Birth to Eight Months: Guidelines for Phases I to V
Why Separate the First Eight Months from the Balance of the First Three Years?
Reports from many parts of the world indicate that most children, even when raised under substandard conditions, do quite well educationally during their first eight months of life. Neither the child who will achieve superbly nor the one who will be seriously behind by the first grade seems to show any special qualities during the first year of life.
In our work we have found that rearing children well becomes much more difficult once they begin to crawl. Another way of expressing this thought is that during the first eight months of life doing what comes naturally usually leads to very good results, but it is rarely enough to ensure the best results for the balance of the first three years.
During the first eight months of life a baby's good development is largely ensured by nature. If parents do what comes naturally and provide a baby with generous amounts of love, attention, and physical care, nature will pretty much take care of the learning process. I do not mean to imply that it is impossible to do a bad job of child-rearing during this period; it is always possible, through stupidity or callousness, to do lasting harm to a child of any age, and especially during the first months of life. Nor do I mean to say that the "normal" course of development during the first eight months of life cannot be improved upon. But it appears that nature, almost as if in anticipation of the uncertainties that beset new parents, has done its best to make the first six to eight months as problem-free as possible. There are, however, two significant hazards during this period that can lead to trouble. They are middle ear disease that interferes with hearing, and the overdevelopment of the "demand cry." I shall deal with both issues at length.
If you are not clear about what you are trying to achieve, you have no way to determine whether or not you have succeeded. I have always found that spelling out goals and finding ways to assess to what degree they have been reached is the only starting point that makes sense.
What most parents want out of the early years is a well-developed child, along with a good deal of simple pleasure for both the child and themselves. They also want to avoid unhappiness, anxiety, and of course danger to the child. If optimal early development were incompatible with enjoyment for both the parents and the baby, it would be unfortunate. Happily, that is clearly not the case. Especially in the first months of life, the vast majority of child-rearing activities I'll recommend will lead to both an involved, happy baby and a more contented parent. By the later stages of infancy and toddlerhood, I have found that the well-developing baby is by far the most pleasant to live with and the happiest.
General goals, however, are simply not enough. After you have decided you want a well-developed, happy child, then what? How do you achieve that goal? Indeed, what does it mean? Let's look first at the goals for the first eight months of life.
We recommend that parents work toward three major goals during the first eight months of the baby's life:
1. Giving the infant a feeling of being loved and cared for.
2. Helping her develop specific skills.
3. Encouraging her interest in the world around her.
As we follow the developing child from Phase I through Phase IV, I will refer repeatedly to these basic aims. Let us examine them more closely.
Giving Your Infant a Feeling of Being Loved and Cared For
During the first two years of life all children have a special need to form at least one strong attachment to an older person. Clearly, if a baby is to survive, let alone develop well, protection and nurturance must be available from the very beginning and for a long time thereafter.
During the first eight months of life, social development is comparatively simple. Erik Erikson, the famous personality theorist, called the primary social goal of this period the establishment of a sense of"trust." I believe the term is an appropriate one. No requirement of good child-rearing is more natural or more rewarding than the tending of your baby in a loving and attentive way in order to establish a feeling of being loved and cared for, or a sense of basic trust. Although there is little reason to think that an infant of eight months has more than a simple awareness of his mother, most students of human development agree that the basic foundation of a child's personality is being formed in his earliest interchanges with nurturing adults.
Helping Your Infant Develop Specific Skills
Few living creatures are as helpless as a newborn baby. At birth, an infant cannot think, use language, socialize with another human being, run, walk, or even deliberately move around. When on her back she can't lift her head; on her stomach she can barely lift her nose off the surface on which she is lying. The list of things she cannot do is almost as long as the complete list of human abilities.
What can a newborn infant do? A newborn infant has a small number of reflexlike sensorimotor abilities. When placed on his stomach he can lift his head high enough to avoid suffocation when left with his nose in the mattress. With a little over two pounds of strength in each hand, he will grasp small objects with them, but only if someone else elicits the behavior in the correct manner. He may glance at and track an object for a few seconds if the object is large enough (more than a few inches in each dimension), contrasts well with the background, is no closer to him than six to eight inches and no farther away than approximately twenty-four inches, and is moving through his line of sight at or near a speed of about one foot per second. As soon as the target stops moving, however, he'll lose interest in it. Moreover, he will behave this way only when he is awake, alert, and inactive, a condition that is likely to exist for only two or three minutes out of each waking hour during the first three weeks of life. In other circumstances you will see very few signs of interest in examining the outside world in those early days.
