Question: Is it important that I communicate with my very young baby? How can I do that before my baby talks?
- It is important to communicate with your baby as soon as your baby is born. Some people even begin to talk with their babies before they are born!
- Communication takes many forms: Talking, holding, hugging, looking at, and being with.
- This communication stimulates an automatic response in your baby to interact with you. It is because of this interaction that your baby grows to know who you are, learns to trust in you, feels safe and secure, and begins to learn language and other skills. This process is called the attachment process. The child "attaches" to the primary caregiver, usually the mother or father, and the primary caregiver bonds with the infant. A good parent child interaction involves an understanding between infant and adult about needs of the infant and how the parent can meet those needs. It is the basis for all future patterns of interacting with other people and to learning.
- Things you can do to bond with your baby and help your baby attach to you are:
- Mimic (copy) your baby's facial expressions, sounds and movements
- Talk with (speak and listen to) your baby
- Keep your baby with you, not alone in another room or playpen
- Read to your infant and young child
- Move to soothing music with your child
- Play, talk and sing to your infant and young child while diapering, feeding, bathing, riding in the car
- Listen and watch your baby for cues your baby is giving to you about how he/she feels or what he/she needs.
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Question: People talk about babies' temperament. What does that mean?
- A baby's temperament has to do with the way the baby responds to what goes on around your baby. Just as all babies don't have the same color hair or eyes, not all babies are not born with the same temperament. There is a wide variety of ways children respond to sounds, touching, the need for quiet or activity and other events in the environment. Sometimes children are described as being either active, moderate or quiet.
- Examples of different types of temperaments include:
- Babies who are hypersensitive while others are quiet and watchful.
- Babies who are fussy and difficult to console while others are relatively easy.
- Babies who like to be cuddled, but others who do not.
- Babies who seem passive while others seem tense and irritable.
- Babies who are easily startled, and others who appear calm.
- A baby's temperament or disposition also determines how the baby responds to adults and the way that the baby wants adults to interact with her. It is important for the parent to watch for the cues that a baby gives about what he/she needs or wants, and what is the baby's particular style.
- Things to watch for to help you learn about your baby's temperament include:
- How active is your baby?
- How distractible is your baby? Does his/her attention go swiftly from one thing to another?
- How persistent is your baby? Does he/she keep at something or give up easily?
- Does he/she handle new situations by approaching them or withdrawing?
- Is your baby intense or relaxed?
- How does he/she adapt to going from one activity to another?
- How predictable is he/she in sleep, bowel habits and other routines during the day?
- Is he/she easily overstimulated or very difficult to stimulate?
- What is his/her general mood -- positive or negative?
- For more information read, Brazelton, B.T., Infants and Mothers. New York: Delacorte Press/Lawrence, 1983, or Chess, S. and Thomas, A. Know Your Child. New York: Basic Books, 1987
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Question: At what age does my baby's emotional development start?
- Your baby's emotional development begins before your child is born. Good emotional health depends on a healthy mother who is well fed, well rested and relatively free of stress. (See Your Baby's Brain Development) It is at this time that your baby's brain and nervous system are being formed.
- Once your baby is born, a strong and loving parent-child relationship is the most important factor in developing your baby's good mental health. (See Question 1 and Question 2) Your baby needs to feel loved, nurtured, safe and secure in his environment. Spend time with your baby to develop a good relationship. Get to know your baby and interact with your baby. Listen and watch for what your baby is telling you even before your baby can use words to speak.
- Reduce stressful situations around your baby:
- talk in calm soothing voices, avoid quarreling and fighting
- avoid loud sounds, music and any forms of violence including that on TV
- keep a routine of sleeping and eating that is right for your child
- maintain a safe and predictable environment for your child.
- Your child will learn by what your child sees. Make sure you act the way you want your child to behave. It is important for you to model being a loving and nurturing person, being fair and trustworthy. Your child will learn from what you do. Your child will develop emotional skills as he/she child grows from infancy, through childhood, adolescence and even in adulthood.
