The first two months of a child’s life are about their senses – smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. A newborn child reacts to smells and tastes. They quickly learn to recognise the smell of their parents. It’s a good idea to place a parent’s piece of clothing or a cuddly blanket that has been in the parents’ bed next to the child.
Touch is fully developed at birth. It’s important for the child to have skin contact and be caressed. Massage the child’s body with different soft blankets to make them aware that things can feel different.
Most children perceive sound well from birth. Newborns turn their heads reflexively towards the sound. They do not like loud, sudden sounds, but are calmed by rhythmic and harmonious sounds. Music boxes with soft sounds can be soothing and distracting when placed above the bed or changing table.
Sight is the least-developed of the child’s senses. All they can see is clear contrasts and movements. And even these are quite blurry and can be seen only from a distance of around 20 centimetres. Children enjoy looking at faces, eyes, and mouths. Their gaze is quite unstable and they can fixate on something that is lit, such as a lamp or the light from a window, for only a short time. Their vision then develops rapidly, and by the age of 1 or 2 months, most children can maintain eye contact and follow an object with a steadier gaze. Children prefer to look at things with clear contrasts and things that move. Bright colours that contrast with each other, such as yellow and red or white and black, are clearer to the child. Various patterns of circles and dots, squares and stripes are clear. It’s a nice idea to hang moving mobiles above the child. The child can now focus for five to ten seconds.
A newborn child has a large and heavy head. The development of movement goes from the top down, starting with the face and neck and then down to the arms, torso, and legs. The child can now start lifting their head for a short while when lying on their stomach. Place colourful toys or a mirror in front of the child so they can lie and look at themselves for a while. The child’s hands are tied in the early stages, and body movements are spontaneous and jerky. The child is then able to turn to one side or the other when lying on their back. Their hands start to open up so they can reach out and touch things.
At around 2 to 4 months, the child begins to become aware of their own body. Their neck becomes more stable and they can turn their head towards a sound. They start to see better and more distinctly. Put a mirror by the changing table and let the child lie and look at themselves while you’re there. The child discovers their hands and starts playing with the fingers that are in front of them. They can also direct their hands towards something they want to grab. They try to reach and grab things with their whole hand and suck on their hands and the toys they manage to grab. Let the child lie on their stomach and reach for things in front of them or hanging above them.
Let the child look, smell, and touch. Sing to the child. If the child listens to the same music over and over again, the child learns to recognise the music. The child’s language and social skills now start to develop. They communicate using eye contact, facial expressions, body language, screams, and sounds, and they start expressing themselves with vowels such as “ooo” and “aaa” and imitating some sounds. At the end of this period, many parents may hear their child laugh for the first time.
It’s a good idea to repeat things and make some things routine. Use the same rhyme when changing diapers, for example. Look at books, play with words, and say what you’re doing or going to do. Exaggerate your facial expressions and gestures.
At 4 to 6 months, the child is awake for longer periods of time and has more time to discover their surroundings. They also begin understanding that they are a person and that they have an ability to influence other people. The child expects to get a smile or sound back if they smile or make a sound at you. The child responds a little more clearly to your sounds. Read books. Make your own books with pictures of relatives, pets, or stuffed animals. Talk about what you’re doing together. Play simple games with rhymes that contain sound and body contact. Sing to the child. Find toys that make different sounds. Let the child use a baby gym. The child then learns to move and use their body.
The child now explores things through touch, smell, and taste. They grab and release things using their hands and move things from hand to hand. They also start supporting themselves better on their forearms when lying on their stomach and holding onto toys. The child learns to focus their gaze at different distances and to find small things on the floor. When lying on their back, they begin to lift their head and shoulders to find their feet, which are fun to examine with both hands and mouth.
The child begins to practise moving by kicking or rolling from their stomach onto their back or vice versa. They soon begin trying to move forwards or backwards, often by wriggling. Let them lie on their stomach on a play mat on the floor with things within reach. Let the child try to go after a rolling toy. They also enjoy sitting in a high chair next to you and using fun things from the kitchen. The child also likes to stand on an adult’s lap. What’s more, they find it fun to bathe and splash with their arms and try to catch toys floating in the water. Bathing together can be lots of fun.
The child starts to become interested in their own reflection. Play peek-a-boo. The child finds it exciting when something that disappears returns. Build towers using colourful bricks. Let the child pull them down so that some blocks disappear. The child can then also feel and taste the blocks and select the pieces they want.
During the child’s second six months, they start to understand more and become more social. At times, they may be shy and afraid of strange or surprising things. They may need more closeness and many start to feel comforted by a stuffed animal, comfort blanket, or something that reminds them of the security that the parent usually represents.
Many children learn to wriggle or crawl. Some get up and even take their first steps. Childproof your home.
The child starts to understand more and likes to try and solve problems, such as how to reach a toy a short distance away. Using their hands and mouth, they learn that things are soft or hard, cold or warm, wet or dry.
