Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Learning

My daughter of just 20 months has developed a fear of the vacuum cleaner. I am not sure what started this but now she will scream when the cleaner is turned on. How do I get her to realise that there is nothing to be afraid of? I have to get the house cleaned so should I just keep vacuuming in front of her?  Is this sort of behaviour normal?

Small children often develop fears about all kinds of things. It is a quite normal part of development.   Learning how to deal with your child’s fear in a sympathetic and understanding way is an important part of motherhood.

Most irrational fears pass as a child grows up.  It may be hard to tell why your daughter has suddenly developed a fear of the vacuum. She may have had a fright one day if it was switched on without her seeing it and the sudden noise might have startled her.  If she has seen the vacuum cleaner hoovering up bits and pieces she may think that if the vacuum sucks up all the dust and dirt might it suck her up too?

The way to tackle her fear is to acknowledge it is real to her, no matter how irrational it appears to you. It is better to try to find ways for her to become more comfortable with her fear than to ignore it all together.   Initially, is it possible for you to do a little vacuuming while your daughter sits on the lap of her father or a friend or grandparent?   Do not encourage her fear by making too much of her anxiety.  Simply try a little distraction, and a little explanation.

Warn her when you about to put the vacuum on, but encourage the other adult to distract your daughter with a book and a cuddle.  Try to explain to your daughter what the vacuum does.  If you are on your own, suggest your daughter sits on the sofa, and reassure her that you will keep the vacuum away from her.

If you think she fears being sucked up in the vacuum, show her how it works.  Let her watch, maybe from your arms, whilst you clean up some crumbs but then put a larger toy or block in the path and show her that it cannot suck that up.

Look out for storybooks which deal with practical tasks.   The more your daughter understands about vacuums, how they work and what they are used for, the more likely her fear is to subside.

Toddlers love to copy your activities.  Try to borrow or buy your daughter a small toy vacuum cleaner and encourage her to use this.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Learning

My 15mth son has begun to clamp his mouth shut when it is time to brush his teeth.

I am beginning to dread getting my son ready for bed as he just refuses to have his teeth brushed. He will open his mouth for me and then clamps tightly shut onto the brush and wont let me do a thing. He thinks it is hilarious and shakes his head from side to side with a big grin on his face. When he first began to do this I did laugh with him but now I am not sure how to get him to stop this each and every evening. I am worried his teeth will not be cleaned properly so have to resort to all sorts of antics to get him to open up again. When he does I can only do a quick brush round as he wriggles and squeals so and I am worried I will hurt his mouth with the brush. What can I do to stop this evening pantomime?

Now your son has learned that he can really get to you over brushing his teeth he will continue to do so unless you turn the situation on its head. Having laughed with him he will continue this behaviour every night unless you radically change your approach to teeth brushing. Begin by buying a new toothbrush for him. They come in all shapes and colours. You may be lucky and find one featuring a favourite story or cartoon character.

Recently onto the market are “Teach me toothbrushes” which have a small head and a guard on the handle to prevent the brush being inserted too far into the mouth and causing damage. Present his new toothbrush to him with a flourish and put a whole new strategy into play.

Use a very small smear of low -fluoride toothpaste on the brush as small children will often suck off the toothpaste. Swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can lead to fluorosis which causes white spots or patches on the tooth enamel whilst the teeth are forming. Dental experts point out that too much toothpaste on the brush will cause your toddler to salivate and so want to swallow, so really use the smallest amount possible.

The position you adopt to clean teeth can really help. Many parents make the mistake of standing in front of their toddler and holding his chin. This position can lead to the mouth being hurt if the toddler moves at the wrong moment. The head of the brush may dig into his inner cheek which can be painful. Ask your son to lie down on the floor and place his head on your lap. This should be far more comfortable for him. He has something to lie on that is soft and you can see into his mouth better. If he does wriggle it is easier for you to keep control of the brush, and it is far harder for him to escape completely.

