BABY MILESTONES (0-12 MONTHS) AND HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR CHILD REACH THEM
If you’re like me, you have spent a lot of time worrying if you are doing everything you can to help your baby reach all those milestones you keep hearing about. FIRST, before going on, I want to make one thing very clear: milestones are simply clues to understanding how your baby is developing. Milestones are NOT the whole picture. If you are concerned because your baby is consistently not reaching these milestones, please call your pediatrician. The CDC website, from which I got much of this information, is another excellent resource.
What I don’t want you to do with this information:
- Use it to judge your parenting
- Use it to judge someone else’s parenting
- Stress that you need to do all of these things every day
Now that we got that out of the way…
Below, you will find a summary of games and activities to do with your little one that will help them reach their upcoming milestones. For example, when baby A was 8 months, I wanted her to reach her upcoming 9-month milestones, so I completed the 9-month activities with her. Did I do all of these every day? No. Did I make it a goal to do some of these each day? Yes. You have a lot on your plate; nobody expects you to do these activities every day!
It’s also important to note that I did not just make this up. Since I found out I was pregnant with Baby A, I have been researching exactly this. While doing so, I found a list of recommended activities to help children reach each milestone (2-month, 4-month, 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month) on the CDC’s website. I found a few activities in all (or most) stages, and you can find more about them below.
Read To Them
Reading is a great way to help your baby learn words and word sounds. Children like to mimic their caregivers (you know this very well if you have a toddler), and hearing you say words makes them curious. In addition, seeing you read makes them more likely to enjoy reading in the future. This is also a great bonding time. Watching Baby A grab a book and sit in my lap is one of the best feelings in the world.
Work on Routines
When Baby A was 2 months old, my co-worker told me that she already had all four of her kids on a schedule by that age. I thought there was no way! I decided instead of “giving” my baby a schedule, I would watch what she naturally does and try to build routines off of that. This was ever-changing but gave me a sense of sanity.
Think about your own routines. When I wake up, I always brush my teeth and wash my face before going downstairs. I do the same before I get in bed as well. My whole day may not be scheduled precisely the same, but I have routines.
In a University at Albany study, it was found that children who grow up in a household with routines (including meal and sleep routines) “are less likely to have time management or attention problems as adults.” This study surveyed college students to determine this information, which means that each of their definitions of “routine” could be different. However, they do make a point to differentiate between routine and merely the frequency of activities. For example, a mealtime routine would be breakfast at 8, lunch at 11, snack at 3, and dinner at 5:30. Whereas “frequency of activities” would be 3 meals and a snack.
After stressing about my co-worker’s comments, I began reading more and found that feeding on demand (rather than on a schedule) improves academic performance later in life. Now, does this mean that feeding on demand is the right choice? Not for everyone. Remember that a part of raising a healthy child is keeping yourself healthy, physically, and mentally. If feeding on a schedule gives you a sense of sanity, that is important too!
I chose to feed on demand and build routines off of Baby A’s cues. When she was hungry, I would feed her. When she was tired, I would read her a book or sing her a song. Later on, when I was rocking her and reading her a book, she could identify that with sleep. Once she was eating solid foods, we began worrying about setting a schedule with her food. Being a teacher (and therefore having a set “lunchtime”), I was already on a pretty regular schedule of when I ate, so that made it easy to put Baby A on a mealtime schedule.
Talk Through Your Day
It is recommended to talk to your child often throughout the day to help their verbal skills improve. In 2019, researchers at the University of York found that there is a link between kids who hear “high quantities” of words from their caregivers and the child’s “nonverbal abilities such as reasoning, numeracy and shape awareness.” This means that your child’s verbal skills are not the only thing you can improve!
This can be as easy as narrating your and your child’s day or just verbalizing your thoughts. I also try to be aware that the name that I use for things (and people) is what my baby will end up using. For example, when talking to or about my husband, I say “Dada” to help her identify the word “Dada” with her dad. In turn, I also say “mama” when talking about myself and use her name when talking about her.
These examples seem obvious, but it is imperative when it comes to people that you have a name for that is much different than your child’s name for that person. It can be really confusing for their brains to understand why you are sometimes calling their grandpa “dad,” for example. I thought about this a lot after my mom told me a story about “dad” and it wasn’t until the end that she told me she was talking about HER dad, not mine.
Copy Sounds Your Baby Makes
When he or she “talks” to you, it is important for you to model what a conversation would look like. If you were talking to someone and they said “oh yeah” while looking away, you would assume that they are not listening. Demonstrate to your baby that you are listening by copying what they say. It is a great way to show them that you understand.
I learned from Chris Voss’s MasterClass that this works with adults as well. When your spouse says, “it’s just so frustrating that you didn’t do the dishes,” starting with “I know that frustrated you” can help them realize that you are identifying with them.
Of course, it is important to not always just copy the sounds they make or words they say. Try following up with words that start with that sound. When they say “ba,” you can say “ba-ball, ba-bed.” Point out those objects if they are nearby!
