Play with your baby

How to stimulate your child’s development from 6-12 months


Alice Hohl

Babies develop so much between 6 and 12 months, it can be hard for parents to keep up. Six-month-olds can seem like turtles stuck on their backs, but before the year is out they become mobile little people who may pull your leg, point to a passing puppy and blurt "Doggie!"

Increased vigilance is key, development experts say, because that same child might go after the doggie, despite stairs or other obstacles he isn’t ready to conquer.

Patrick Tolan, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says these months require a huge shift in parenting.

"It’s a big change from the kid who needs a lot of care to a child who needs to interact," he says. "And it’s moving toward that next stage where the baby wants to say something."

Babies also develop a stronger bond with caregivers, he says. At 6 months, I noticed my daughter’s face went from happy to sad as though someone had flipped a light switch, depending on whether she could see me. When I went into the bathroom, she started wailing. When I stuck my head out and smiled at her, she immediately smiled.

Tolan says such behavior can be both flattering and frustrating, and it’s all part of a secondary bonding period that occurs between 6 and 9 months.

During this period, simple interactions—such as responding to baby’s babbles, making faces and looking your child in the eye—take on new importance.

"Kids move from really being just in need of care—to be fed, be changed, be kept warm—to having more and greater attachment or interest in others. So it’s also an age when the parents doing faces with the kids is really important because it’s really a way for that child to have that emotional communication," Tolan says.

As that first birthday nears, babies also become more fun because they are ready to include others in their interactions, says Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland. She says parents should point to things and talk about what they see. Games such as peek-a-boo and knocking over block towers are fun—and educational—between 9 months and 1 year.

"These kinds of turn-taking interactions are really important for baby’s cognitive and linguistic development," says Woodward, formerly of the University of Chicago.

Here are other games and activities to help your child interact with her world from 6 to 12 months:

6 to 7 months Although your 6-month-old probably can’t sit for long without support—if at all—you can imagine the day when she will sit on the floor and play with toys by herself. Here are activities to promote sitting, grasping and other brain and motor skills from 6 to 7 months:

■  Introduce blocks. At 6 months, your baby is starting to grasp objects. He won’t be building any towers, but he can learn to pick up, pass and drop blocks.

■  Sing activity songs. I like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." I touch my baby daughter’s head, shoulders, knees and toes as I sing.

■  Make conversation. Listen to your child’s babbling—and respond. This teaches your baby about taking turns, facial expressions and tone of voice.

■  Practice sitting and standing. Let your baby stand and bounce in your lap, or pull her up to a standing position with her hands. This teaches her to balance and bear her weight on her legs.

■  Play keep-away. Put toys just out of reach. See if your baby will grab them. Experts say a little frustration helps babies build coping skills.

■ Teach cause and effect. Showing that smacking the table makes a noise provides a lesson—and a valuable distraction while you eat dinner.

■ Share your baby. At 6 months, babies can recognize people other than their parents. So introduce your baby to relatives or close friends.

■ See the world. OK, the neighborhood. Your baby can support her upper body enough for a jogging stroller. Baby backpacks are also fun. Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat.

■ Play drop games. This is the age when many babies discover the joy of dropping a toy and crying until mom or dad retrieves it. Short ribbons with clips at the end or attachable colored plastic rings keep toys within reach.

■ Take care with bouncy seats and floor gyms. At 6½ months, my daughter dove out the side of her bouncy seat. I looked down from my lunch one day to find her legs strapped in, but her head almost to the floor as she quietly played with the side supports. It got packed away. If you’re still using a floor gym, make sure it won’t break if your baby tries to pull herself up on the rings.

7 to 8 months ■  Meet-and-greet. Take your baby to different places—loud and quiet. Meet new people and practice waving "hi" and "bye."

■ Teach tone. Sing songs and read stories in an animated way to teach language skills. Remember—noise you tune out, such as the TV or radio, can cause auditory overload for a baby.

■  Make noises. See if he tries to imitate you. Or give your baby a wooden spoon and pot lid and let her make noise.

■  Watch for choking hazards. Your baby is getting good at grabbing, so be careful. Give him teething toys instead.

■ Let your baby try to sit alone and fall over. Toppling builds muscles and balance. I found my daughter could sit longer if I placed her on the crack between two couch cushions—under close supervision, of course.

