Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

What should I be doing to help my 11mth son who has had a few changes recently and is far less settled?

My son was previously a perfect Gina baby, sleeping well for all naps and eating well. We moved house 2 months ago, I started work 1 month ago. My son started to become more unsettled. Now he always wakes crying and screaming whereas he used to chatter in his cot. He jumps up and down in cot in anger until we pick him up. Usually we control cry for at least 45mins in morning. We never bring him out of cot before 6.30am which is a fine time for us. We tend to give up more quickly when he wakes from day time naps.

Now he won’t settle for morning nap any longer, but really is too tired to drop it. So I give him quiet time in buggy, early lunch, and settle him early for his lunch time nap. But he is only sleeping a maximum of one hour at lunch time resulting in overtiredness in evening and early waking.

His chronic over tiredness is starting to make him cranky and now he has also started rousing frequently in the night although we don’t get up to him and he does settle again. How can we get back on track? It is difficult not being sole carer to enforce routines more rigidly but other the carers are on board to try things out. He is cared for by a child minder 2 days a week, my mother takes him for 2 days and I care for him the other 3.

He is ever so active during the day chasing cats and toddling around everywhere but is not as contented as he used to be and is becoming more wingy, clingy and he seems to be regressing further away from the routine that he kept so happily for so long. Is this normal for this age? I also carry a lot of guilt about returning to work and am unsure whether I am meant to be firm setting consistent boundaries or whether I should be reassuring and relieving new anxieties he may be having?

My son eats three meals a day having breakfast of cereal and fruit. He drinks cow’s milk and formula mixed from a beaker. He will have a small snack midmorning followed by lunch at 11.30-1145am. This is his protein meal of the day which he eats well. He drinks milk from a beaker at 2.30pm and eats a vegetarian tea with finger food. At 6.45pm he takes 7fl oz milk from a cup.

Your son has had two quite big changes in his life recently. He is of the age where separation anxiety can become quite intense so it is not surprising that he is a little more clingy and demanding of you.

How you deal with it is important. It can be so difficult when you have to return to work but feel it may be affecting your child. But given sympathetic, consistent but firm handling your son will begin to adapt to his new surroundings and daily routine. It may take a few months but will gradually improve. Being sympathetic to his needs doesn’t mean you need to give in to him all the time to compensate for your return to work.

The energy levels of a newly walking toddler are amazing but they can easily get overtired and so lose their good sleep habits, as you have already realized.

Try to build rest times into his day at regular intervals. As well as the quiet time you give him in his buggy before lunch take him out in it around 4pm. Even just a short walk at this time will help him to rest as he watches the world go by. Until he is more settled at night bring his bath and bedtime forward to nearer 6.30pm if this is possible. Having a quiet time after tea, followed by a warm bath, a short time spent looking at a book and then being settled for the night by 6.30/6.40pm should help him not become so overtired. This earlier bedtime may not show any immediate effects on his early waking or night time restlessness for a week or so, but keep with it. Make sure you follow the same simple routine every night so he begins to feel more secure and able to relax to sleep, rather than falling asleep exhausted. Keep bath time quiet and try not to let him run around too much afterwards. Getting him to his room and into his cot within half an hour of coming out of the bath will really help him calm down.

The early mornings should begin to disappear once he has more rest periods in the day and an earlier bedtime. In the morning you do need to be firm and consistent about telling him it is not daytime yet. He is still young but, if you use the same words every morning when he begins to cry and scream for you, he will come to realize that no matter what noise he makes you are not willing to start the day before 6.30am. Put a few board books and soft toys at the end of his cot when you go to bed so he has something to amuse himself when he wakes in the morning. It may take a few days for him to do this but eventually he will find them.

Controlled crying, when carried out, would mean you lengthen the time before going in to your child each morning. Have a look in Gina’s Complete Sleeping Guide, page 45, for a full description. As your son is waking early and demanding attention it would be a good idea to leave him for about ten minutes and then go in to him. Lay him down in his cot and using the same words each morning tell him; “Go to sleep, it is not daytime yet” then leave. You may have to do this every ten minutes or so for at least a week before he realises that you do mean what you say. This will also help him trust you. Although you are not giving in to his demands to get out of his cot, you are acknowledging that he is awake. By using the same few words you are not rewarding his shouting and crying but teaching him that he has to wait for you in the mornings. Boundaries do need to begin to be put in place at this age, but they need to be appropriate for a very young toddler whose comprehension is still limited. Your tone of voice and body language are the way he understands that you are not going to change your mind about early mornings.