Newborns are also usually able to locate a small object touching them on or near the lips (rooting behavior), then grasp and suck it. They cry when they are uncomfortable. They blink when their eyes are touched or when they receive a puff of air. They respond with a knee jerk (the patellar response) when an appropriate stimulus is administered.
Of special interest is the baby's startle reflex, which can be a source of needless concern to parents. A newborn will often startle if she is lowered through space abruptly, if she hears a loud noise nearby, or at times even when the light goes on in a dim room. These startles are most likely to occur when the baby is in a quiet rather than an active state. More dramatic, however, is the spontaneous startle, which, as the name implies, needs no external stimulus. During deep sleep, characterized by regular breathing and little or no movement, normal newborns will startle as frequently as every two minutes. During sleep states when the infant is slightly more active, spontaneous startles occur, but less regularly and less frequently. The more activity, the fewer the startles. Both kinds of behavior usually disappear by the end of the third month of life.
From about six weeks of age, a baby becomes increasingly able to deal with the world. From this time on, development proceeds rapidly. By the age of eight months, she has acquired a good deal of control over her body. She can hold her head erect and steady quite easily. She can turn over at will, can sit unaided, and may even be able to crawl across a room. Ordinarily she cannot as yet pull herself to a standing posture, walk, or climb, but she is quite skillful at using her hands to reach for objects. About 99 of 100 babies have excellent, mature eyesight -- better than their fathers' if they are over forty-five years old. The infant can locate and discriminate sounds with admirable accuracy. Socially, she knows full well who her key people are and is likely to have become quite choosy about who picks her up and holds her close. As for intelligence, while she is a long way from being able to process or create ideas, she has acquired two important problem-solving skills: the ability to move an obstacle aside to get at something she wants to grasp, and even more important, the ability to use her cry to get someone to come to her.
This vigorous, extremely attractive young person has, in other words, acquired quite a number of basic skills.
Enjoyable and effective child-rearing during a baby, first eight months is more likely when you know the normal pattern of emerging skills and how to provide opportunities for your baby to use them. I should point out, however, that most of these skills will evolve without any special effort from you. Apparently they are so basic that, except under extraordinarily poor conditions, normal development is assured. A more important reason for encouraging their use involves the third major goal for these first eight months of life.
Encouraging Your Baby's Interest in the Outside World
Whether a child learns to reach for objects at three or four months rather than five or six is probably of no consequence. It has been my experience, however, that when very young infants are provided with an environment that offers them the opportunity to practice emerging skills, they become more interested in their environment, more alert and more cheerful. In fact, a basic principle of good child-rearing, especially during the first years, seems to be that you should design your child's world so that his day is rich with options for activities that relate to his rapidly shifting interests and abilities. To create this environment successfully, you need detailed and accurate information as to what those interests and abilities are as the child grows. You will find much of that information in this book.
To sum up, then, during the first eight months of life, a baby should be reared in such a manner that she comes to feel she is deeply loved, that she acquires all the basic skills that can be acquired during those first months, and that her inborn tendency to learn more about and to enjoy the world around her is deepened and broadened.
Copyright © 1985, 1990, 1995 by Burton L. White Associates, Inc.
Completely Revised and Updated
New First Three Years of Life
Completely Revised and Updated
First published in 1975, The First Three Years of Life became an instant classic. Based on Burton White's thirty-seven years of observation and research, this detailed guide to the month-by-month mental, physical, social, and emotional development of infants and toddlers has supported and guided hundreds of thousands of parents. Now completely revised and updated, it contains the most accurate information and advice available on raising and nurturing the very young child. White gives parents real-world-tested advice on:
* Creating a stimulating environment for your infant and toddler
* Using effective, age-appropriate discipline techniques
* How to handle sleep problems
* What toys you should (and should not) buy
* How to encourage healthy social development
* How and when to toilet-train
No parent who cares about a child's well-being can afford to be without this book.