During the last part of your baby's first year, you should see an emerging sense of self, independence and exploration, says Beth K. Ryan, M.Ed., a senior child life specialist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"Their autonomy is starting to develop," Ryan says. "When they look in the mirror, they realize that the baby in the mirror is them. Now the wonder of integration of self begins."
What to expect: "Some babies are saying their first words at this age, while others are making lots of attempts," says Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., psychological services manager at Children's Medical Center of Dallas and professor of psychology/psychiatry at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.?"Parents will also notice their baby making social overtures to get attention from others -- this might be a smile, or a coo, or both.?Babies at this age may also start showing some gestures for communication, such as pointing to things they want or shaking their head for 'no.'"
What you hear isn't the only measure of your baby's language development. "Our receptive language develops before our expressive language, so we understand before we speak," Ryan says. "And that can sometimes lead to frustration when babies can't get or express what they want. That's why sometimes they might throw objects or have tantrums. A surplus of emotions can cause a baby to easily feel overwhelmed."
If you haven't seen signs of separation anxiety yet, be prepared. "The skill set of object permanence is increasing, so they're understanding that things go away and they search for them," Ryan explains. "They know when you go away. That may increase crying spells, emotional distress, and tantrums."
Progression: Social referencing, when a baby looks to his or her caregivers to read cues about what's okay and not okay, usually emerges between 9 to 12 months, Ryan says. "I remember I could simply deliver a look to my own children without saying a word and it would positively alter their behavior. For example, my kids wouldn't touch something if they saw my warning look first," she says.
How to help: "It is very important that parents are responsive when their baby is making attempts at communication," Dr. Stavinoha says.?"Making eye contact with your baby and even mimicking her attempts at words help stimulate language while reinforcing the parent-child bond.?Parents need to remember that social development requires frequent practice interacting with others."
Ryan suggests giving words to your baby's emotions with phrases like "I see you're frustrated," and "Yes, that looks hard." And instead of saying "no" when your little one gets into something you'd rather she not explore, try saying "not for you" while immediately distracting her with something else interesting, Ryan suggests. That not only encourages language development but it also can convey the same point without turning "no" into Baby's favorite word in the months ahead.
It's important to know your baby's temperament and alter your response accordingly when she gets frustrated or overwhelmed. "Some children are really spirited and some are very easygoing," Ryan says. "It might be easier to say, 'Let's go read a book.' For others, it's 'Let's go run or jump around.' It's also important to know how your baby regulates her mood. Some need extra support to help them feel calm and in control of the bodies."
A beginner's version of hide-and-seek can be a huge hit with babies this age. "Hide behind the curtains or couch -- this will entertain them for hours," Ryan says. Simple picture books, movement to music or silly rhymes, and action songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and "If You're Happy and You Know It" are also great activities.
When you should worry: If your baby doesn't show affection for and interest in his caretakers, make frequent eye contact, or attempt communicating with babbles or gestures. "Parents need to recognize that some babies are more social than others, but if there are questions about the baby's social development, parents should not hesitate to talk with their baby's physician," Dr. Stavinoha says.
Don't freak out if: Your baby is taking his own sweet time with a new skill -- what's important is that your baby is making progress. "You're going to see a wide range of development in children at this age when you're at the playground or on a playdate," Ryan says. "Because development happens on a continuum."
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.