As well as needing to set boundaries you also need to relieve your son’s anxieties, which is hard work for you. Keeping to his routine, asking his other carers to do the same in terms of quiet times in the day and accepting that he no longer needs as much daytime sleep, should all help him. The consistency he receives from all who care for him will help him over this phase of his development. By using the routines and the same rituals when you leave in the morning and come home at night will all help him feel more secure in himself. A toddler of this age thrives on knowing what is going to happen next. He will accept the changes in his life with your help and guidance. Acknowledging and understanding this next stage of his life will help you. You seem already to realise that his needs are changing and you are adapting to them as best you can. How you handle the early mornings will help you as he grows more independent and assertive in other areas of his life.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

At 8.5 months old my son is crawling fast and into everything

Although I was excited when my son began to crawl at 7.5 months, I had no idea how much chaos he would begin to cause. I seem to be constantly tidying up and putting back the books and videos he pulls from the lower shelves. I don’t want to keep saying no to him but the house always seems to look a mess and it really gets me down at times. How do I balance his need for freedom and my need for some domestic order?

Once a baby learns to crawl it is quite amazing to see how quickly he learns to empty shelves and cupboards and delights in doing so. Getting the balance right is a very personal thing. Some people can live in the chaos and it does not worry them at all. They may decide to have one big clearing up session once a day, or not at all. Other women find it hard to see their house strewn with toys and the contents of their shelves and cupboards and are constantly running around picking up. Taking the middle road is the best option.

Decide if you are going to have some “baby free” areas. Shut these off using doors or stair gates. If you have enough room you may be able to keep a sitting room free in this way and so know that one room is suitable to show unexpected visitors into, should they arrive.

Having somewhere as your own personal space is important. It maybe your bedroom or your own desk but whatever corner of the house you decide on, be prepared to be firm and consistent in keeping it for yourself. Although you will not want to constantly say “no” your son does need to learn the meaning of the word and will do so if it used for a few areas and items consistently.
The areas of the house where you spend most time are likely to be centred around the kitchen. Although your baby will like to be near to you, you may decide that the kitchen itself is too small or dangerous with hot stoves to allow him to crawl around and possibly trip you up. Again use stair gates to prevent his entry. He can play beyond the gate and still have you in his sight. He may protest at this until he gets used to the idea but it is better there are a few tears than having to deal with a nasty burn or scald. If you make the area beyond the gate interesting and child proof he will learn how to amuse himself there.

Babies love to empty shelves and drawers. By providing him with a low shelf and or drawer of his own filled with things which will not hurt him if he pulls on them he can be taught that yours are off limits. One way to prevent shelves being emptied is to pack books or videos really tightly so he is unable to pull one out and so clear the lot. Having a drawer of his own will keep him occupied for a time. Fill it with household items such as plastic boxes and lids, wooden and plastic utensils, cardboard tubes from loo rolls and kitchen roll, an old saucepan and other things which you know will appeal to him.

There are plenty of child-proofing items on the market such as door- and drawer locks, film to protect glass doors, video locks and plastic table corners. Look at the room or rooms that your son will spend most of his time in whilst down on all fours and you will be able to see it from his point of view. Use these products to provide a safe but interesting area for him to spend time in.
It is very tempting to constantly clear up behind an exploring baby. You should keep certain areas of the house clear: such as the stairs, hallways and frequently used passageways to prevent accidents. To begin to teach your baby that tidying up is part of the day decide to do a general clear up at certain points of the day. These may be before lunch time, before you go out and before bath time. He is still too young to really grasp the idea yet but if you tell him every time that it is “tidy up time now” he will begin to realise what you are doing. Ask him to hand you a brick or toy to put into a basket or box. Keep his toys in order using baskets or plastic storage boxes for different things rather than a jumble of everything in a one big toy box. Watching you daily he will begin to grasp the idea although he may not be of much help yet. You may have a quick tidy whilst he is around and then a more intensive one once he is having a nap or gone to bed in the evening. He will be able to play more contentedly if he is able to find his toys in the same place rather than living in constant chaos. Let him explore during the day but teach him that some order is a good thing.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

What type of toys should I give my 9-month-old baby ?