- If you feel your child is having difficulty with his/her emotional development, click on I Have Questions about my Child's development.
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Question: Is it normal for my baby to cry all the time?
- Babies cry for a reason. They may be hungry, tired, in pain (for example with colic or gas), uncomfortable (for example with a wet diaper), overstimulated, or in need of social attention. Crying is the first signal that infants can give to adults that they need something. When their needs are met in a caring and competent way, most children stop crying.
- As babies grow, they learn other ways to signal adults of their needs and wants. Parents must watch for those signals. When they do, babies develop as they should, and a secure relationship is established between babies and adults. Crying becomes less frequent and is used only when a child reaches his limits of endurance or is hurt.
- When parents do not read their babies cues or heed their cries and attend to their needs, it makes for an insecure attachment or relationship between the parent and child. The child will feel uncertain and frightened. The child will continue to cry or resort to other unpleasant behavior in order to have his/her needs met or to get what he/she wants. Parents need to understand what a child tries to tell them even before that have words.
- Some children who cry a lot tend to have a fussy or "difficult" temperament. (See Question 2) It may be harder to comfort them. They may resist cuddling or eye contact with their parent. There are ways a parent can handle such a child to make it easier for both the parent and child. For example, learn to swaddle such a child in a blanket, avoid overstimulating the child and do not move in too quickly on a child. For more information read Brazelton, T. B., Touchpoints, Reading Mass.: Perseus Books, 1992
- Other children may be very colicky or have another medical reason for discomfort that results in much crying. These children should be seen by their doctor who can provide more information.
- Remember, children cry for a reason. It is the adult's job to find out why.
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Question: My child starts something and says, "I can't do it; you do it," seems frustrated and then gives up. What should I do?
- Sometimes children want you to do something because they're dissatisfied with their own ability and think you can do it better.
- Direct your efforts toward helping your child learn to do it for himself.
- Assess whether a task or game is at your child's developmental level. If it is actually too difficult, provide help.
- Reassure your child that trying to do the best he/she can is what is important. Praise those efforts.
- Encourage -- even help -- without taking over.
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Question: How can I help my child be more independent?
- All children in the pre-school years swing back and forth between being brave and being timid. Often you will see a toddler busily playing in one part of a room and then find him coming back to his mother for a moment to touch base before going off to play again. This is very normal behavior as children learn to be self-confident and able to do things on their own.
- Children need a balance between secure familiar experiences and new exciting interesting experiences.
- When your child appears timid or fearful, provide support and encouragement, love and cuddling.
- Help your child prepare for new experiences beforehand by talking about them ahead of time.
- Talk about what to expect and what to do in each new situation. Do pretend play with your child about the new experience and let your child come up with different ways to cope. Supply examples if necessary.
- When helping your child learn self-help skills such as dressing and self-feeding, go slowly. Decide on one skill that you want to teach and concentrate on that skill until your child masters it before teaching another. Tell your child what you want his/her to do, show his/her how to do it, help his/her do it, and then watch his/her do it herself. Encourage and praise her through each step. It may take several tries for each new skill.
- The move between independence and dependence is a lifelong process.
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Question: How do you deal with a child who only likes to imitate superheroes or action figures?
- Children use superhero play as a defense against fear. It helps them to understand and gain control of events and situations of which they are afraid. This can help them build self- confidence.
- If superhero play takes all of your child's free time, set limits on the amount of time and the extent of play.
- Present alternative games or activities. Play with your child as often as you can. Listen to who and what your child talks about.
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Question: How should I handle my child's fears?
- Try to understand the cause of the fear. Is it connected to a real event or a change in the family's life? Think back to the events of the past few weeks or months to see if you can come up with a probable cause.
- Sometimes there is no apparent cause. Then it's important to remember that it is normal for children to experience fears. The patterns of fear change as children grow up.
- Show your child how to cope. Rather than saying, "That's nothing to be afraid of," say "I know that picture scares you, but it is not real so it can't hurt you. Let's find some other pictures you like."
