Doctor at home: Is your child’s cognitive development on track?


In the past, babies were considered miniature adults. They were often seen as simplistic passive beings. It was not until the 20th century that childhood and adolescence began to be seen as unique and distinct periods of growth and development. The first years of your baby’s life lay the foundation for his cognitive development. Cognitive development refers to the growth of a child’s ability to think, reason and understand his environment. One of the most crucial things for your baby’s cognitive development is play, it helps hone your baby’s ability to think, understand, communicate, remember, imagine and figure out what will happen next. Babies come into this world ready to learn, think and explore their environment. Newborns are constantly absorbing their environment and learning from it and from themselves.

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Interacting and playing with your baby gives your baby important information to understand the world. For example when you play peekaboo, he understands that when Parents disappear from his line of sight, they also return. Playing with your baby helps them realize a powerful message that you are important to me. It helps the baby learn who he is and where he is in this world. It also builds their confidence to continue exploring and learning about the world.

Stages of cognitive development

Birth to three months

The first three months of a child’s life are all about exploring the basic senses and, through this, learning about their body and environment. During this period, most babies begin to –

– Display anticipatory behaviors such as rooting and sucking at the sight of a nipple or a bottle
– React to height and volume differences
– Focus on objects 10-13 inches away
– Focus on moving objects, including faces of caregivers
– See all the colors of the human visual spectrum
– Differentiate between tastes – like sweet, salty, bitter and sour
– Respond to surroundings using facial expressions

Three to six months

Between three and six months, babies begin to hone a stronger sense of perception. They –

– Coo and make other sounds in reaction to their surroundings
– Mirror/imitate facial expressions
– Tends to listen to you when you speak and seems to respond to you
– Recognize familiar faces
– Reaches out to grab things and brings them to mouth

You can encourage their growth through the following play ideas –

* Sing songs, play nursery rhymes and talk to your baby
* Offer balls for them to learn to hold or drop. That’ll teach them how things move
* Play with rattles, bells and other toys that make noise
* Keep interesting toys handy for encourage that they move

Six to nine months

At this point, your baby will begin to associate with the language he hears frequently. Babies at this age often –

– Start saying ‘mommy or daddy’
– Respond to own name
– Hold their own bottles and feed themselves with bites
– Maybe even start looking at things when you name them, for example. ‘fan’

You can encourage your baby to explore by

* Provide them with some toys in the bath to soak and play with while bathing
* Give them toys they can shake and bang
* Give baby toys that have buttons you can press to make different sounds
* While playing, make different animal voices and sounds
* Give them stacking toys or toys they can push or roll
* Hang the mobiles above their cradles so they can watch the objects suspended in the air

Nine to 12 months

At this age, babies are very curious, accompanied by increased mobility. Babies begin to sit, crawl and walk, which helps them acquire greater mental understanding of their environment. As they approach one year of age, infants will begin to –

– Throw objects to see it fall, throw objects against a wall. This is how your baby learns cause and effect – that is, if I do this, it will happen.
– Enjoy picture books
– Respond with gestures and sounds
– Begin to understand object permanence, ie the concept that an object continues to exist as long as it is not visible.

Encourage your child by –

* Spend time reading
* Point to different things and objects by naming them while pointing
* Gentle games of floating catch help them with their hand-eye coordination. You can use light scarves for this, they will try to grab them
* Play with large peg puzzles, stuffed animals, and more.

1 to 2 years

Children quickly go from babies to toddlers in the second year of life; the first shaky steps give way to a confident walk now. Now you need to protect your house against children to avoid accidents. They learn to communicate and most children say one or two words. Your little one will now know how to use things the right way, they will learn how to stack toys correctly and even how to carry on a conversation using a toy phone. They can play with other children and learn to copy other children. Although at this age they may not play together and may not want to share their toys. It’s a habit they have to break slowly.

Children of this age can –

– Identify similar objects
– Imitate the actions and language of adults they see
– Learn by exploring
– Distinguish between “me” and “you”

At this age, they need almost constant entertainment. Provide them –

* stacking toys
* grease pencils for doodling
* shape sorters
* push or pull toys
* Read to them and encourage them to point things out when you read to them
* Knock pots and pans (if you cook)


At this age, children become increasingly independent and begin to –

– Develop friendships and skills to play with other children
– Learn to use symbols in more complex ways and in two-dimensional forms
– Develop their ability to bond Language from language to actions and ideas.
– Explore the relationship between objects and how the parts and the whole fit together
– Experiment how to achieve the desired effects with objects and people

Good toys for preschoolers are –

* Construction toys with interlocking parts
* Puppets
* Art materials like markers, paint, scissors, glue, etc.
* Musical Toys
* Wheeled toys such as bicycles and carts
* Outdoor toys like balls, bats, chalk pieces

Try to take a step back from your baby’s play and sometimes give him the chance to sort things out on his own. It’s always good to cater to your baby’s interests and share your baby’s enjoyment of discovering new things, no matter how small they may seem. For example, “Wow! Look how the blue boat floats in the water”. If you are concerned about an aspect of your child’s development, it is a good idea to talk to your pediatrician.

(Dr. Saroja Balan is a consultant in neonatology and pediatrics at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. His column appears fortnightly)

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