What toys should my 9 month old be playing with? We have a basket full of rattles and soft-shaped contrast toys which I think she is bored with now. I look in the shops and think most things look either too difficult or too easy for her. How do I know if a toy will help her development? Should I look for toys marked with her age now or for a few months time? Can you give me an idea of how I should play with her?

To a nine month old everything she handles is a toy. Watch any baby of this age with a wooden spoon and plastic container and you will notice how intently she explores them. Your baby learns all the time whatever she is doing.

Most toys in shops are marked with ages, but are only a general guide to what a baby between those ages is capable of doing. Your baby may only just be reaching those milestones or she may be nearly at the next stage already.
When selecting toys for her think what she is able to do already. Can she hold a small object in each hand? Can she pass them from hand to hand? If she is given a selection of small brick cubes she may now be able to build two, possibly three into a tower. Look at stacking rings which help her place objects on top of each other.

Is she crawling or trying to crawl? Soft balls and wheeled toys can be chased.
Does she move small objects from one container to another? Stacking cups are ideal for this.

Does she want to stand up and cruise about the furniture? There are activity tables in various forms which will be stable enough for her to stand at.
Encouraging your baby to play does not always mean showing her how a toy works. If you have bought a toy suitable for her developmental stage she will discover for herself how it works. This is how she plays. By stepping back and observing, you allow her to learn at her own pace.

Whilst at this age your baby will still want you to be within her sight, it is not essential to play with her all the time. Let her have time and space to work things out alone.

Look at each toy before buying and try to see how it will help her with skills she already has and encourage her further to explore the toy on her own.
Many of today’s toys are battery-operated. Although there is a place for one or two of these in your child’s toy box, look out for toys which may seem simpler but offer greater opportunities for learning and developing.

Your baby’s sense of touch is well-developed and she will enjoy different tactile experiences. Well-made wooden toys are a worthwhile investment; bricks, cars, bead frames, simple shape sorters can all be readily found.
There are plenty of textured, feely toys available as well as board books which incorporate different textures. Show her how to feel the surfaces with her fingers. She also uses her mouth and tongue to feel with, which is why everything goes into her mouth. Remember this when selecting toys and playthings.

To develop her manipulation skills which are refined by now, look for activity centres which all offer a good variety of moving parts. Things to turn, twist, push and pull all require different movements of her fingers and hands.
As well as conventional toys, everyday household objects can be given to her, providing you check them for rough, sharp edges or small pieces which can be swallowed. Providing her with a basket full of household objects can be fun. Look around for different textures, such as smooth, rough, shiny and soft. What looks like just a bottle brush to you will give her plenty of chances to explore its qualities with her hands and mouth. Include as much variety as you can and change the objects on a regular basis so there will always be plenty more discoveries for her to make. Quality is more important than quantity. Too many toys can overwhelm her, and she will probably pay more attention to the box and wrappings than yet another toy.

Only give her one or two toys at a time and keep things stored in cupboards or storage containers. Begin to organize her toys, such as books in one box, bricks in another so she will not be confused once she is mobile enough to explore the boxes for herself. Too many toys at once will overwhelm a baby and they end up not really exploring the full potential of anything as they move endlessly from toy to toy.

Have different toys for certain times of day. For instance, bath-toys which remain in the bathroom and quiet-time toys such as a musical soft toy.

All babies learn as they play. If you watch your baby and see how she learns new skills, you will be able to provide her with a rich learning environment.
At times you will interact with her and enjoy stories and rhymes together, but be conscious of how much she learns by herself when provided with suitable playthings.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Behaviour

How can I get my 5 month old to be as willing to play alone as her twin sister?

I have 5 month old twin girls. They were born 2 months prematurely.

