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Helping Your Baby to Achieve Certain Physical and Cognitive Milestones

By Lisa Hayden / September 3, 2020
helping your baby achieve certain physical and cognitive milestones

Helping Your Baby to Achieve Certain Physical and Cognitive Milestones

Babies are constantly learning, they are sponges and observe everything around them. They don’t sit back and wait for the parent to teach them everything. Even if you leave them to their devices, they push themselves to learn and discover new things on their own. This is the reason they are always moving around and touching things that they shouldn't. It also explains why they rarely respond to the word "no" and will always push boundaries. They want to know what is going on.

Human development is actually a lifelong process. It starts from the moment a person is born and extends beyond his maturity, to his death. Every moment in a person’s life is a state of personal evolution, where a person continues to grow and develop.Today we are going to talk about physical and cognitive development.

Cognitive development goes hand in hand with physical development. Physical changes in a person’s body greatly drives the process of his development, as his cognitive skills advance and eventually decline as a response to the brain’s development during childhood and function reduction with old age.

Child cognitive development

Child cognitive development is a field of study in psychology which focuses on the construction of thought processes and acquiring intelligence. The thought processes include remembering, language development, problem solving, and decision-making.

helping your baby achieve certain physical and cognitive milestones

Jean Piaget who is a Swiss developmental psychologist developed the main theory of cognitive development. According to Piaget, there are four stages of childhood cognitive development, which span from birth through adolescence. For Piaget, a child’s knowledge is composed of schemas, which are basic units of knowledge that a child uses to classify and organize his past experiences. These past experiences will be used by the child to serve as his basis for understanding upcoming experiences.

Piaget’s theory regarding childhood cognitive development involves the four distinct, universal stages. These four stages are characterized by different levels of sophisticated and abstract thinking, and they occur in an increasing manner, in the same order. Each stage will build based on the learnings from the previous stage. The four stages of cognitive development, according to Piaget, are the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operational stage.​

The Sensorimotor Stage

The sensorimotor stage occurs during infancy. It lasts from birth up to when the child is two years of age and has six sub-stages. In this period, the baby’s behavior lack the sense of thought and logic. The behavior of the baby will move from responding with reflexes to interacting with the environment with a set goal. The baby’s intelligence is demonstrated mainly by motor activity without using symbols. Knowledge of the world is developed based on physical interactions and experiences. The sensorimotor stage is where the child will develop his memory and learn about concepts like object permanence. Further physical development will also allow the child to develop his intellectual skills and symbolic abilities. The six sub-stages are:

helping your baby achieve certain physical and cognitive milestones
  • Birth to one month: the period where the infant has inherent reflexes that they use to understand the environment. Examples may include sucking and grasping.
  • 1 to 4 months: the period where the baby will repeat his behaviors unexpectedly, primarily because of their reflexes. The baby will begin to develop and create schemes. A scheme refers to a group of thoughts or actions that are repeatedly used as a response to the environment. The baby will learn to use assimilation and accommodation to further adapt to the environment. Assimilation happens when the baby’s manner of response is similar and consistent with that of the response from an existing schema. Accommodation on the other hand is when the baby begins modifying an existing schema or creates an entirely new one as a response to a new object or event.
  • 5 to 8 months: the period where the baby tries to recreate an experience from an external stimulus because they found it pleasurable. This is the period where habits are formed. The baby can only focus on one task. It is during this stage that giving them toys that encourage investigative instincts to develop are recommended.
  • 8 to 12 months: this is the period where the baby’s demonstrated behaviors are backed by reasoning rather than by chance. The baby begins to understand that for one action, a reaction may arise. This is also the stage when the the baby begins to grasp the concept of object permanence. Object permanence is the baby’s understanding that objects will continue to exist even when removed from his line of sight.
  • 12 to 18 months: the period where the baby’s actions are done deliberately and with some variation.
  • 18 to 24 months: this is the period where the child begins to participate in pretend play and begins to have symbolic thoughts. A symbolic thought refers to the representation of an object or event as a mental symbol. This is a crucial part in the child’s cognitive development and the formation of his imagination. At this point, the child will begin acting according to intelligence instead of out of habit. The child will begin to use what he has learned during his first two years to explore and interact with his environment further.

The sensorimotor stage ends when the child begins to represent reality mentally and this is when the child will begin to move on to the preoperational stage of development.

helping your baby achieve certain physical and cognitive milestones

The Preoperational Stage

The preoperational stage occurs during toddlerhood and early childhood. It lasts from 2 years of age until the child is about 6 to 7 years old. Piaget stated that, during this period, the child’s thoughts are governed by egocentrism and animism. Egocentrism happens when a child perceives a situation according only to his way and cannot accept that the other people beside himself may have perceptions of the the scenario that are different from his. Animism is the act of giving a lifeless object some human like characteristics. There is also an increase in playing and pretending at this stage. In this period intelligence is seen through the use of symbols. The language use of the child matures as well.

