From Birth to Mobility

The lucky baby is the one who has a healthy body, all his senses and is born into a home where his mother and the rest of the family are interested and concerned with his progress and are willing to spend time with him apart from providing adequately for his other basic needs. Because he is helpless he cannot go out and explore for himself and has to rely on what other people will bring to him. If his mother talks and sings to him, gradually gives him suitable play materials , puts him where he can see, takes him out, lifts him up to look at things, gives encouragement and shows interest in him, he is off to an excellent start. It is this same ‘good’ mother who knows how to help him on to the next stages – indeed knows what the next stages will be – and helps him to achieve them with just enough of the right kind of help at the right time.

Even in the early months he begins to distinguish objects and colours and begins to learn about textures, size, weight, taste and the constancy of objects. He also begins to learn about other people and how they react to him – which at this stage is usually with approval and pleasure since most people like babies or keep away from them if they do not. Older siblings on the whole can accept the baby in the cot or pram as at least making few demands on them and their belongings even if they are occasionally, perhaps justifiably, jealous of the attention he gets from other people.

At this stage he is not able to start learning much about speed, distance, space and size because he is not yet able to use his body to find out for himself. He does begin to absorb the idea of one activity following on from another and to relate what he notices as leading on to something else which has not yet happened, as a result of the simple but regular and oft-repeated routines that occur. Perhaps he sees his bottle and shows pleasure because he has learned that this means food, or simply hears and recognizes the noises that go with the preparation of food even before he sees it. Many babies, once they can sit up and watch their bath being prepared, know as soon as the bath is brought out or they hear the water splashing into it what is going to happen. Most laugh, some cry but any consistent reaction to consistent stimuli shows the learning that has gone on.

The acquisition of speech varies but few babies say more than two or three words before becoming mobile although they understand a great deal and many can make their mothers understand what they want. It is surprising how often and how many mothers have said they resented the insistence of clinic doctors at the one year birthday check-up’, that only the words other people would recognize should be counted when the question ‘ Does he talk?’ is asked and the answer recorded. There is a tremendous amount of non-verbal communication between mother and child; mothers tend to see this as far more important both to their present relationship and as a necessary part of the child’s desire and incentive to develop language as he gets older than the medical profession appear to do. For this communication to happen there must be someone in the child’s home who will both make the first overture for him to respond to and equally respond when he himself takes the initiative and this is a vital part of his ‘playing and being played with’.

All babies need play material and toys which are safe for them to handle. We must bear in mind that sucking, chewing, poking, pulling to pieces and inadvertently bringing toys near to their eyes, falling on them and letting their playthings fall on them, are all part of the playing process; and remember that a baby has all the time in the world to find any flaw, weak spot or potentially dangerous component. Suitable playthings are those which give experience of colours, materials, textures, interesting varied shapes; which make different noises and react differently to his actions; which encourage the development of manipulative skills and coordination, remembering that fine controlled movements will not develop for some time yet. Fortunately this need not be an expensive stage as apart from good soft toys, cube bricks, rattles and clear simple picture books, most of the material which is useful is already in the home. However, the one thing no baby can do without is someone to play with him.

From Mobility (crawling, rolling, shuffling) to Walking Most babies by nine months can get themselves around the floor by some means or other although some may be much later in doing this. Once a child has reached this stage the problem is just as much removing what he cannot have for various good reasons as finding the play material he does need and will enjoy. A brightly coloured ball or a cylindrical tin containing a bell or rattle material are fun to chase after, and simple fitting toys and perhaps a larger soft toy can be added to the toy box. Strong cardboard boxes and tins which are rigid and have no rough edges are useful as this is an age when putting objects in and out of containers is very much enjoyed. Hammer pegs and large threading toys will be appreciated towards the end of this stage as control develops and improves in arms as well as legs. Baby walkers can be a help at the transition stage between walking round clinging to furniture and walking alone. ‘Baby bouncers’ are basically a sling harness on a spring which takes the baby’s weight so that he can jump up and down, supported but otherwise unaided. Some mothers say they have found them very useful.

All the early learning about the objects and people he sees around him is reinforced and increased; he begins to learn more about how near and far objects are, that he can crawl into a large box or under a dining table but not into a small one or under a low table, that some things inevitably fall over when pushed and may hurt if they fall on him. In fact this stage and the early part of the next can be very painful ones and most mothers find themselves thinking ‘Will he never learn?’ Of course he will but it takes many uncomfortable lessons and hard knocks before be does simply because from one incident to the next the pain is forgotten. Indeed if it was not forgotten he would never persevere long enough to develop the next skill and reach the next stage.

Babies at this stage are exhausting to look after – anything potentially dangerous must be moved or guarded (for example electricity sockets), they can sometimes move very fast and they see absolutely no danger for themselves. Older brothers and sisters find them more difficult and inhibiting to live with and sometimes begin to resent them even when they previously showed little jealousy. Thus, far from everyone showing pleasure and approval, the newly mobile child may find other people’s reaction to him and his activities changes rapidly – frowns instead of smiles, firm hard voices which make the tone clear even if he does not understand the words, people removing things fromhim and equally removing him from things. This is an inevitable part of learning and growing up and some compromise has to be found which will keep him alive to try again the next day and to safeguard the rights of every member of the family. A positive approach of giving him plenty of scope to play with suitable materials and space takes time and effort but is more rewarding for everyone than spending the same time and effort stopping him. Above all too negative and fierce a control may kill the natural persistence and interest he will need as an adult let alone as a child.

This stage may last a long or a short time or be almost by-passed altogether. The child who is a little slower in moving about than others is going to need more playthings suitable for being in one place. His mother will still be finding things to give him when another child the same age is trying to climb on armchairs, exploring and spending time and energy on learning to walk. Thus the quiet ‘good’ baby (by which is usually meant convenient) may need fitting toys and simple jigsaw tray puzzles before a baby walker. As was said before – children vary a great deal.