Your baby is figuring out how to find her way in the world and you’re her navigator. She’ll learn a lot about how to behave by watching you. Your years as an important and influential role model have begun.
Most parents and professionals believe that babies are born with very different behavioural styles (‘temperaments’). Some are relaxed and easygoing, others appear more intense and dramatic. Some seem to move constantly, others are more docile. Some are cheerful most of the time, others are more serious.
What your baby is feeling
If you smile at a baby, he’ll probably smile back. Scowl at him and he might burst into tears. You can learn a lot about what your baby is feeling by looking at his face.
Understanding your baby’s behaviour becomes easier as she begins to communicate with you. The world is starting to make some sense. Your baby has expectations, and unexpected things can upset her. She’s very attached to certain people and things. She might love one toy over all others and will accept no substitutes. She might be afraid of the bath.
Your baby probably has a favourite person (usually his mum or dad). He understands where he ends and you start. He might also recognise his name or his face in the mirror. He might be scared if you leave the room because you might not come back – a terrifying thought! Although separation anxiety and fear of strangers can seem troubling, don’t worry – children all around the world develop these fears at about the same age.
Crying is still your baby’s main way of communicating needs. If you attend to your baby’s needs promptly, she’ll tend to feel safer and will actually cry less.Your baby is busy soaking up the world. Just like his parents, he appreciates a bit of down time in his day to relax and be comforted.
What your baby is doing
Your baby wants to discover and explore. Her natural curiosity will drive her to experiment with objects to see how they work. Even light and gravity are things she has to figure out. This might involve dropping your phone in the cat’s water dish or tipping the sugar bowl onto the rug. She’ll watch your reactions to see whether she’s doing the right thing. She’ll also do things like pinching, biting or hair pulling just to find out what happens.
Your baby might want to grab the spoon while eating. Feeding can be a battleground for power struggles – who decides how much and what foods get put into the mouth? Babies are born to experiment. Their behaviour is part of an innocent learning process – your baby isn’t trying to test your patience. You’ll just need to create a safe environment for exploration so your baby doesn’t hurt himself or break your new DVD player.
Boundaries start with keeping ‘no-no’ things out of reach – you can read more about baby-proofing in our article on safety in the home. Eventually, you can tell your baby which things are off limits. For more information about keeping your baby safe, view our video on preventing accidents, below.
Smacking and discipline
When it comes to discipline, positive strategies that encourage good behaviour – such as praise and encouragement – are always the best place to start. You can’t spoil a young baby. In fact, it’s important to respond quickly and lovingly when your baby needs attention. This will help your baby develop trust in you and the world.
For babies, smacking just causes confusion and fear. A baby might even start to flinch or cry when a person who has smacked him in the past comes near. Smacking a baby to stop him crying will only make him harder to comfort. Smacking isn’t an effective or acceptable punishment for a child, no matter what age.