurry of excitement and, as the weeks and months go by, we eagerly anticipate the next. That first word, tiny tooth or wobbly step, they all leave you marvelling at how quickly your baby is changing. And for each of these major developments, there are plenty of mini-milestones leading up to it.
“You may not realise it, but your baby is constantly working towards his next ‘big’ milestone in many smaller ways,” says psychologist Dr Claire Halsey. “Watch him during tummy time and you might see him clench his toes as he moves his body— movements that will one day help him crawl and ultimately stand. And each little thing your baby tries, whether it’s a noise or a movement, is a valuable part of his development and well worth celebrating.”
There will be many moments that reveal glimpses of his character and the person he’s growing into. “Social milestones can point to his emerging personality,” explains Dr Claire. “Traits such as whether your baby is sociable or shy can be linked to a milestone, for instance when he’s happy to be soothed by someone he knows other than mum.” These breakthroughs also give you moments of clear accomplishment amid the happy chaos of parenting, when your little whirlwind brings puzzling conundrums daily, from trying to figure out what you did that helped him sleep well one night, to why he cries when he sees your next-door neighbour. This continuous change is part of the joy of parenthood, but it really helps to have these absolutes to cherish—then there is no questioning that first smile, and no quibbling over the little white flash of tooth.
“As your baby reaches these moments or significant stages, you’re also reassured that he’s growing and developing under your loving care,” suggests Dr Claire. “These milestones are important for you too, as his progress is recognition of your amazing efforts. That’s why it’s natural to want to share your baby’s development with other mums, to gain reassurance that all is well. But while babies follow a general pattern of development, the exact timing of certain points will be individual and special to each and every one.”
“It’s good to recognise that your baby develops at his own rate and that’s part of what makes him, him. So try not to compare milestones with mum-friends in terms of how and when they happen, and instead focus on the fact that their differences showcase your children as individuals. Being with friends whose babies are around the same age is a good opportunity to savour the range of skills they’re all learning instead.”
The biggest shifts happen when your baby experiences a leap in motor skills, when a step along his journey to becoming more mobile changes his perspective of his entire world, his interaction with it and his understanding of it. When babies lie still, they see the world in two dimensions. It’s not until they begin to move that they start to experience three-dimensional forms. Just imagine what that’s like for your baby: it literally turns his world on its side!
When a big change comes along for him, it means a big change for you too. “Whether it’s going from sitting to crawling, or cruising furniture to taking those first steps, movement for him means a change of pace for you,” says Dr Claire. “It can alter what you can and can’t do, so while it might be a milestone for your baby, it can signal the end of an era for you!”
The milestones of language development are particularly memorable, because they’re a critical part of the bond between you. For a time, youngsters are stuck in what experts refer to as the ‘two word’ stage, missing out words from a sentence and leaving you to fill in the gaps. You learn to understand what he wants to say and translate for him, so it’s a poignant milestone when he moves on from this stage, and doesn’t need your help to communicate clearly any more. He will develop his own words for certain objects and much-loved items too, and these become the mini-milestones of his language —you’ll remember these little language quirks forever.
While each new accomplishment is something to celebrate, you may also find them bittersweet. His steps towards independence can tug at your heartstrings as you learn to let him find his own way in the world. The day he confidently waves you off at nursery, for example, will be a sign of his burgeoning confidence that might bring a tinge of sadness because his baby days are nearing an end. “It’s natural to be wistful for those early days when you were the centre of his universe, but the sheer joy of the next achievement can quickly bring you back to the present,” says Dr Claire. “And those milestones remind us to make the most of every moment.” There will be times, too, when a new skill unexpectedly makes your day. He might finally discover how to work that frustrating jack-in-the-box all by himself, for example. Specific to you and your surroundings, these unique milestones give you reassurance that he is learning from you and starting to understand the ways in which you interact with him. “It’s really special when your baby shows that he is finding his place within your family,” says Dr Claire. “Learning rules at home demonstrates that he’s understanding your guidance and feeling safe and happy.”
So enjoy all these milestones. But remember that it’s not just about watching and waiting for those major ‘firsts’. Some of his most precious developments will happen when you least expect them, so appreciate all the little moments that link the big ones together too. |MB