Getting a Good Start: Expectations, Challenges and Fostering Growth in the Child's First Year of Life
In the first year of life wonderful and dramatic things happen. The baby usually triples her birth weight; she moves from being totally dependent to crawling or walking. She is soon able to communicate and to understand language, and by six months she knows her name and understands that she is a person in her own right. During the first year the baby probably accomplishes more than in any other year of her life. Each area of growth occurs in tandem with others - e.g. social and emotional with motor, communication with thinking. Milestones are flexible; they are approximate times when certain abilities are observable. There is no strict timetable for acquiring abilities or confronting different challenges, and there's a wide range for what's considered normal. Every child grows and adjusts to the world at his or her own pace. This article explores the evolving world of the child and her self discovery. Particular issues that confront parents and children such as separation anxiety and bedtime difficulties, and ways to foster growth through play and activity, should be understood in light of the developing child.
How it starts: welcome to the world
Forty-eight hours old, seven-pound six-ounce Luisa turns her head in response to the sound of a human voice.
Luisa, like all newborns, arrives ready and eager for contact. Newborns turn toward sounds and even show a preference for the human voice, especially a high pitched one. They spend nearly forty minutes of their first hour paying attention, with eyes bright, shiny, wide open and capable of fixing on objects. They are born with the ability to adjust to their new surroundings, with a remarkable set of capacities that enables them to survive. Although infants have been described as a bundle of reflexes, since they have a number of inborn automatic responses - such as sucking, snuggling and gazing at the mother's face - these reflexes help them evoke attention and care from others. Reflexes touch off reactions; as the baby searches for the nipple, sucks easily and grasps when her hand is touched, her actions evoke responses in parents. Right from the start an attachment develops between mother (or caregiver) and infant.
Other reflexes are:
- Survival reflexes - the infant breathes, blinks his eyes to protect against bright light, sucks, swallows, roots (an infant touched on the cheek will turn in that direction and look for something to suck)
- Startle pattern - the infant will startle to a sudden sharp sound
- Grasp reflex - the infant will grasp a finger that touches his palm
- Moro reflex - when startled, the infant makes an embracing motion
Some reflexes disappear within a relatively short time:
- Babinski - the infant curls her toes when the bottom of her foot is touched (disappears within the first 8 to 12 months)
- Stepping reflex - the infant when held upright so that his feet touch a flat surface will take a step (disappears in the first 8 weeks)
Infants learn to send signals when:
- they need something
- they're unhappy or uncomfortable
- they want attention and social interaction
How the adults around them respond to their signals has an effect on infants' psychological development and their trust in the world around them. Although it's helpful to talk of stages of development in specific areas, development in real life is a complicated series of interactions among areas, and complex networks are taking shape in the brain.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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