Use a clean finger to slip inside his inner cheek and begin to brush the front teeth. Depending how he reacts to all these changes you may be able to do a much better job right from the beginning, or you may have to work each day at moving further and further around inside his mouth as he becomes more used to the procedure. Getting him to hold a brush in his hand whilst you do this may help. Try not to rush the job, even if you feel in the beginning that not all his teeth are being brushed. You are getting him to co-operate with you so that each day you can move gradually further and further towards the back of his mouth. Remember to praise him for being co-operative, even if this has only lasted a few minutes.

Using silly songs and rhymes can help. There are plenty of short rhymes and jingles about teeth in children’s song and poetry books, or just sing songs he knows.

Turning this time into a game can help, too. Pretend to be an animal or vehicle, especially if he has a favourite one. Just in the way you use coercion to get him to eat at times, you may have to resort to this in order for him to have his teeth brushed properly each day. Although you may play games to get him to co-operate he needs to gradually learn that brushing his teeth is something which happens every day, twice a day. Until he is old enough to do this job effectively on his own, which is around seven years of age, he will need your close supervision. The sooner he accepts that this is part of his daily routine the easier it will be for both of you.

If he still continues to play up then brush his teeth using one hand and hold a hand mirror in the other so he can see what is being done to him. He may then feel more in control of the situation and so co-operate.

Toddlers love to copy so let him see you brushing your teeth in the morning. If you are not already brushing his teeth after breakfast you should begin to do so. If you don’t want to take your son upstairs again after breakfast have a second set of brushes and paste for yourself and him in a downstairs bathroom. Although your son is far too young to clean his teeth properly on his own let him have a turn at it. Offer him his toothbrush whilst you brush your own teeth at the same time. Show him how to use small circles across the tooth’s surface, not up and down or along the teeth. Once he has had an attempt and you have finished your own get him to lie on the floor, in the same way that he does after his bath at night, so that you can then clean his teeth yourself.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

We have emigrated and my baby’s development is regressing

Please help… we emigrated to Australia four weeks ago with our 9 month old son, and despite seeming to be happy he does seem to have gone backwards in his development. He was finger feeding quite confidently before we left, and now he refuses to put any food in his mouth at all, although he will put an empty spoon in his mouth, and in my mouth. He is happy to eat finger foods, i.e. toast, fruit etc and is eating quite lumpy food, but I have to feed it to him.

When we first arrived here we put him straight into the 6-9 month routine and although he slept, he refused to eat for three days and since then, although his appetite has returned with a vengeance and he is eating really well, he won’t feed himself. He was also almost crawling before we left: he was able to push himself along on his tummy with his feet ‘commando’ style, but since coming here he has gone back to flailing around on the floor like he did when he was four months old. He has also started to suck his bottom lip when he is tired. The doctor has told me that he is probably anxious and has reverted to ‘being a baby’ because he has been so unsettled and that once he feels settled he will catch up.

I just wondered if you had any tips to speed up the catching up process. Is there anything I can do to get him back on track?

He has been on Gina’s routines since he was 4 weeks old for both sleeping and feeding. At 7.20am he has 7oz of follow-on formula milk at breakfast, still out of bottle because despite taking a beaker for water from 4 months old he began refusing to even have it in his mouth at 7 months. We have just found one he likes but have not yet introduced it for milk. He then has either porridge or baby muesli with fruit made with 3oz of formula at about 8.15am. He takes a mouthful of very diluted juice out of a beaker at about 1030am. He has lunch at about 11.40am and typically eats about 10 cubes of (usually) homemade food. He is a vegetarian baby who eats fish, so lunch is either a fishy something or a lentil and rice something. He has been fed on homemade food almost exclusively until we emigrated at which point he went for a couple of days on jars while we were settling. He has a good amount of juice and a good amount of fruit after his savoury course. His fruit is chopped and I always put some on his high chair tray for him to feed himself. He’ll pick it up and squidge it around, but won’t put it in his mouth.