Okay, I have to admit, I am a REALLY bad singer. So bad that I cannot even recognize how bad it is. Regardless, Baby A either doesn’t know how bad I am or doesn’t care. A 1999 study found that early introduction to music curriculum has a positive impact on cognitive development. I know that you singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” does not count as a music curriculum, but it sets the foundation for music appreciation.
When appropriate, combining singing and dancing can be a quick way to have some family fun time! I am very sick of “Baby Shark” at this point, but I will never get sick of watching Baby A get better and better at the dance moves. Singing songs that have assigned dances (chicken dance, wheels on the bus, etc.) can be an easy way to connect with your child no matter what age.
Peekaboo is seen across the world in its own forms, making it the focus of many research papers and parenting articles. One reason playing peekaboo is beneficial is that it helps children learn object permanence. To put this simply, it helps them learn that just because they cannot see your face doesn’t mean they aren’t there. As they start to understand that you are behind the blanket, they will look behind it with delight when they find you. This brings me to my next point: the game can change as they change. At different developmental stages, it can be played behind a blanket, your hands, furniture, or my baby’s favorite: the curtains. Eventually, they will start to initiate the game as well!
One of the most important reasons to play peekaboo is that it helps them learn patterns. No matter how you play (be it with your hands or the curtains) and no matter what country it’s being played in, the sequence is the same: someone is covered, some sort of “where are they?” comment, the person is revealed, and some sort of “there they are” statement is made. As I mentioned, this is played across many cultures, so the words change, but the pattern remains.
The pattern and predictability are also why they love the game, according to research. Essentially as babies develop (and likely play peekaboo often), they know that the same person who went behind the blanket will come out and say peekaboo. Parrott and Gleitman’s research recorded babies’ faces (6, 7, and 8-month-olds) to see if they enjoyed the game just as much if it was a different person who “reappeared.” They found that the babies laughed and smiled less when it was not the same person reappearing. With age, their expectation of it being the same person increased and therefore they smiled even less. This tells us that they enjoyed the predictability of the same person reappearing.
You’ve seen a mirror on just about every infant toy and probably about a thousand different articles suggesting putting your little one in front of a mirror. At first, children like to stare at the baby in the mirror, but eventually, they will begin to interact with that baby and eventually learn that it’s them (probably after one year)! It is truly a fantastic journey to watch. You can buy an unbreakable mirror, a baby toy with a mirror on it, or incorporate a mirror onto a DIY busy board!
Although I couldn’t find research specifically about why mirror play is important, it seems pretty straight forward. Watching their movements in the mirror helps children see what they are doing and forms a more profound connection in their brain. It’s the same reason bodybuilders watch themselves workout. No, not narcissism! Bodybuilders look in the mirror to see what their body looks like when they are doing a specific movement because you can feel like you are in a deep squat, but not really be.
Eventually, the mirror can be a part of your learning adventure. You can point out different body parts, make silly faces, or even use the mirror to play peek-a-boo. For more information on mirror play, I highly suggest Fatherly Article “The Five Stages of Self-Awareness Explain What Kids See in the Mirror” By Joshua A. Krisch.
Look at Pictures
This is one of my favorites! Baby A and I will sit and look at pictures of her A LOT. She really loves herself! We also look at pictures of family and friends that she doesn’t get to see as often. My brother was so shocked when she walked up to him and said: “Buba” (my childhood nickname for him). He didn’t believe me at first that she was identifying “Buba” with him, but after a few “who’s that,” he believed me. This was past her first birthday, but it was only because of the foundation I put down when she was younger.
I made it easy and asked my family and important friends to send me a picture of them that they like and put that in a little photo album. We would flip through it and talk about who is in the image, and I would sometimes make up stories about where the picture was taken or what they were doing that day. Soon enough, she was picking up the photo album and pointing at people naming them. Sometimes she stops what she’s doing, grabs the photo album, opens to the picture of my brother, and gives him a kiss. That alone makes it worth it!
Pay Attention to Moods
It seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget. I recommend taking notes on paper or digitally. I am sure there are apps for it, but I just used Google Keep. Every time your little one seems to be enjoying themselves, take note of what is going on. Same for when they are upset. Become an investigator; what were you just doing, what are you doing now, how bright is it, how is the temperature, are there any loud or annoying sounds, etc.
When Baby A was little, I couldn’t figure out why she was fussy until I started keeping track of everything. Eventually, I learned that she didn’t want to play after breastfeeding and before sleeping. Essentially, she was tired from her milk chugging but wasn’t quite ready to sleep and just wanted to relax. It was amazing to me that I couldn’t just pick up on that on my own, mostly because I’m the same way!
You will only find notes that you should pay attention to your baby’s moods on the CDC recommendations, but paying attention to your own moods is just as important. Do precisely the same thing for yourself! This is great to be able to set boundaries for yourself and with your family and friends.
For example, anyone who has lived with me (parents, college roommates, and my husband) knows that asking me questions first thing in the morning will accelerate my grumpiness. I also learned that I am happier at night if I clean up while my husband puts Baby A to bed rather than sitting and watching TV. In the moment, it feels better to watch TV, but when my husband comes down, and I haven’t gotten anything done, I’m not as happy. That way, we can cuddle and watch something together, rather than him clean up one room while I clean another.