The Best Ways to Play With Your Baby

Dealing with delays

Mom playing with baby

There's a wide range of normal when it comes to motor milestones, and experts worry most about kids who have multiple delays. Missing a single motor milestone may simply mean that a child hasn't had a lot of experience with that particular skill.

Motor delays are especially worrisome for babies who have relatives with autism. "Other problems may develop later, like communication and social delays," says Dr. Landa. According to her research, 6-month-olds at high risk for autism often flop their head back when being pulled up to sit -- and babies who did this were more likely to eventually be diagnosed with autism or a social or communication delay.

4-6 months Roll from tummy to back
5-6 months Roll from back to tummy
6-7 months Sit independently
By 8 months Transition out of sitting; push up on hands and knees
By 9 months Belly crawling or crawling on hands and knees with belly off the floor
10-12 months Pull to a stand
12-15 months Walk

The sooner delays are identified, the easier they are to correct. If your child's skills aren't following this timeline, bring it up with your pediatrician.

Toys that teach

It may seem like toys with flashing lights and fun sounds have the most to offer babies, but the opposite is true, says Dr. Landa. "Adults are the ones who think those kinds of toys are cool," she explains. "When a baby puts blocks into a container, she creates the 'clunk' sound, she sees them fall. And that's great. She doesn't need the container to light up too." For some kids, those extras are distracting; children focus more on the cause and effect than learning to play with the toy.

You also don't have to spend a fortune on toys, says Parents advisor Jenn Berman, Psy.D., author of Superbaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years. Bubbles, for example, are inexpensive and excellent for encouraging eye tracking and coordination, and as your child gets older she can reach for them, chase after them, and start blowing them too. Some other objects Dr. Berman recommends:

6 months Soft balls, crinkle toys, stuffed toys, plush trucks
9 months Stacking toys, sorting toys, nesting toys, toy food, Giant Lego Bricks, bounce toys, baby dolls, fabric tunnels a baby can crawl through that fold up like an accordion
12 months Blocks, puppets, large wooden peg puzzles, wagons, music toys, finger-paint, nontoxic crayons, toy kitchens, and dolls with clothes that can be changed

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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