Watching Babies Think: When Baby Starts Walking, Mom Starts Running!
For most of us moms, Baby’s first steps signal so much in terms of our own development as a parent. We’ve made it through the trenches of infancy, where we were uncertain about every move and decision made on behalf of our totally dependent child. Our maternal confidence has evolved because things are progressing. Our babies are not only alive and well; they’re standing, babbling, and balancing themselves to walk those adorable unsteady steps into our arms. This moment is an accomplishment unto itself.For our babies, those first steps signal to them that they are doing something new that makes you very happy. And being eager to please, your baby reads your cues and is excited about trying very hard to stay balanced and move forward at the same time. But it doesn’t take very long before babies revel in what they think is their secret discovery; that they can move about independent of our grasp. The sensation of moving to touch whatever is within a walk (not a reach) is exhilarating for the emergent toddler.Walking itself is a maturational process, of both the body and those parts of the brain that control voluntary muscle activation and joint flexion. Strength meets neural maturation, so to speak. But the exciting thing for most babies is the active thinking parts of the brain are full of pent up curiosity to see and touch many things that were once beyond reach. Walking introduces the possibility that “I can get what I want when I want it.” And once that possibility can be made a reality, Mom needs to get in gear physically and mentally for a dance of both exploration and restraint with a child whose only boundaries have been dictated by the inability to “travel.”
It’s a good thing language is moving to another level during this period too. Even if babies aren’t talking or vocalizing a lot (between the ages of 12 months – 24 months), they understand both your facial signals, your tone of voice, and many words you say. So this period should definitely be given its due from Mom (and Dad). As you encourage exploration and introduce restraint and safety to your little one, the power of explanation is very important. Here are some tips to consider:
- Talking really has a more complex meaning now, especially if you felt your babbling with Baby was in vain in those pre-verbal months. Now that your little one is walking, you are both able to explore together, giving you the opportunity to explain everything in Baby’s world. You can narrate walks, stop to regard the cracks in the sidewalk, talk about the weather and the different things you might see. If you’ve got pictures at home, you can “relive” the walk by letting baby point out what you’ve seen. Baby is learning that all your language is clearly associated with objects and with specific behaviors. “See the roses. Yes, it has thorns that hurt.” “Look at the puppy . Where are his legs?” “Did we see little ducks? What does the duck say?”
- Be very consistent with “do’s and don’ts” with baby. As babies move where their impulse and intent take them, you can introduce a purpose for their movement. Ask your little one to follow simple directions. This will foster propulsion that benefits you (such as “bring me your shoes.”) and encourages task completion that is rewarded by your praise. Since most babies have an idea that a gentle “NO” is a call to attention, follow it up with a suggestion do a “YES” behavior as a substitute. When Baby complies with your “no” message and gets a hug for that “yes” behavior you’ve taught your little one that listening, just like moving and talking, earns very important social and emotional benefits.
- Develop household routines that cue your baby’s pacing throughout the day. Make sure you allow some time for pure all-out physical activity. This will, hopefully, encourage nice long naps when you don’t have to be on full alert mode.
Overall, remember that walking changes the terms of your engagement with your baby. The capacity and will to become independent will slowly increase from this point forward. What your baby is thinking about is discovery, freedom, fun, and wonder at the array of things to do. This is going to entertain you immensely and even teach you a few things about your child’s capacity to achieve goals. It’s no wonder that many moms feel a sense of loss when this period arrives—the helpless baby is growing up.