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 may grab 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.

"It’s a big change from the kid who needs a lot of care to a child who needs to interact," says Patrick Tolan of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The baby is moving toward the next stage where she "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.

Tolan says such behavior is 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," 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.

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

6 to 7 months

These activities promote sitting, grasping and other motor skills:

 Introduce blocks. At 6 months, your baby is starting to grasp objects. 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.

 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 keep toys within reach.

 Take care with bouncy seats and floor gyms. At 6½ months, my daughter dove out of her bouncy seat, her legs strapped in and her head almost to the floor as she played with the side supports.

7 to 8 months

 Meet-and-greet. Take your baby to different places—loud and quiet. 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 and radio, can cause auditory overload for a baby.

 Make noises. See if he imitates you.

 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.

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 in Chicago. But 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. Help babies learn the names of things 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 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.

Reinforce those skills with these activities:

 Talk often. Slow down your conversation and repeat the names of objects.

 Offer finger foods. Let him try feeding himself foods such as Cheerios.

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

At this age, your baby probably has mastered the ability to pick up small objects, may know a few words and can look at something with you, or show you something.

Stimulate your baby with these activities:

 Play action games. Games such as pat-a-cake build motor skills.

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

 Encourage walking and cruising. Give them wheeled toys to push around.

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

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