He has 7oz of milk at 2.45pm out of a bottle. At 5pm he has tea, about 6 or 7 cubes with toast followed by a milky pudding. He then takes about 4oz of milk at 620pm. I am planning to give him less formula at 2.45pm tomorrow to try to make him take more at 6.20pm. Tristan wakes at around 6.30 am, (he was waking later, but we are not able to fully black out his room in our rented house) we leave him until 7am. He then goes back to sleep at 9am for half an hour. He goes to bed at 12.15pm until 2-2.30pm. He then goes down to bed at 6.30pm. He settles himself to sleep. If he wakes and whimpers a bit we do nothing; if he really cries for longer than 5 minutes I go and check him. If he’s really crying it’s usually because he has a dirty nappy so I change it and put him back down. If he doesn’t have a dirty nappy I rub his tummy to calm him and then he goes back to sleep by himself. I am always the person that dresses him after his bath, feeds him and puts him down to sleep. He is rarely (almost never) unsettled at bedtime and doesn’t wake in the night.

I hope you can help,

Helen

The big change in your life has really had an effect on Tristan. In a few months I feel sure he will be much more settled, enjoying his new life and will have caught up again. Meanwhile I would continue to follow your daily routine as this will give Tristan the security he needs. At his age he is very aware of the big changes in his life, but if the day-to-day details remain the same he is likely to settle down quicker to his new life.

Continue to provide plenty of finger foods at mealtimes but don’t push Tristan to feed himself. Keep on feeding him yourself, but every few meals hand him a spoon and ask “Tristan do it?”. If he refuses just continue to feed him without fuss. Find colourful finger foods to offer, present it in a fun way, cutting fancy shapes or making simple faces with the pieces to try to tempt Tristan to pick up his food.

Sometimes presenting his usual food in a novel way may tempt him to using his spoon again. Disguise a half jacket potato as a hedgehog, using small sticks of cheese as the spines, and peas as the grass around him.

I am sure once his anxiety has gone and he feels more secure in his new home he will just begin to feed himself again. Be patient and let him do it in his own time.

The same principle applies to his regression in crawling. Give him plenty of floor time and get down with him. Play games with balls or cars, something he may begin to chase. Encourage him to roll from side to side and stand up whilst holding onto sturdy furniture or your hands. As Tristan’s anxiety about his new surroundings diminishes he will become more adventurous physically. You may have to “baby” Tristan for a while, give him plenty of reassuring cuddles and a simple routine to help him adjust.

I wish the very best of luck in your new home and life.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

How can I get my nine-month daughter Kate to be less wary of people?

How can I get my nine-month daughter Kate to be less wary of people? We live in a small village, which is a close and friendly community. Until about a month ago, Kate would smile happily at everyone, but now she turns her head away when people speak to her. My neighbour, whom Kate has known since birth, would love to look after her occasionally, but Kate just wants to be beside me the whole time. I tried leaving Kate last week for an hour, but it was a disaster and in the end I brought her home as she was crying so much. How can I get her to be more relaxed with friends and neighbours?

Living in a close-knit community makes it difficult to understand Kate’s growing wariness of strangers. But this is all part of her emotional development. She is beginning to be aware of new situations and unfamiliar people. A few months ago she would respond to any smiling face, but now she is more discerning. This wariness of strangers is connected with a growing anxiety about being separated from you. She is appreciating that you are a separate being, not just an extension of her. This period of anxiety and wariness often coincides with the time a baby learns to crawl. She now has the means to leave you, and has realised that you can also leave her.

Coping with this milestone needs gentle handling. It will usually peak between ten and eighteen months. These months can feel overwhelming as she clings to your side, and you may feel that you will never have a life of your own. But it is a phase and it will pass. Be aware and sympathetic, but also help her to overcome some of her anxiety.

When out in the village, greet people yourself, talk to Kate about who you are meeting and let Kate respond with a smile if she wishes. Explain to others that Kate is feeling a bit shy today. Some adults have forgotten or don’t understand this period in a baby’s life and may try to get to close to her. Put yourself in her position. Being approached by an unfamiliar person who wants to touch you straight away is a most disconcerting feeling.

