One helpful aspect of parent awareness throughout your child’s life is to know when developmental milestones typically occur, while also respecting the individuality of his or her unique timetable. I was reminded by last week's Wall Street Journal article about waving bye-bye, of just how delightful "milestone spotting" can be over the course of a child's unfolding! (The article points out that a baby typically acquires the bye-bye wave between 10-12 months, and that premature infants have a delayed and different bye-bye wave.)
Here are a few other enchanting developmental milestones to keep your eyes peeled for:
- Toward the end of the forty-day cocoon period, at around six weeks, attuned parents will notice a change in their baby: Like Noah after the forty days, she is “ready to open a window on the world.” She’s becoming more alert, more aware and responsive to the surrounding environment. Her journey toward relatedness is beginning. She is now ready to enter more into family life, needing somewhat less protection from the ordinary household noises, sounds of active older children, visitors, etc. Occasional gentle radio music is now acceptable. But television is still best avoided; the high quality of the sense impressions coming to the baby are fundamental to her newly wiring brain circuitry, making this one of the sensitive windows neuroscientists talk about.
- One fascinating dimension of your baby’s development to watch for is how he moves through the many stages of motor development in the first year. An imaginative observation of his body gestures through the first twelve months suggests that individual development recapitulates stages of the human evolutionary process:
For the first six weeks, we see a plant-like consciousness. He is like a geranium, which has no awareness of its geranium-ness. The new infant benefits from being allowed to live fully within this “asleep” state of consciousness, yet many of our current cultural practices are designed to stimulate the baby from the very beginning -- music, mobiles, flashy whiz-bang gizmos -- denying him this experience of a gentle landing into embodied awareness.
- Next is the “fish” stage (two-four months): she wriggles, often swishes her legs about and makes swimming motions with her arms. This calls for the opportunity to move the limbs and wriggle about when awake.
- Some babies at around five months make the “bird” gesture, with the arms becoming wings kicked up in the air as if in flight. This gesture speaks of the need for free movement, to allow for the increased mobility. (Many babies don’t enact this bird—and instead move directly from the fish to the reptile. There are wide variations in the timetable and the specifics of these gestures.)
- Somewhere around eight months is the age of the “reptile” gestures: lying on the ground, reared up on his forearms, he’s very sensitive to the slightest sound, swinging his head around to any slight noise. The legs—unlike the curled-in fashion of the fish stage—are now fully extended, resembling a lizard’s tail.
- Next comes the “mammal” (quadruped) gesture: up on all fours. The freedom to crawl lays an important inner foundation, as it can metamorphose into a sense of inner soul freedom.
- And finally, she pulls herself up to the “human” gesture—which asks for an opportunity to explore, investigate, and learn about the world.
The Most Wondrous Developmental Milestone of All: The Sacred "I"
A baby does not experience herself as an individual separate from her mother. From infancy through her third year she gains a gradually dawning awareness of her own individuality—first as a basic bodily reality ("This is me, and that is her") and over time as a deeper existential reality.
This process has some pivotal moments, such as when she turns two.
This stage has earned the unfortunate nickname of the terrible twos because it can come as an unsettling surprise to parents when their “easy” child suddenly begins practicing her individuality by saying “No” in countless creative ways. It helps to have a big picture sense of what’s going on in order to maintain your equanimity and not get flummoxed by your child’s sudden obstinacy: she is learning to be her own person!
And the most amazing developmental milestone of all, in my opinion, is the fascinating self-referencing transition that happens in the language of the two-to-three year old: “Baby do it” evolves into “Janie do it,” and then, one magical day, “I do it.”
It is in the sacred ground of this new name “I” to which she has now awakened that the seeds for your child's future sense of self are planted and will flourish. It is a day to celebrate!
I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. As a gift to Mothering readers I'm offering a unique 7-step parenting tool, a "Quick-Start Guide to Shifting Your Child's Perplexing, Stuck Behaviors."
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Harald Groven through a Creative Commons license