8 to 9 months Your 8-month-old is beginning to inspect objects closely, recognize his name, say "mama" and "dada" (without meaning anything) and perhaps crawl, says Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, a neurodevelopmental pediatric specialist on Chicago’s North Side. But experts say crawling is not a reliable indicator of motor skills, so don’t worry if your little one doesn’t crawl for a few months, or at all.

Develop recognition and motor skills with these activities:

■ Play name games. Babies this age are learning the names of things. Help by pointing out and naming familiar people and objects.

■ Play pickup games. Your baby may be moving from a "mitten" grasp to a "pincer" grasp, which means he can pick up smaller objects more accurately.

9 to 10 months You may walk into your child’s room this month and be shocked to find him standing in his crib. Other milestones to expect, says Rosenblatt, include the baby looking over the edge of her crib for a dropped toy, using gestures to communicate (such as waving) and feeding himself finger foods in a more refined manner.

Reinforce those skills with these activities:

■ Talk often. The desire to imitate you is your baby’s strongest motivator to develop early language skills. Slow down your conversation and repeat the names of objects.

■  Offer finger foods. Let him try feeding himself: Cheerios, crackers and soft fruit pieces.

10 to 11 months Milestones at this age include cruising (walking while holding onto furniture), understanding "no" and using "mama" and "dada" to refer to parents.

Here are ways to encourage your baby’s new skills:

■  Pass toys back and forth. This will improve his grasping skills and teach sharing.

■  Play peek-a-boo. Babies this age may be able to find a toy that’s covered up.

■  Encourage standing. Your baby may be able to pull herself up. Be careful of stairs—your baby may be able to get up, but won’t be able to get down until after 1 year. Invest in a gate.

11 to 12 months Your baby has probably mastered the "pincer" grasp and can pick up small objects with finger and thumb. She may know a few words and can look at something with you, or show you something.

"I really like that age when they’re ... discovering how to communicate, because you can see the delight in their face when they’re successful at trying to let you know what they’re looking for or needing from you," says Maureen O’Connor, Forest Park mom of three, ages 1, 4 and 6.

Stimulate your baby with these activities:

■  Play action games. Games with gestures, such as pat-a-cake, build motor skills. Kids this age also love anything involving pushing, throwing or knocking down toys.

■ Use repetition in songs, rhymes and games. This builds language skills. Sturdy books are a must so baby can help turn the pages (and taste the best stories).

■ Encourage walking and cruising. O’Connor says her kids enjoyed wheeled toys they could push around the house and fill with small items.


Alice Hohl, a former Chicago-area mom, now lives in Ohio with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Watch for milestones—but don’t worry

Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, a neurodevelopmental pediatric specialist on Chicago’s North Side, says it’s important to keep an eye on developmental milestones and ask your pediatrician if you are concerned about motor, language or social development.

Watch for a baby’s ability to recognize his own name at 8 months and to point, clap or reach for something between 9 and 12 months, Rosenblatt says.

But don’t worry too much. Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, says milestones occur over a range of weeks or months.

"A really early talker might say something before a year, and another might not till several months after their first birthday, and both are in the normal range."

Support your spouse

As your baby learns to sit, crawl and walk, parenting can get more exciting—and tiring. It’s important for parents to support each other and keep their own relationship strong, says Patrick Tolan, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Parents can get very isolated, and it can start to show about this age," Tolan says.

If a baby cries when her favorite caregiver leaves, for example, it can cause stress for everyone, including the parent who isn’t her "favorite."

"It’s a time when parents should make sure they are being thoughtful to each other in terms of respite and taking turns. Even though it’s easy to get frustrated, the less that’s expressed toward the child, the better, because it’s overwhelming to them," says Tolan.

Maureen O’Connor, a Forest Park mom whose kids are 1, 4 and 6, agrees that as kids near the 1-year mark, their new abilities can frustrate themselves—and their parents.

"With all my kids, as they started realizing, ‘I can go over there and pick up that toy if I want to,’ that’s also when they start expressing frustration. They’ll hit if they don’t like something, because they don’t know how to tell you."

Supporting your spouse also means accepting different parenting styles. "Moms often have more playfulness around changing clothes, feeding and diapering, whereas dads can be more businesslike," Tolan says. Dads also tend to challenge babies more, rather than following their lead. Tolan says, "Babies need both."

Alice Hohl

Kids Eat Chicago

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