Some babies become very clingy even in their own homes. They cannot bear if you so much as leave the room. Overwhelming as it is, try to keep Kate in view, scooping her up as you move around the house, rather than trying to slip upstairs quickly. Playing games of peek-a-boo will help her to understand that, even if she can’t see something, it is still there. If Kate is crawling, play simple games of hide and seek behind the furniture.

If you haven’t already joined a mother and toddler group, try to find one locally. This will help both you and her to socialise in a safe setting. She may sit near you for the first few sessions, but once her confidence grows she will begin to crawl away fascinated by the other babies and children. Also, getting her used to staying for short periods with someone other than immediate family is a good idea. Even if you are not intending to return to work, it is good for both of you to have short breaks from each other. Have a cup of coffee and a chat with your neighbour and let Kate become familiar with the surroundings. Once you feel she is used to the house, and your neighbour seems to be getting on well with her, try leaving her there for a short time. Take one or two favourite toys and go inside the house to settle her in. Give her ten minutes warning that you are leaving, but will be back soon. Don’t sneak out, even if she appears content. That will only make her more anxious about you leaving her. She may cry as you leave, and you will probably feel unhappy yourself, but keep smiling and tell her you will see her later. Make the first separation a short one. Twenty minutes to half and hour is long enough. Build up the time very slowly, unless she appears quite happy with the arrangement. You are building up her trust in you to return, so she copes with separations more easily.

This period in a baby’s life can be difficult for you as it may feel as if you have no life of your own. Although you feel frustrated by her attachment, you may also feel guilty at wanting time to yourself. Don’t worry – this is all part of motherhood. And spending a short time on your own will benefit everyone.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

My 6 month old is not properly sitting yet and is unable to amuse herself for long

My daughter who is just over 6 months old does not sit well alone. She seems bored and frustrated within minutes of being put down on her play mat. Often she will hold a toy for a few minutes, suck it and then look for something else as though she is bored with everything she has. It isn’t long before she is grizzling and wants to be picked up. What sort of toys should she now be having and what can I do to help her be more independent?

Getting your daughter to play alone for increasing amounts of time does not happen straight away, especially if she has become used to you picking her up when she is grizzly. Until she is more mobile, able to sit alone and begin to move around on her tummy she is relying on you to provide her with a stimulating environment.

Place your daughter near to where you are and talk to her from time to time, telling her what you are doing. Provide her with one or two toys at a time as more will just overwhelm her. Look for toys which will encourage her to use the skills she now is developing. Her finger movements will be more dexterous so she will be able to turn, push and pull on knobs and wheels. An activity centre can be placed within her reach and she can be encouraged to turn towards it. Don’t feel you always have to be interacting with her but when she begins to grizzle sit beside her and encourage her with a cheerful voice. Distract her with something rather than always swooping in and picking her up once she becomes grizzly. This will help to prolong the amount of time she is able to play alone. At this age she will probably be content for about 15-20 minutes at a time before wanting a change of scene or position. She is becoming aware of the fact that you can disappear from view and as yet she is unable to follow you. If you want to leave the room for any length of time it is probably better to take her with you and set her down somewhere close by. If you are just popping out for a minute or two then use your voice to reassure her that you are not far away and will be back soon.

When you do have time to play with her, games of peek a boo from behind chairs or doors will help to understand that when you are not in sight you do not disappear altogether and you will come back again.

Encourage her sitting skills by setting her within a ring of cushions and placing one or two toys just within her reach. She will get frustrated and cry as she is not yet able to physically lean forward without toppling over when reaching for a toy. By placing them just within her reach but to the side as well as in front, you will help her to develop her upper body movements with turning, stretching, grabbing and putting down. Again don’t always rescue her straight away but use an encouraging voice so she learns to do things for herself.
Give her plenty of time on her tummy as well as on her back. For a baby who ho is has been used to being on her front from birth she will already be able to push herself up on her forearms and begin to move herself around using her tummy. For a baby who is not so used to this position use a rolled up towel under her chest to help support her and encourage her to push herself up on her forearms.

