One of my favorite baby philosophies to ponder with parents is when a baby is no longer a baby?
It usually comes at me like this: ”She’s growing so fast!” or ”Does she look different to you?” Sometimes a mom just sighs and says, “Ohh, he’s losing all his baby fat since he started walking.”
I tell parents that just as babies grow across diverse developmental domains, they also grow up in several observable ways.
Because I believe that parents are the real experts about their own babies, years ago I started asking parents themselves to help me solve the babyhood demarcation question. There has always been a fascinating pattern to the answers.
Pre-parents (especially pregnant couples) give a definitive answer. They tend to think that babyhood ends around the time of the first birthday. But on-the-job parents (especially moms) who may or may not have already answered my question previously, describe the end of babyhood in terms of milestones, often physical ones like walking. Hands-on parents also see changes in body type as a gauge of emerging toddler-ness. When Moms and Dads do specify a time frame as the end of babyhood, they usually say 18 months or later.
The following developmental milestones begin to emerge around the time baby is 12 months old, and most children display nearly all of them by 18 months — exactly the time frame bounded by my terribly unscientific, yet excruciatingly accurate, longitudinal-ish survey. Once again, parents know best.
You will know your infant is making a big move from the very needy first year of life, to the external world of multiple relationships, complex interactions, and asserting a separate identity when you observe the following milestones:
- Imitation. Your child will mimic simple actions, like talking on the telephone, or applying mascara (have we talked about safety-proofing yet?). This isn’t the same as pretending. Pretending involves an awareness of the unreality of the scenario. When a 12-month old decides to rummage through your purse to use your cell phone, he’s not kidding.
- Shaking head side-to-side. We all know what that means.
- Wanting to help when you put his clothes on. He knows the routine, and he knows he can participate, so he does. Quite charming.
- Walks without help. This time frame varies much more than new parents realize. What really matters is the year-long sequence of body development that leads to walking.
- Playing with others. I didn’t say “sharing,” did I? I didn’t even say “taking turns.” That, too will have to be learned.
- Purposefully uses a writing tool. I can’t remember, so I have to imagine how empowering it must feel to go from needing a big person for almost everything in life, to being able to leave a mark on an otherwise blank surface. Then another one! And another! Why is mommy running toward me? Oh, she wants to color, too — she doesn’t like clean bare walls, either. Yay!
- Will hand you an object when you ask. If you ask nicely. Unless it’s the marker he’s using to spiff up those boring walls of yours.
- Wanting to control his own eating. This is a prime time for power struggles around food and finickiness to begin. Avoid them by knowing when he’s ready and capable of feeding himself. He’ll certainly know.
- Skills. Social skills, to be precise. Your growing baby enjoys saying “Hi” — at the appropriate time. This feat is quite advanced beyond the stage of waving “bye-bye” on command. That’s so 9-months old. When your baby greets someone, he shows that he understands how people are to treat one another, and when to do so.
- Often says ”No.” Often says it when you interrupt his coloring, or anything else he thinks needs to be done at that moment. But who can blame him? He’s been hearing that word a lot lately.
Moms and Dads instinctively understand what it means to be a baby: Dependence. And what it means to grow up: Independence. Moving from needing others to wanting to function independently is something that babies instinctively know they’re ready for. It’s something they are eager to announce to the world.
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