A Different Kind of Milestone: Watching Babies Think
If you’ve ever seen the 1989 movie Look Who’s Talking you’ll remember the infant, Mikey, whose thoughts are voiced from the moment one sperm leaves the donor and beats out the other sperm to fertilize the egg, creating a fabulous little boy. Unfortunately Mollie has been dumped by the baby’s father and Mikey is determined to have a Dad. He sees possibilities in Jake, the cab driver who befriends Mollie and becomes Mike’s sitter. For most of the movie we know Mikey is thinking because he is voiced over admirably by Bruce Willis. But we really KNOW what Mikey is thinking by his facial expressions, eye movements, and perfectly timed emotional outbursts. Despite his youth, he uses every infant strategy imaginable to successfully orchestrate a love story between his single mother and the cab driver.
When I watch this movie I am reminded by how much thinking actually goes on in a baby’s head long before any words come out of his mouth. While most baby books include maturational milestones, not many mention what to look for in order to see how your baby’s brain is developing. I think it’s just as important to consider the intellectual milestones too; identifying those moments when Baby says “Whoa! I get it!”
Observing babies as they think takes you on an interesting tour. You will see how each little layer of information piles on until your baby is capable of showing you what he can do. Take the art of recognizing different voices, for example.
Your baby learns to recognize Mommy’s voice first because he’s heard it during the prenatal period. Then he recognizes that there is another voice and will frown or blink as if to say “what is that?” He might turn his head to see the mouth and face that makes the voice. Pretty soon it’s clear after repeated hearings he can distinguish the voice of his father as specifically different as the voice of his mother, and other men.
It’s really interesting to see another big moment, around 2 – 3 months of age, when your baby discovers that he actually OWNS his arms and legs. Maybe you noticed the day when your baby showed a surprised facial expression when his hand crossed his line of vision. Or later, when he would just lay around and look intently at his hands. Your baby is figuring out “how can I make this thing appear and disappear?” Then, certain that he controls the motion, realizes “Wow, I can do this whenever I want.”
Next comes intentional reaching, grabbing, and pulling. These hand movements signal the real beginning of the journey that links thought to intentional action. And before you can blink, he’s pulling off your earrings, or extending his arm beyond his reach because he wants to pull those doo-dads off his mobile. Pretty soon, you know that he will try almost anything to grab what he wants. So what’s next? Turning over so he can get his favorite rattle. Your baby is telling you through thought linked to action, “Look Ma! I can do it!”