The Concrete Operational Stage

This concrete operational stage occurs in the elementary and early adolescent years of the child, from when the child is 6 or 7 years of age until he is about 12 to 13 years old. During this stage, group therapy characterizes the child’s cognitive abilities. The child will begin to develop his principle of conservation, which may include length, mass, area, volume, weight, liquid, and number. The child’s intelligence is displayed by the logical and orderly use of symbols and their relation to concrete objects. The child develops operational thinking where he learns that his mental actions are reversible. During this stage, egocentric thinking begins to diminish.

The Formal Operational Stage

The formal operational stage occurs during the adolescence and adulthood period of a person. It lasts from 12 to 13 years of age until a person’s adulthood. In this stage, the person is able to logically use symbols to relate to abstract concepts. Logical reasoning is increasingly advanced from concrete examples to abstract examples. Abstract thinking is developed and as the person develops this skill, concrete examples will no longer be necessary. The person will be able to view and perceive his future. He will have an ideal life in mind. The two sub-categories of the formal operational stage are the early formal operational and the late formal operational thought. In the early formal operational stage, thoughts may be considered as fantasies. A person’s thoughts become more realistic as he advances to the late formal operational stage, when his life experiences may change his earlier fantasies. There is a temporary return to an egocentric form of thinking in the earlier period of the formal operational stage. Studies have shown that only 35% of high school graduates coming from industrialized countries are able to achieve the formal operational stage. The rest fails to formally think during their adulthood.

Considering your baby’s cognitive years, in the first year of their lives they are absorbed in exploring their senses, their bodies and their surroundings. They learn to focus their gaze on people and objects, differentiate tastes, detect differences in voices and anticipate different situation such as in the case of rooting. As they develop, they imitate gestures and actions, can respond with sounds and gestures and like looking at bright objects, colors and pictures.

helping your baby achieve certain physical and cognitive milestones

In the second year, their cognitive and physical development is tremendous. They mimic the actions of adults, so it is necessary for caregivers and parents to watch their behavior and words because the child’s eyes and ears are always open- watching and learning. At this stage, they understand words and can respond to them, imitate adults, can pinpoint familiar objects and people and are great explorers.

These are the highlights of a baby's life, and it is necessary for a parent to encourage the cognitive and physical development of their child. It only takes a parent’s commitment because children are eager to learn. Start by spending time with the child and indulging in various child friendly activities. These include;

  • Reading story books with colors, shapes and pictures. Help them to differentiate different colors and shapes. Sing alphabet songs and learn new words. Also help them to learn numbers and how to count. Use the object around the house to help them count such as a pair of shoes, balls and so on.
  • Have play session where you help them play with toys such as building blocks and rattles
  • Ask them questions that force them to think and respond with constructive answers. For example, what do you feel when you do this and that?
  • Teach them to identify noises such as a cat meowing and if they get it wrong help them to learn the answer. Listen to child friendly music and encourage them to sing along.
  • Give them a chance to make choices such as what they want for a meal or what they want to wear. Ask them why they made that choice so that they learn to make choices and explain their reasons for it.
Physical development in babies

There are generally eight stages in the physical development of a person. These stages include infancy, early childhood, mid childhood, late childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age and old age. Each stage comes with specific physical changes that play an essential role in the cognitive and psychosocial development of an individual. Let’s us focus on the earlier stages.

Infancy to early childhood is a time for a significant amount of growth in all aspects to be expected.

Physically speaking, from the time of birth until the child is 3 years of age, his height will double and his weight will increase 4 times. The proportions of his body will also tremendously change. During infancy, a baby’s head will account for about one-fourth of his total body. As a toddler, the proportions become more balanced and more adult-like in appearance. By the age of three, a toddler will have learned how to sit, walk, use a spoon, scribble. He may even have sufficient hand and eye coordination to throw and catch a ball. The period between three to five years of age will see your child develop fine motor skills and physical growth will become more rapid, only to slow down once he is between five to eight years of age. It known that physical changes during the early childhood stage are accompanied by the child’s cognitive development. Since birth, children learn to use all their senses in order to react to and learn from their environment and it is through these cognitive skills that they are able to acquire their knowledge. As parents, you can help your children achieve their physical milestones. Here are some things that you may do:​

  • Play with balls where you kick the ball to the child and vice versa. Favor large open spaces where they can run around and their movements are not restricted by objects, Good examples are a yard or children's park.
  • Allow them to help you with simple chores such as picking up items from the floor and putting them in their right place.
  • Encourage the child to use items such as brooms. They should be appropriate to their size and encourage them to use them, so they know how things are done.
  • Make time for the park and let them run around exploring the different rides and games as they figure out how to play with different items.

Children learn by seeing, hearing and doing. Any activity geared at developing their cognitive and physical skills should incorporate this.

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