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Your baby is approaching the all-important one year mark and he's loud, proud and, at times, out of control. Between 9 and 12 months, your little one's independent streak will begin to assert itself. Now, he's exploring cause and effect: knocking stuff over, throwing things around and making the biggest noises possible by banging on pots and pans. Your baby's also acquired some useful words for this stage of life, such as "no" and "uh-oh" to alert you to whatever mischief he's getting into.
Frustration is also a feature of this phase of development. Your baby is both fun-loving and fussy, since he wants to do more than he's physically and emtionally ready for. Aiding your child's independence while interacting with him in a positive way is a delicate balancing act.
Is all of this noise and nay-saying a sign of budding bad behavior? No, says Judy Arnall, parent educator and author of Discipline without Distress. "Repeating the word 'no' doesn't have any meaning for young children—they're exploring the properties of language and practicing the short, compact, forceful syllable of a word that they hear a lot from adults." It's all perfectly normal behavior.
Discipline and play are about teaching and guidance at this point in your baby's development. Gently engage him in activities that encourage independence while fostering emotional and physical development.
- Play options. Start structuring playtime by giving your baby a choice of toys. Lay out three or four favorite playthings on the floor, and let him choose one of them to play with. This method ensures that your little one's engaging with acceptable toys and becoming familiar with limits, while allowing him to decide which to play with fosters his independence. This activity reinforces your child's sense of autonomy in a positive way.
- Read it again! Take the same approach at story time. Allow your baby to choose a beloved tale from a small group of books. Don't worry if he picks the same one every time—reading the same story over and over helps with memory and language development. Repetition also reinforces key cognitive connections, so read the same story as often as necessary. Your baby doesn't want to "pat the bunny" a hundred times just to annoy you—he's just delighted that he recognizes the story!
- Hide and seek. Discovering hidden things is a fun way to strengthen cognitive skills as his understanding of "object permanence" improves. He's starting to realize that the toys he played with yesterday are still around somewhere. To help him grasp this new realization, show your baby a beloved toy, hide it behind your back or put it in a drawer, and ask, "Where's the bunny?" When he correctly names the toy, give it to him and clap and smile. This reinforces his awareness of object permanence and improves language skills.
- You can count on me. Babies like to tug on zippers and pull at buttons, so use this natural interest to encourage counting skills. While you're buttoning your kid up in his coat or sweater, count the buttons out loud—one button, two buttons, three buttons. When he's sitting on your lap, let him undo some buttons on your sweater and count them while he does. This can work with anything clothing object in a series, such as snaps or hooks, so long as his tiny hands stay safe from painful pinches.
- Picture me. Encourage your baby's sense of himself as an independent person with mirror play. Take a mirror and let your little one look at his reflection. Touch his nose and ask, "Whose nose is that?" When he giggles, say, "Who's laughing? Is that you?" Your curious cutie will learn about himself and improve his language skills by naming body parts and identifying emotions. Hold the mirror up to your own face and ask the same question—"Who's that?" Your kid will get a kick out of identifying your face, and will also get some practice saying "mama" over and over. Win-win!
- Listen and learn. Research from the University of Indiana's Vocal and Communicative Development lab has found that mothers who listen and respond to their infant's spontaneous sounds increase their baby's vocal production. In other words, listening is just as important as direct talking for strong language development. So set aside some "listening" time during the day. Stop speaking during story time and let your child make his own sounds while pointing at pictures. Respond to and repeat the sounds—don't correct them. This will encourage experimentation and empower your budding linguist.
"Babies are in the stage of exploring and learning about the world," says Dr. Arnell. "Their brains drive them to explore with all five senses—hearing, touch, smell, taste and sight. They don't have the cognitive ability to discern what is appropriate or not—that's the parent's job." Creating opportunities for your baby to exercise his newfound independence in positive ways will benefit his development in the crucial months and years to come.