- Help children anticipate what will happen in new situations.
- Involve the children in solving their own problems: Ask, "What would you do if . . .?" The point is not to have a specific answer but to help children think of different solutions.
- Helping children face their fears builds self-confidence and the ability to cope.
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Question: When and how do children learn to share?
- It's an uphill battle with very young children. Children younger than 3 do not understand the concept of sharing. To share, children must be developmentally ready and trust that if they let go of something, it will return and not be gone forever.
- Young children are capable of spontaneous cooperation and sharing. You can see this when toddlers roll a ball back and forth between them or play "chase" and then reverse roles.
- With toddlers you can indicate the idea of sharing by simple games. For example, take turns putting one block at a time in a pail; if another child is present, encourage him to participate. Another idea is to exchange toys: You have a toy and your child has a toy. Pass them back and forth.
- Offer concrete solutions. One example: "One of you can ride the tricycle and pedal, and the other can ride on the back. Or you can take turns riding around and then switch off. Which would you like to do?"
- Always offer children the opportunity to help solve the problem. How could you both play together with the ball, bike, and so on.
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Question: My child is very shy. Is this typical?
- Some children are born with a predisposition toward shyness and inhibition. They are usually temperamentally slow to warm up to strangers. Most shyness is temporary in each new situation; however, shy children often tend to be somewhat shy as adults.
- Allow time for your shy child to observe each new situation or person.
- Do not force interaction, but when your child feels more comfortable, draw him or her into interacting by doing so yourself.
- Remain near to your child until he/she feels comfortable.
- Never make fun of or scold a child for being shy.
- Some children prefer playing alone or with one or two friends, but this does not mean they are overly shy.
- It is important that children are able to tell you when they want to play with others and when they want to play alone.
- If the situation calls for playing with others, you can:
- Prepare your child by telling him or her what is expected or about to happen.
- Provide play situations that require cooperation such as pulling and riding in a wagon.
- Remind children of previous successes.
- Help your child feel confident in what he/she does.
- If you think your child's shyness is extreme, speak with your child's early care and education teacher or doctor.
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Question: My child often plays with imaginary friends. Is this okay?
- Perhaps a third to a half of young children have imaginary friends.
For the most part children invent imaginary companions who are friendly, warm and comforting. Children know that they are pretend but treat them as if they were real.
- Imaginary friends often represent the ideal companion, one who listens a lot and makes few demands. Some imaginary playmates help children meet challenges and struggles to become independent and gain mastery over tasks and skills. This builds self-confidence.
- Imaginary companions leave the scene when the child outgrows the need for them. This usually happens matter-of-factly, without any upset or drama.
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Question: How do children learn what is right and wrong?
- Children do what they see, more than what you say. It is important for you to provide a good model for your child to follow.
- Children pass through different stages of moral development beginning in early childhood and advancing through adulthood.
- Very young children do not really understand the concept of right and wrong. For them, what is "good" is what they like and what is "bad" is what they don't like. Therefore, it is important for adults to provide controls and limits for them. This is especially true for children who have no words to tell themselves, "No, don't pick the flowers."
- At about age 4 or 5, children begin to label or identify things that are "good" and "bad." They can talk about them, but the true understanding is still outside of their own feeling. Children of this age follow rules only because they are told to do so. That is why it is very important for adults to provide consistent and gentle guidance. As a child uses words to describe self-controlling behaviors, such as "No. No. Don't touch," they begin to internalize, or understand, what those words mean.
- By age 7 or 8, children's understanding of right and wrong seems to be based more on fear of being punished. For example, a child might feel that the reason people do not steal is that they will be caught by the police. Generally, children still have not developed true moral values. Again, it is important for adults to help children understand what is right and wrong, and why.
- By age 9, children are beginning to understand the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This is the beginning of a true understanding of right and wrong, of guilt and values.
- Help children develop self-discipline during the pre-school years through a lot of adult help.
