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Doctor in the House: Is your child’s cognitive development on track?

Find out what they are and how you can stimulate them

parentingInteracting and playing with your baby gives your baby important information for understanding the world. (Photo: Pexels)

Cognitive development milestones and how to stimulate them

Back in the old days, babies were thought of as miniature adults. They were often seen as simplistic passive beings. It wasn’t until the 20th century that childhood and adolescence began to be viewed as unique and distinct periods of growth and development. The first few years of your baby’s life lay the foundation of their cognitive development. Cognitive Development refers to growth of the child’s ability to think, reason and understand its environment. One of the most crucial things for your baby’s cognitive development is play, this helps hone your baby’s ability to think, understand, communicate, remember, imagine and work out what happens next. Babies come into this world ready to learn, think and explore their surrounding environment. Newborn infants are constantly taking in their environment and learning from it and about themselves.

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Interacting and playing with your baby gives your baby important information for understanding the world. For example when you play peek-a-boo, he understands that when parents disappear from his line of sight they come back, too. Playing with your baby helps them to realise a powerful message that you are important to me. This helps the baby to learn about who they are and where they fit in this world. It also boosts their confidence to keep exploring and learning about the world.

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Stages of cognitive development

Birth to three months

The first three months of a child’s life are focused around exploring basic senses and, through that, learning about their body and the environment. During this period most babies begin to –

– Display anticipatory behaviours such as rooting and sucking at the sight of a nipple or a bottle
– React to differences in pitch and volume
– Focus on objects within a distance of 10-13 inches
– Focus on moving objects, including the faces of caregivers
– See all colours of the human visual spectrum
– Differentiate between tastes — like sweet, salty, bitter, and sour
– Respond to their environment using facial expressions

Three to six months

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Between three and six months, babies begin to hone a stronger sense of perception. They –

– Coo and make other sounds as a reaction to their environment
– Mirror/Imitate facial expressions
– Tends to listen to you when you talk and appears to be replying to you
– Recognise familiar faces
– Reaches out to grab things and takes it to the mouth

You can encourage their growth through the following play ideas –

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* Sing songs, play nursery rhymes and talk to your baby
* Offer balls so that they learn to hold or drop them. This will teach them as to how things move
* Play with rattles, bells and other toys that make noise
* Keep interesting toys at arm’s reach to encourage them to move

Six to nine months

At this stage, your baby will begin to associate with the language they hear frequently. Babies at this age often –

– Start to say ‘mama or dada’
– Respond to their own name
– Hold their own bottles and feed themselves with finger food
– Might even start to look at things when you name them eg. ‘fan’

You can encourage your baby to explore by

* Providing them with a few toys in the bath for dunking and playing while bathing
* Giving them toys that they can shake and bang
* Giving baby toys that have buttons that can be pressed to make different sounds
* While reading to them make different voices and animal sounds
* Give them stacking toys or toys that they can push or roll
* Hang mobiles over their cribs so they can gaze at objects suspended mid-air

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Nine to 12 months

At this age, babies are very curious, accompanied by increased mobility. Babies begin to sit up, crawl and walk which allows babies to gain a greater mental understanding of their environment. As they approach one year of age, infants will begin to —

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– Throw things to watch it fall, throw things at a wall. This is how your baby learns about cause and effect — that is, if I do this, this will happen.
– Enjoy picture books
– Respond with gestures and sounds
– Begin to understand object permanence, i.e. the concept that the object while not visible continues to exist.

Encourage your child by –

* Spend time reading
* Point to different things and objects naming them while pointing
* Gentle games of floating catch help them with their hand eye coordination. You can use lightweight scarves for this, they will attempt to grasp them
* Play with large pegged puzzles, stuffed animals etc.

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1 to 2 years

Children quickly transition from babies to toddlers during the second year of life; shaky first steps give way to confident walking by now. You need to child-proof your home by now, to prevent accidents. They learn to communicate and most children are saying one or 2 words. Your toddler will now know to use things the right way, they will learn to stack toys properly and even conduct a conversation using a toy phone. They can play with other children and learn to copy other children. Though at this age they may not play together and may not be keen to share their toys. This is a habit they must gently break off.

Children at this age can –

– Identify similar objects
– Imitate actions and language of adults they see
– Learn through exploration
– Tell the difference between “Me” and “You”

At this age they require near constant entertainment. Provide them with –

* stacking toys
* fat crayons to scribble
* shape sorters
* push or pull toys
* read to them and encourage them to point things out when you are reading to them
* pots and pans to bang on (if you’re cooking)

Pre-schoolers

At this age, children become increasingly independent and begin to –

– Develop friendships and skills for playing with other children
– Learn to use symbols in more complex ways and in two dimensional forms
– Expand their ability to attach language to language to actions and ideas.
– Explore the relationship between objects and how parts and whole fits together
– Experiment with how to make desired effects happen with objects and people

Good toys for Preschoolers are –

* Construction toys with interlocking pieces
* Puppets
* Art material like markers , paint , scissors , glue etc
* Musical toys
* Wheel toys such as bikes and wagons
* Outdoor toys like balls, bats, chalk pieces

Try to step back from your baby’s play and give your child the chance to work things out independently sometimes. It’s always good to respond to your baby’s interests and share your baby’s delight at discovering new things, however small they might seem. For example, “wow! Look how the blue boat is floating in the water”. If you‘re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to talk to your paediatrician.

(Dr Saroja Balan is consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Her column appears every fortnight)

For all the latest Parenting News, download Indian Express App.

First published on: 05-08-2022 at 03:27:46 pm
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