While one daughter is quite easy and self entertaining, the other is very active and wants to be carried around all the time. I know that they are different babies with different characters but I am worried about my daughter as she starts crying the moment or after 10 minutes she is put on the play mat or the cot to play. I have tried sitting beside her and play with her with the toys but doesn’t quite work.
How can I make her learn to play on her own for longer periods? Is it ok to leave her cry for a while so that she can break the habit?

I need advice on that issue desperately; it’s getting harder and harder with her.

Accepting that your twins have separate characters is important. But this does not mean you cannot help your daughter be a little more independent and willing to play alone for short periods. It may take her time to do this but with sympathetic and gentle handling things will improve. Although you may have to accept that there will always be one who seems to need more attention than her sister.

Look at her stage of development and see what she is able to do. If her hand-to- eye skills are good and she can manipulate well with her fingers make sure the toys you are providing for her are helping her refine these skills. You may need to go through the toy box and take out the toys which are too young for your girls’ age. You may have to make two baskets, one for each of them, depending on their abilities.

Toys which may interest her now are more complex rattles which she can manipulate in her hands, toys which make a noise ; there are many varieties on this theme with squeakers, bells, “scrumple sounds” and other rewards for pushing, pulling and twisting. A mirror hung on the side of a cot or playpen, or the kind which are wedge shaped and so can be placed in front to of a baby can be fascinating to this age. Simple board books, soft books, soft and hard blocks will all be interesting to your daughter. An activity centre which again may be hung at eye level will offer several different activities needing varying levels of skill.

Once you feel you are providing the right sorts of toys, getting her attention onto them for a space of time is the next step. It is realistic to hope that a baby of this age should be able to manage 15-20mins of playing alone before needing some adult attention. Your other daughter is well able to do this but you will need to build up the time of playing alone for the twin who thinks being carried around is the best occupation.

Set her on her play mat and put one or two toys within her grasp if she reaches for them. If she spends her time lying on her back, put toys to the left or right of her head to encourage her to move from side to side. She may enjoy being propped up surrounded by cushions, as at this angle she can see more of what is going about her. Place a toy or two with in her reach but to one side so she uses her whole trunk to twist and reach it. Stay within her sight and chat to her from time to time about what she is playing with: “Oh I see you have the red brick, can you pick up the blue one too?”, “What a lovely noise you make with that rattle”. Let her see that you are watching her at times but not always actively engaging with her. At this age she will start to become aware that you can disappear from view. This maybe more upsetting to her than her sister. Either take her with you if you move to another room for a period of time, or call through to reassure her if you pop out for a minute or two.

When she begins to get cranky use your voice to “jolly“ her on a little, but increase the time before you pick her up. She may begin to cry but keep the bright voice and tell her “I will pick you up but I need to finish doing this – where is your book?” Distracting her and encouraging her with your voice will help her to play for longer periods. Leaving her for a few minutes before picking her up will not harm her. It is better not to rush in and pick her up as soon as she starts to cry.
Be aware that over stimulation can cause a baby to be unable to play alone. Only have two toys out at a time for each baby. But a baby of this age does have a short attention span. Whilst keeping an eye on her and telling her what you are doing, don’t always rush in to show her how things work or rescue her. If she gets cranky after 10mins and learns to wait another 3-4mins then sit beside her and find a new object to show her. Talk to her for 3-4mins and then leave her again. Rotating toys and her view about every 20mins again will keep her more occupied. Her sister may be happy to stay in one position for longer but accept that your daughter is active and inquisitive so move her from mat to sitting, to time on her tummy in front of a mirror. Interact with her for a short time at each change of scene and then leave her. In this way you are accepting her need for change and your need to have 15-20 mins when she plays independently.
You may want to look at having a baby bouncer for your daughters, if you have not done so already. Used for a short spell of 15-20mins a bouncer can provide an active baby with a different view of the room and the feeling of movement. Read the fitting and safety instructions carefully and don’t use it for prolonged periods.

As well as encouraging your daughter to play alone, make sure you have several times in the day when you give them both your undivided attention whilst looking at a book or singing rhymes together. Spend a short time each day with both of them on the floor practicing rolling and spending time on their tummies.