It’s a great day when your tot hits a major milestone and sits unaided or takes her first steps. Chart these less-obvious skills too for an intriguing insight into your baby’s development
Our expert, Luiza DeSouza, is a parenting expert and baby nurse with more than 30 years’ experience.
First smile? Tick! First tooth? Tick! We all eagerly await these big milestones in our little one’s lives. But there are lots of smaller landmark moments to watch out for too. These developments will provide you with a fascinating peek into some big changes happening in your baby’s growing mind and body.
Don’t worry if your little one hasn’t reached these mini-milestones yet. The ages suggested are simply to give you an idea of when to start looking out for these magic moments to happen. And when they do, we’ve got some ideas to support those skills in progress.
Turns her head towards a sound
‘If your baby turns her head in the direction of a sudden sound, she’s reached a milestone by realising that something has happened to cause that sound, rather than simply accepting there is a sound,’ explains parenting expert Luiza DeSouza. ‘It means her brain is developing properly because she can turn her head towards sound, even though she may not understand yet exactly where it is coming from.’
To support this skill, which typically develops between two and four months of age, hold a musical toy in front of your baby and move it from side to side. Your baby will follow the toy with her eyes and later her head. Also, try calling her name while you are out of her sight. After a few moments, move into your baby’s line of sight so she can see you made the noise.
Knows her own name
From a relatively early age, your baby is likely to turn towards you when you say her name. But as she nears six months of age, she may start to glance towards other people when they say her name, indicating that she understands that sound relates to her.
‘Up to six months or so, a baby doesn’t see herself as a separate entity from her mother,’ says Luiza. ‘As she begins to gain independence, she slowly discovers she is a separate member of the family. Reaching this milestone means that your baby has taken a small step towards this realisation. She knows that she has her own identity.’
You can help your baby learn that everyone and everything has its own identity. Clearly say the name of the object or person when your baby is focused on them.
Shares with others
Shortly after her first birthday, you may notice your baby starts to voluntarily offer her food and toys to you. ‘This behaviour indicates your baby has made the huge leap to thinking about other people,’ explains Luiza. ‘A child initially believes that everything exists simply to please her. It’s a basic survival instinct to take care of ourselves first. But as she starts to learn empathy, she thinks about someone else’s welfare too and wants to please them.’
Support this skill by playing a game with your child’s favourite toy. Ask her if you can hold it for a moment. When she hands it to you, say ‘thank you!’ with a big smile. Hand it back before she asks for it.
Laughs at something you said
Your little one will have been giggling at physical contact and fun games from an early age, but she won’t laugh at something you said until she reaches 12-15 months.
You’ll notice her grin slowly turn into a chuckle during a game. ‘Your baby now understands that things can be funny, other than giggles being forced through tickling,’ says Luiza. ‘It’s a short hop from here to her trying to make you laugh.’
Not all babies laugh at the same things, so make funny faces and noises and play peek-a-boo to find out what makes your child giggle. Developing a sense of humour is a learning process, and some babies are more cheerful than others. It will take some babies longer to learn to laugh, so be patient.
Sings and dances
It’s a particularly magic moment when your little one naturally claps, wiggles and croons when she hears music, and this usually occurs around the age of 14-18 months. ‘This behaviour demonstrates that your child has an ability to feel joy,’ says Luiza. ‘Dancing will help her learn that it’s good to relax and will build her self-esteem as she is increasingly able to move her body in time to the music. It also indicates she is physically confident and has good motor skills.’
Children learn many skills by copying adults and their older siblings. Dance with her, and encourage her by copying her dance moves yourself – whatever they look like!
Recognises herself in the mirror
Most tots love to look at themselves in the mirror, pulling funny faces and feeding their curiosity about this ‘other’ baby. But at around the age of 18 months, she’ll start to understand that the reflection is herself.
To test this, try putting a dab of lipstick on her forehead. If she touches the spot on the mirror, chances are she doesn’t understand the reflection is her. But if she touches her own forehead, she does.
You can have lots of fun while helping your toddler to reach this understanding. Stand with her in front of a mirror and touch your nose, then ask her to do the same. ‘This gives her a sense of distinction between her nose and Mummy’s nose, and develops that sense of self,’ says Luiza.
If your child can entertain herself for 10 minutes or more, she’s playing independently. This usually happens at 18-24 months. ‘It means she has developed a sense of independence – and has a wish for more,’ says Luiza. ‘It’s also a sign that her imagination is growing.’
Support this skill by providing your toddler with toys that encourage her to use her imagination, such as wooden blocks. And don’t think you have to leave your child alone for her to be playing independently. A little one will happily play by herself sooner if you are in the same room. Be interested in her game and chat about what she’s doing, even though you are focused on another task. This also allows you to check she’s playing safely.