Although first words and first steps are obvious accomplishments, a young child's cognitive growth is more subtle because so much of it is a result of quiet observation. "Many parents are surprised at how much their 1-year-old comprehends," says Dr. Meltzoff. "Most can understand a wide variety of facial expressions and gestures, like throwing kisses."
Happily for parents, babies have some delightful ways of showing off what they know. Nancy Pelant, of St. Michael, Minnesota, loves to watch her 13-month-old son, Nathan, making the hand movements to "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," even when she isn't singing the song. "When I start to sing the words, he's thrilled that I understand what he's thinking," says Pelant.
Like Nathan, babies this age not only imitate people but also look to them as sources of information. "If there's a loud sound, for instance, your baby will examine your face to see if you're smiling or frightened," says Dr. Meltzoff. And around the 18-month mark, your baby becomes aware of himself as well as of others. "Put a dab of lipstick on your 18-month-old's nose, and when she sees herself in the mirror, she will touch her nose, not the nose of her reflected image, as she would have done at 14 months," says Dr. Meltzoff.