- Remind your pre-school child of the rules beforehand.
- If your child continues to break a rule, use a problem-solving approach in which the child helps decide what is the best way to keep from breaking the rule. A critical aspect of self-discipline is a sense of personal responsibility.
- Remember that all young children want to do the right thing and gain approval of their parents. Help them know what that is so that they feel good about themselves.
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Question: I live with a very active child and although I hate to use this word -- he's "difficult." He has always been this way and I'm not sure why.
- Some parents describe their children as "intense, demanding or difficult. This can be stressful for both the parent and the child.
- Sometimes it is hard for parents to remember that no child wants to be "bad."
- Very active children often have difficulty controlling their behavior. They need extra help and consideration from their parents.
- Providing structure and helping children control their own behavior, especially when the children are very active, can be very tiring. Parents need support and help from other family members and friends.
- Provide situations where your child can be successful and feel good about what they can do.
- It is helpful for parents and adults to:
- Recognize Typical Behaviors.
Knowing what most children do at what ages will assure most parents that their young children are "normal." For example, pre-schoolers typically want other children's toys and resist sharing. They normally are very active and have a short attention span.
- Establish Routines and Structure the Environment.
Very active children often have a hard time establishing patterns on their own. Advance preparation helps them function better. For example, remind them before it is time to start or stop an activity, or tell them what kind of behavior is expected from them. Better yet, ask them if they can tell you. Keep the same routines as much as possible.
- Give Limited Responsibility.
our child's behavior is more manageable when he/she is given limited choices that allow her to exercise a degree of self-control. Don't expect more than what your child is able to do developmentally.
- Decide Which Experiences Matter.
Don't overwhelm children with a lot of new things at once. Carefully select the most important new experience and help your child enjoy it along with old, familiar activities that he/she has mastered, before adding others.
- Responding to a Crisis.
Sometimes it simply is not possible to forewarn a child or plan in advance. When this happens, help your child cope with a new situation by supporting your child as best as you can. Explain what is going on and what is expected. If necessary find a place where it is acceptable for your active child to run around and blow off steam. Try to avoid situations that you know will be too difficult for your active child to cope with because you do not want to set your child up to fail.
- Investigate Possible Reasons for Very Active Behavior.
Some children may have a physical reason for being very active. It might be something as simple as a food allergy or something more serious. Talk with your child's doctor and early care and education teacher. If you feel you need more help you may want to call Child Find. (See I Have Questions about my Child's development)
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Question: Tantrums! What can I do about them?
- Tantrums are a relatively normal response that all young children have to situations that make them unhappy or angry. It is only when tantrums are very frequent, on going and extreme that you need to worry.
- Determine if the tantrum is temperamental or manipulative in which the child deliberately throws a fit to get his or her own way, or if there is a real serious problem that needs your attention.
- Avoid falling into a battle of wills. That's a "lose-lose" scenario.
- Allow a tantrum to "run its course." When the tantrum is over, get on with what it was you were doing. A short comment is sufficient to signal the end of the tantrum.
- Some children are exhausted after tantrums and need to rest. Give them an opportunity to do this.
- Some children are scared by their outburst and may need reassurance that everything is all right after their tantrum. A hug and explanation that Mommy and Daddy loves them will reassure them that life as they know it has not been damaged by their tantrum.
- When your child can't help it, as might be the case with a temper tantrum, the best tactic is sympathy, understanding and firmness. "I know you are upset and want to throw things, but I'm going to hold you until you feel better."
- Listen to your child and help him develop skills to use instead of resorting to tantrum behavior.
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Question: How do I know if my child's social development is on target?
- Use the following behaviors as a guide against which to compare your child's social and personal skills at specific ages. However, remember that each child is unique. Not all children will do the same thing at the same age. Use the following as a guide only.
- If you feel your child may not be developing in a typical manner, click on (See I Have Questions about my Child's development)
- Birth to 3 months - Babies usually
- Nurse at mother's breast or sucks from a bottle.