Encouraging your daughter to play alone will take time and patience. Make sure you do spend some times of the day really engaging with her: looking at a book, playing peek a boo, practising rolling from side to side and then at other times keep her near but with a toy of her own to occupy her. Go through her toy box and remove all the things which she is now beyond. She will become bored if offered toys which do not encourage her growing skills and dexterity. You may want to buy one or two new things such as stacking cups and wooden blocks but she will also be just as amused with a wooden spoon and a plastic lid from the kitchen cupboard. As long as everything you provide can safely be mouthed there are many everyday items she can be offered to help amuse her for short periods.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

My son, who is almost eight months old, is making no attempt to crawl yet. Should I be concerned about this and is there anything I can do to encourage him? He sits quite well on his own, but has never really enjoyed being on his tummy.

I appreciate that, once he is crawling, a few changes will have to take place around the home to prevent accidents. What things should I be aware of?

You can find ways to encourage your son to crawl, but only when he is physically ready to do so. Crawling is a milestone, which comes once sitting alone has been mastered, and usually occurs between six and ten months, although some babies may be nearer their first birthday before they learn. Each baby is different and will develop at his own rate. If you are concerned about how your son is progressing generally, do discuss your thoughts with your health visitor or doctor.

Some babies miss out the crawling stage completely, learning to pull themselves up to standing and then cruising while holding on to the furniture. Others may learn to move around in other ways, such as “bum shuffling” and a commando type crawl on their stomachs, using their arms to propel themselves forward rather than the conventional idea of crawling on all fours.

Spending time on their tummies is recommended for babies to help strengthen neck and back muscles in preparation for sitting, crawling and, eventually, walking. It is a good idea to allow your baby to spend time on his tummy on a daily basis from an early age, although some babies do not enjoy this position as much as others. A baby will not normally get into the crawling position from his tummy when first learning this skill; he is more likely to move himself from a seated position on to all fours. He will do this by placing his hands in front of him and gradually learning to take his weight on to them.

Once he has mastered how to get up on all fours, he needs to learn how to move himself forward. To begin with, once in this position, he may rock forward and back for a while until he begins to move. Sometimes frustration sets in, as he instinctively knows that if he could only figure out “how” he would be able to move and get to places he would like to explore.

Some babies may have problems with getting back out from the all fours position for a while, not knowing how to get back to sitting again. Others, much to their frustration and annoyance, may find out how to move their hands and legs only to discover they are going backwards rather than forwards. In time, all these problems do resolve themselves and your baby will eventually learn how to propel himself forward with ease and dexterity.

To encourage your son’s development, provide him with plenty of opportunities to practice and perfect his sitting skills. Place toys to one side of him and a little way in front. This will encourage him to reach out and twist from side to side, developing his balance and continuing to strengthen the muscles in his spine.

Spend a little time each day sitting in front of him and holding out a toy that interests him. Hold it just beyond his reach to encourage him in leaning forwards but still keeping his balance as he reaches out to grab it. Be ready for any topples by playing on a carpeted surface.

Once he has mastered getting on to all fours, you can encourage the next stage by placing a toy just in front of him. Ask him to reach out and get it. By moving the toy slightly out of his reach he will probably attempt to move towards it somehow. This again can be a source of frustration for some babies, but bear with it as the more practice he has, the quicker he will work out what he needs to do. Try short spells throughout the day and then move him to another activity before frustration sets in. While going through this phase your baby may need more attention and plenty of sympathy from you.

Once he has started to move, find one or two toys that will reward him by lighting up or playing a tune when he reaches them. He may also enjoy chasing after a ball rolled in front of him. If you really want to amuse him, get down on all fours and let him chase you. This game is often enjoyed by fathers and can develop into a simple hide and seek behind chairs and doors.

