If you recall, last week we described several behaviors that are present in newborn infants and their mothers from the earliest of their shared experiences. For example, newborn infants and their mothers are driven to initiate and sustain face to face contact. A mothers’ request to “see the baby” is concurrent with the infants’ primary interest in gazing at faces above than anything else. It is only later that the infant’s principle interest transitions from gazing at faces to gazing at objects. With those considerations in mind, let’s take a look at several additional developmental activities that mothers and infants engage in, from the earliest of their interactions.
Prior to 4-7 months of age, the infant is the primary initiator of face to face contact. If you doubt that, simply try to get an infant to gaze at you if he does not want to. However, although the baby is the primary initiator of face to face contact, the adult can prolong it by responding to and encouraging the lengthening of mutual gaze. After 4-7 months of age, the child and the adult can both initiate and sustain interactions. This is an important development because it is at the 4-7 month mark when the infant’s primary interest shifts from faces to objects. This shift is generally observed as soon as the child develops independent reach and grasp. So, once the child is interested more in “things” than “faces” adults are encouraged to facilitate mutual interest in objects that are familiar to the child and which will likely become part of his future play activities and routines.
In addition, if we carefully study the content and manner of how mothers speak to their children, we will find several interesting characteristics. The first to note is that a mother’s vocalizations with her baby consist primarily of 3-5 words, spoken in a very even cadence and characterized by a wide inflectional pattern.
Thus, statements such as, “pretty baby” or “ma-ma loves you” or “you’re a good girl” or “time for bed” are quite common. As a side note, no one instructed mothers to use 3-5 word utterances spoken with an even cadence and wide inflectional pattern. This is something mothers are naturally “wired” to do, and it is something your child is naturally “wired to respond to.
As a way of demonstrating the reality of this, let me encourage you to pay particular attention to your child’s eyes, hands, and breathing patterns as you speak to them in this manner. It would not be at all unusual for your child to synchronize her eye, hand, or finger movements in cadence with your speech. She may even demonstrate awareness of your rate of speech via breathing patterns. The consistency of her responses will amaze you and make you particularly aware of how social infants are from their earliest of weeks. And although his response patterns may be limited by a lack of understanding of what is said, the rate and pattern of your speech catches the child’s interest and is accompanied by wonderful responses on her part.
These thoughts represent just a few of the things adult caregivers can be alert to during the early months of a child’s life. As we continue, additional patterns of interaction will be discussed.
I never tire of watching mothers and infants learn to interact during the early months. I trust that you will come to be as amazed as I am at the incredible process our children engage in as new members of our world.
The Achieve Center blog is written by the professionals who are focused on children's mental health.