- Comfort to soothing, gentle sounds.
- Smile in response to adult's smile.
- Look at face when spoken to.
- Tell primary caregiver from other adults.
- Startle or cry at sudden loud noises.
- 3 to 6 months - Babies usually
- Smiles spontaneously.
- Reach for familiar people.
- Begin to choose toys.
- Begin to comfort self by sucking or by fingering a favorite blanket or other object.
- 6 to 9 months - Babies usually
- Smile at self in mirror.
- Enjoy peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake.
- Become attached to a particular toy or object.
- Begin to fear strangers.
- 9 to 12 months - Babies usually
- Recognize people as strangers as opposed to familiar persons.
- Tug at or reach for adults to get their attention.
- Begin drinking from a cup.
- Demonstrate affection.
- Begin to smile at own accomplishments.
- 12 to 18 months - Toddlers usually
- Enjoy having people clap.
- Show affection or sympathy for others.
- Play chasing and hiding games.
- Play ball or other games with an adult.
- Show specific wants by gestures and vocalizations.
- Become attached to a favorite possession (blanket, toy).
- Begin to learn skills to become independent (removing garments, using a spoon or fork).
- May have anxiety about parent leaving.
- 18 to 24 months - Toddlers usually
- Like being read to.
- Show more independence by putting on clothes, feeding self, washing and drying hands.
- Exhibit curiosity and is "into everything."
- Have special relationships with each parent or caregiver.
- Enjoy playing next to another child but do not interact much with other child.
- Enjoy touching and hugging.
- May experience fear when separated from caregiver.
- 24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years) - Toddlers usually
- Say, "I love you."
- Interact with other children in simple games (e.g., Ring-around-the-rosy).
- Verbalize their toilet needs.
- Continue to develop competence in self-help skills (brushing teeth, feeding, dressing).
- Help pick up and put away toys.
- 36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years) - pre-school children usually
- Begin to play with other children interactively.
- Share toys and take turns, with assistance.
- Begin dramatic play, acting out whole scenes.
- Test limits (When adult says "No," child acts anyway to see if adult really means "No.")
- Interpret reality to suit personal needs. ("I don't have to share because my brother doesn't like cookies.")
- Develop a sense of humor; tell silly jokes.
- Dress, toilet and eat with little help.
- May develop fears (of the dark, fire, animals).
- 48 to 60 months (4 to 5 years)-pre-school children usually
- Play with other children cooperatively.
- Explore gender roles (mommy/daddy) and community helper roles (firefighter, shopkeeper).
- Understand limits and define them for others.
- Respect authority, though may still test limits.
- Participate in group games (e.g., Hide-and-seek).
- Chooses own friends.
- Are sensitive about teasing.
- Like silly jokes.
- Dress, toilet, and eat independently.
Information answering this question is from Florida Department of Education, Welcome to the World: An Overview of Your Growing Child, (1999), Tallahassee, Fla.
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"The pre-school Years: Family Strategies That Work -- From Experts and Parents" by Ellen Galinsky and Judy David. Ballantine Books, 1991.
"Touchpoints, The Essential Reference: (Your child's emotional and behavioral development" by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Reading MA: Perseus Books, 1992
"Infants and Mothers" by T. Berry Brazelton, Mass., New York: Delacort Press/Lawrence, 1983.
"The Earliest Relationship" by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley/Lawrence. 1985.
"Know Your Child" by Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, New York: Basic Books, 1987.
"First Feeling" by Stanley Greenspan and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan. New York: Viking, 1985.
References for content:
- Brazelton, T. B., (1992). Touchpoints, Reading Mass.: Perseus Books.
- Florida Department of Education, (1990), MITCH Module 7, Behavior Management; Preventing and Dealing with Problem Behavior, Tallahassee, Fla.
- Florida Department of Education, (1999), Welcome to the World: An Overview of Your Growing Child, Tallahassee, Fla.
- Kohlberg, L., (1987). Child psychology and Childhood Education, New York: Longman.