Many children can sit for a while without support, and some begin to move around in some way. Children often like to move things, too. They can move things between their hands. Use building blocks and a box so that the child can put things in and take them out. Also, always tell the child what they’re doing: “You’ve put in a blue block. Now you’re taking a red block.” Let the child look at a toy for a while. Then hide it under a blanket and ask them where it is. Remove the blanket and say: “Here it is!” After a while, the child can find the toy themselves. Let the child play with balls, too. They’re fun and easy to pick up. Roll a ball between you and say: “I’ll roll it to you, now you roll it back to me.”
Children also like to hold spoons and try to take food from a plate, using either the spoon or their hands. Let the child explore and mess around with the food. Pick out pots, lids, whisks, and spoons that the child can play with. The child will explore things by shaking them, throwing them, and dropping them.
The child is now babbling more. Read, point at, and look at books together. See how the child listens and watches. Books that can be bitten are a good idea. Explain what you see on a walk: “Look, here comes a dog. What sounds does a dog make? Woof, woof.” Make up rhymes and finger games. Sing songs together such as “Incy, Wincy Spider”.
Children at this age begin to pay attention to other children and become curious about them. You can see that they smile at and crawl towards each other. They may even try to take each other’s toys.
At 8 to 10 months, the child becomes increasingly good at solving problems. They begin to understand how things are connected and how to open and close doors to see what’s hidden behind them. They like to put things in and take things out of boxes or look at how things fit together. They now find it fun to see how things relate to each other. Touching, sucking, and biting things are also a way of exploring and learning. What’s similar and what’s different? How does it feel, smell, and taste? What does it sound like? This is best repeated over and over again. They can sit for longer periods and hit a hammering block or shake things that make a sound. It’s fun to pour things out, such as sand from a sandbox. They like throwing things on the floor. The child then learns that I am here and that is there.
The child also learns to use their pincer grip with their thumb and forefinger and wants to pick up small things they find on the floor or to play with a block puzzle. They also want to try eating by themselves and picking up peas or corn kernels. Give the child their own spoon to eat with while you feed them with another. Also, let them drink by themselves from a sippy cup.
Some children have learnt to move forwards or to try to stand up using the furniture.
The child now begins to imitate and tries to use things in the right way. The child wants to be where their parents are and they like to do the same things, such as with pots and spoons or by bathing a doll. They like to press remote controls and buttons, make calls on the phone, and say hello and goodbye. Many children also like to try stacking things on top of each other and hitting things against each other, and they can also “chat” with their stuffed animals or comfort figure. They also start understanding words before they can say them themselves and can turn to a sibling, parent, the teddy bear, etc. They like picture books with large colourful pictures of things they recognise. Talk about what’s in the picture and what it might sound like. Play clapping games and finger rhymes as well as turn-taking games, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. The child soon begins to imitate short words such as “mum”, “dad”, “look”, etc. They can also start using simple movements to express themselves, such as shaking their heads or throwing things on the floor.
Their memory is also well developed and the child expects certain routines, such as eating, changing their nappy, and sleeping. Tell the child what you’re doing: “Now we’re changing your diaper”, “Now we’re going to eat”. They can get anxious when you leave them and they like to follow you around. This is part of their development and is necessary for the child to discover at a reasonable pace. When you the adult are there, the child learns that safe adults are around if they need them, so they can be a little worried around strangers. When the child cries, they expect someone to come and help.
As the child reaches the end of their first year, they become better at directing their gaze when someone points at something and using their own gestures to communicate. They point, show, look with interest, and nod at what they want. Explain things to the child and put into words what’s there and what’s happening. The child may put together long sequences of sounds that sound like real speech. The child also understands that pictures represent something real. When they point to a picture of a dog, they want to say that they know that the picture represents a real dog. They like to point to things such as lights or sounds, lamps, and clocks. They can also say no or shake their head and know what it means to do so. Read simple rhymes, sing songs, and let the child help pick things up. They try to imitate more and more words and can follow short prompts such as to hug someone, clap, or wave.
Many children now move around by wiggling, shuffling, crawling, or walking. They also like climbing, such as on the sofa or stairs. Walking without support isn’t easy. They need a hand or two to hold onto or to walk with a sturdy baby walker. All children develop at their own pace and in their own order. Even siblings develop differently. Some children are happy to sit still and play, while others want to move. Try to focus on what your child can do rather than what they can’t. When the child gets praise for what they can do, they’re encouraged to learn more new things. The child often wants to do these new things over and over again. Join in and teach them instead of saying no. Of course, you need to remove the child from situations that can be dangerous and childproof your home. Let the child walk on different surfaces such as lawns, sand, gravel, and asphalt. It’s a nice idea to play music, as children like to move in step with music. This also hones the child’s balance.
The child’s fine motor skills also develop more and more, from a full-handed grip to a pincer grip. Let the child play with blocks and boxes that they can fill up and empty again. Use boxes with holes that some blocks fit through. Block puzzles provide good training for fingers. Eat together with the child. This is nice and provides social training. Why not take turns feeding each other?
Author: Benita Hammarström
Specialist nurse in health care for children and young people.