Emma Oliver asks Dr Carol Cooper how far parents can affect developmental milestones
In a former life I was a nursery nurse; so when I had my first daughter, I thought I knew all there was to know about baby milestones and child development. How wrong I was.
As a newborn, Esme was able to hold her head up immediately. That threw me. Then my second daughter Fia came along, and chose not to smile until she was 12 weeks old. And yes, that threw me too.
Fact is, although milestones are in existence, there will always be exceptions to the rule. It is important to realise that each baby develops at their own pace and that developmental charts are designed to give a general idea only.
But what of parents that push their babies to reach milestones early?
Media medic Dr Carol Cooper, author of several baby and child development books says, “Parents shouldn’t try to speed up a child’s development. There isn’t a useful way of accelerating progress – by putting pressure on a child you can do more harm than good and may even put them off learning in the long run. You can’t teach them to walk sooner than nature intended nor to do anything else until they are ready.
“When it comes to encouraging your baby, new parents ought to be introducing them to the richness of life.” She continues, “It is vital that developing babies find their place in the world and gain independence.”
“From the moment babies start to use their hands, they should be encouraged to use their imagination through play. If we want our children to grow into fully functioning adults, they need to develop emotionally, socially, physically and cognitively. They will do so through play.”
Dr Cooper explains, “Play is not just fun, it stimulates a child’s senses, especially vision, touch and hearing. It hones powers of observation and helps baby develop and practise coordination and other skills.
Some toys encourage babies to use their imagination more than others, but everything can be experimented with.
“Babies ought to be encouraged to explore the world around them according to the stage of development they’re at.
“Say you have a fancy toy that winds up and makes baby laugh. That’s great, but you are winding the toy. To baby, the packaging the toy arrives in will be far more exciting. He can sit and play with the box. That’s because learning is always more about doing. Babies drop things repeatedly, not just because it appears to be funny at first, but they are learning cause and effect.
“Babies acquire so much more when they are active rather than passive. The developing brain makes connections constantly. Connections are reinforced every time the baby does something, and the strongest connections use all the senses; it’s how babies remember things and therefore learn.” Dr Cooper continues, “This is one reason why they like repetition so much. And why they use their mouths to explore.
“As the infant learns they try to manipulate their world, and by around 18 months should be allowed to let his imagination run free. Building blocks are a great example of a toy that allows this.”
Of course babies should always be able to relate to their family, and the people that are around them. Social interaction and communication is vital. It is never too early to read to your baby. Dr Cooper agrees. “He’ll enjoy the closeness of sitting on your lap, listening to your voice and looking at the pictures.”
She continues, “Parents ought to be encouraged to be positive around babies and small children. Save ‘No!’ for the right scenario – when your two year old has undone his seat belt, and not because he isn’t using his toy as you believe he should.”
And what about the baby that can whizz the smartphone screen into action?
Dr Cooper believes, “The one thing we ought to discourage is too much reliance on technology. There is a time and a place for a child to be introduced to technology. And when that time comes, they’ll pick it up amazingly quickly.”
Find all this and much, much more in the Nov/Dec issue of Baby London: on sale now.