THREE Li’l Princesses feels especially honoured today to have international bestselling author of The Wonder Weeks book, Frans Plooij Ph D, guest posting. Frans has been so incredibly generous already, allowing TLP readers to win copies of his latest, extended version of The Wonder Weeks book and iPad/iPhone apps (closes September 21, 2011).
He has now graciously provided additional tips to help as you progress through your baby’s “fussy periods”. I know, what did I do to deserve such an honour?
Frans is one of the world’s top specialists in infant/child development. His book, based on 35 years of extensive research, describes in an easy-to-read manner the developmental changes babies go through during their first 20 months of life. You can learn more at The Wonder Weeks website or connect with Frans via the Wonder Weeks Facebook page and Twitter. Alternatively, you can buy a copy of the book. But now, without further ado, I hand you over to the wonderful Frans.
What is Mental development?
From a scientific perspective, “Mental development” is the natural growth of the brain and entire nervous system from a few neurons making connections in the embryo, all the way to the fully functioning brain and nervous system of an adult. Just like other physical body parts, the brain grows, adds new functionality, and matures. As it does (in stages, on nature’s schedule) the cranium grows, neurons are added, neuronal networks are created, and successively higher levels of perceptual control emerge.
This is not a gradual process but it goes in leaps and bounds. With each leap, a new level of perceptual control is created, giving a whole new cluster of skills to be learned and mastered.
These new, higher levels of perception begin to emerge one after the other in rapid-fire. In the first 20 months of life there ten such leaps.
Why is a baby Crying, Clingy and Cranky?
With each leap your baby can think, feel, notice and understand what is happening around him in a new way. He enters, so to speak, a new perceptual world. As amazing as this is, it is also scary for the baby. That is why, before he is comfortable exploring this new perceptual world, a baby often cries more, is more clingy and crankier.
@ the first leap at 5 weeks: What does your baby see?
A newborn baby cannot accommodate or focus the eyes, yet. He can only see clearly at a distance of about 20-30 cm. He can see the rest, yes, but it is all very blurry. After taking the first leap, the leap of sensations, however, he can focus on objects at a greater distance. Even up to 75 cm! His “sharp visual world” becomes about three times as large.
Imagine if this happened to you… Think about how it would impact you. Would it affect your sense of balance? Would you lose your sense of proportion and distance? As an adult, you can think about those changes and reflect on them. But a baby can’t. He’s having a very difficult time with these types of changes.
Help your baby explore his new world through sight. He will look at objects that interest him for longer, and the brighter the colors, the more fascinating! He will also like striped and angular objects. And, of course, looking at you.
@ the sixth leap at 37 weeks: Making Categories at the Children’s Farm:
You probably have read dozens of books already to your little one featuring cows, pigs and other animals found at a farm. He already knows what they look like on paper. But in reality they look completely different! By seeing an animal in real life (and not just a quick view of a cow from the backseat of a car while driving past it), he can make a relationships between a picture of a cow on paper and the real thing it stands for. By hearing a cow mooing, he can make a relationship between the way you say “moo” and the real sound. This allows him to know what exactly is a cow, how it really looks and sounds, and to know what belongs in the category “cow” and what does not.
Controlled crying, to do or not to do?
I am not a fan of controlled crying for babies. To be frank, for younger babies, I wouldn’t use controlled crying at all. If your baby cries, he needs you. He feels off balance, and wants you to comfort him.
Sometimes, people say that your baby will get spoiled or take advantage of you, if you always comfort him. That is not true. Why? It is simple – because your baby’s mental development is not at the same level at which we (adults) think. We adults would argue, “If I cry, I’m pretty sure mom’s gonna come get me.” A baby cannot use this kind of strategy until the ninth leap in his mental development, which comes at about 15 months of age. This means that you cannot spoil a baby before that age as far as comforting and love are concerned.
Too Busy to Sleep During a Mental Leap (Fussy Phase)?
Some babies have such a strong natural drive to master skills after having made a leap, that they don’t take the time to sleep until they are successful. You see this behavior already at a rather young age.
These babies don’t allow themselves any sleep before they have reached their goal. It is very demanding for them – and for you! In later life, it is a character trait that may be very useful, but at this young age, these children must sometimes be protected from themselves and the demands they are putting on themselves.
Instead, put the emphasis on trying something. Praise him for his efforts, regardless of the outcome. That way, you distract your baby. If you find that it really requires too much from him, take a break. Get him out of that challenging environment for a while and do something calmer with him, like reading a book.
@ the ninth leap at 15 months: Start setting rules!
When making the ninth leap, a baby is able to understand rules and act accordingly. No, let me rephrase: a toddler is literally craving for rules. This is THE time to start setting rules. If you do so, you will prevent the terrible two’s from ever becoming so terrible.
Your baby tells you when it is too much
Parents cannot love their baby enough, but they can pay too much attention to their baby! The maximum time or amount or intensity of attention is different for every baby and can differ per day. The only way to find out when you have reached your baby’s limit is to follow your child: he is your guide. You wonder what the sign is that tells you he needs a break? He turns his head away form you or the toy. Give him a few seconds, stop talking, and don’t try to force your face in his line of vision. Wait until he turns to you again. That is the moment when you can start your conversation or play again. Even (and especially) with young babies!
Afraid to go to bed?
Does your baby cry the moment you put him down in his bed? Try this: let him fall asleep on your lap. Wait until he is in a deep sleep. You can test this by taking a hand, and letting it drop. If it drops like a bag of potatoes would, he is sound asleep and you can put him to bed!
Don’t want to be a police-mom?
Setting rules and living up to them is important. But… what if this means that you are becoming a no-saying police-mom? Try to rank-order your rules. Be sure to have just a few absolute no rules. Be creative about the other rules. Don’t wait until your toddler does something, but distract him before that happens. This way he can handle the number of rules and you do not have to be a police-mom.