You will need to think carefully about any childproofing measures before your baby is fully mobile. It is sensible to provide him with space where he will be able to explore safely, yet without causing damage or coming to harm. This will mean removing any lamps with trailing wires, covering electrical sockets, removing tablecloths and any light items of furniture that he could pull over on to himself. There are many helpful products available, such as cupboard locks, video and toilet locks, door stoppers which will prevent him from shutting a door on himself and safety film for glass topped tables or glazed internal doors. You will need to consider where to fit stair gates, which can also be used between rooms such as the kitchen and his play area, to prevent accidents happening. By law you must protect any open fires with fixed fireguards. Moving books and CDs to a higher place and putting his own toys and books within reach from the floor will all help him have a safe and fun place to explore once he is crawling.

Crawling is one more stage in your baby’s development towards being independent and it will open up a new world of possibilities for him. And once mobile, your baby will be free to explore his surroundings without relying on you to provide him with playthings.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

I have been told to place my newborn baby on her tummy on a daily basis. Why do I need to do this, as she does not seem to enjoy it?

I keep being told I should give my 6 week old son some time on his tummy each day. Why is this and how will it help him? When I tried this with him he looked really uncomfortable. I thought babies were always supposed to be on their backs.

With the current recommendations to let babies sleep on their backs, doctors and health professionals have begun to notice slight developmental delays in rolling, sitting and crawling in a lot of babies.

In order to reach these milestones your baby needs to have plenty of awake time on the floor on his stomach, giving him the opportunity to push himself up on his arms and develop his neck muscles. Being on his stomach also helps strengthen the oesophagus which helps babies who have a tendency to posset after feeds.

Many babies spend a lot of time strapped into baby chairs and car seats which does not allow free kicking and a chance to be on their tummies.

We encourage parents to place their baby on his tummy from early days. Choose a time when he is awake and contented. Top and tail time often works well as the firm surface of his changing mat is an ideal place to try him at first. If done on a daily basis he will become used to being on his front and begin to lift his head for a few seconds. Try putting him on his tummy for a few minutes at a time from the first week and gradually build up the time as the days go by.

By six weeks your baby can spend some playtime on his tummy. When he spends kicking time on the floor or under a gym, turn him onto his front and encourage him to look up by placing a brightly coloured toy, picture or mirror in front of him.

Once your baby is about twelve weeks old and used to being on his tummy he will be happy to spend plenty of time on his front during his waking hours. He will find rolling easier as front to back is an easier movement than back to front. Encourage him to move as much as you can by rolling him from side to side, whilst on his back and on his front. He will probably attempt rolling whilst on his front from quite early on.

There are several activity/play mats on the market which encourage exploration with colours, textures and sounds. Some incorporate a mirror but it is often small and not always at an optimal angle for your baby. Look for a separate mirror which is angled or set into a wedge, encouraging your baby to push up on his arms.

Having plenty of awake time on the floor should be part of every baby’s day. You will see how much enjoyment they get, once up on their forearms and looking around.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

How do I get my baby of almost six months to sit on her own without toppling?

How can I get my baby to sit alone safely? Even with cushions on the floor, I am afraid she will topple and hurt her head. Do I wait until she is ready?

A baby’s muscles are developing from birth. Control starts with the head and moves down the trunk until the body is strong enough to be supported in the sitting position. To help your daughter sit unaided, she needs plenty of practice and encouragement from you. Spending lots of time on her tummy will help her lift her neck and strengthen her back muscles. By four months, she should be able to do mini press-ups using her forearms to lift her head and shoulders off the ground.

From birth you may prop her in a sitting position so she can see a little more of what is going on. A V-shaped cushion or “Boppy” will help support her. Once she begins to show signs of pushing her shoulders and head forward from the cushion, let her practice sitting between your legs. Sit on the floor and place your daughter between your legs so her head and back are against your body. If you can, bring the soles of your feet together making an enclosure for her. Let her arms lie over your legs to give her support. Begin to let go of her for brief moments so she is “sitting” on her own supported by you. This will give her the confidence she needs to learn to sit alone. She may slip to one side but your legs will prevent her from falling right over. Her head may still wobble if she moves suddenly, but with practice her control will get stronger.

Once she is nearing six months, begin to place her within a circle of cushions, using a V or “Boppy” behind her if you have one. Stay close by and make a game of catching her if she begins to topple. Her natural sitting position is on her bottom with her legs out at right angles, so much of her weight is on the backs of her thighs. The knees will be bent and often the soles of the feet touch. This is a good, balanced sitting posture, taking the strain off her lower back and allowing her to breathe well. To begin with, a baby will lean forward and use their hands and arms for support as they sit. By about seven months, however, your daughter will be able to sit up and use her hands to hold toys and play. At this stage, her head control will allow her to look around without losing her balance.

Until you are sure she is well balanced and able to twist and turn safely, keep her within her cushions and stay within reach. Any falls that do happen may surprise her, but she will be falling into something soft. A gentle “all fall down, up we come” will take away any anxiety and she will be willing to try again. Do enjoy this stage, as encouraging your daughter to sit alone can be fun for both of you.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

My son of 3.5 mths seems unable to hold a toy in his hand yet. Should I be concerned?

Matthew, who is three and a half months old, seems unable to hold anything in his hands yet. He has plenty of rattles and toys, but drops them soon after we have put them into his hand. Nor does he look for a toy once it has fallen to the floor. Is this normal? When will he be able to play with toys by himself?

At birth, Matthew had an innate grasping reflex. You will probably recall how he held on to your little finger with an intense grip. At that stage, his hands remained curled into fists for most of the time, unless you stroked them to open his fingers. He was able to grasp an object, but was not developed enough to realise he was doing so. It was just the stimulation of something in his hand that caused him to hold on.

It takes almost a year for a baby to develop enough co-ordination between his hand and eye to see a toy, pick it up and hold it. Learning to grab and grasp are the first stages in this complex sequence. Once a baby has learned to grasp and hold a toy, he will then learn how to play with it. Eventually he will use this same skill to hold a spoon and feed himself, or hold a pencil to draw.

Let Matthew spend plenty of time on the floor under a floor gym. You could enhance one you already have by adding spirals of sparkly paper, or ribbons attached securely to small bells. This will encourage him firstly to “bat” at the toys and then, as his hand to eye co-ordination develops, to reach for them.

Alternatively, hold up a brightly coloured toy and encourage Matthew to grab for it. By four months he will begin to reach out for something when encouraged, but don’t let him become frustrated by holding it too far away – the object is to let him reach it and hold on to it. Between four and eight months, he will get better at grasping and holding larger objects, such as rattles and bricks.

Smaller objects need finger dexterity, which comes later. First of all he will ” rake” an object towards him on a flat surface. By five months he will be able to hold on better to objects he has grasped and begin to look for them when dropped. At his present age, however, Matthew forgets about an item as soon as it is out of sight. You can, however, work on this by asking, “where’s the car?” and looking down at the toy. Playing peek-a-boo behind a scarf will also help him to understand that things are still there, even if he can’t see them. By six months, Matthew will be on the way to using both hands to play with his toys.

Enjoy encouraging Matthew in the ways suggested, but remember, as with all stages of development, every baby is different and cannot be rushed.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? I am sure he does smile but my mother dismisses it as wind. At times I feel he does look at me knowing who I am but no smile shows so maybe he is not really sure who we are yet.

You are probably right in thinking that he does already look at you with recognition in his eyes, as many babies do this before they learn how to control their facial muscles to form a smile. The kind of smiles your mother dismisses as “wind” probably are as they will involve just his mouth rather than his whole face.

From birth, you will have been looking at your son’s face whilst you feed him. Whether at the breast or having a bottle, his face will be close to yours and at each feed time he will be staring intently at your face and will sense when you are smiling at him. You will know when he does smile properly, as his eyes will light up and he will smile while watching your face. This normally happens around the sixth week, although it might be earlier or later than this; you may be asked if he is smiling at his 6-8 week check, as it is considered a developmental milestone. Some babies do smile more than others; personality and character are factors in this, but it does help if a baby sees lots of smiling faces.