An infant pushes up onto his forearms; his face is peeking out of a loose white towel draped over his head.


The first year of your baby’s life is a busy one for both physical growth and cognitive development. It’s also a crucial time for cognitive, social, emotional and language skills.

Be sure your baby is active
Helping your baby feel secure and engaged has been shown to increase mental aptitude. By 9 to 12 months of age, your inquisitive baby craves your interaction, which further fuels cognitive development.

Help your baby get enough rest
Babies need more sleep than older children, so be sure to alternate learning activities with sleep. Learn to recognize the cues that indicate a nap or bedtime is needed.

Repetition encourages self-confidence
Doing the same things over and over with your baby provides the practice that's needed to learn. As your child matures, create a game out of repeating actions or words. This will build self-confidence and strengthen the connections in the brain throughout the first year.

Provide a variety of toys and textures
Expose your child to textures, such as a soft stuffed animal, bumpy plastic rattle or smooth wooden block. At first, limit toys to one or two simple, colorful choices to help your baby focus.

As your baby matures, modify a toy or activity. For instance, place a ball inside a box. This small change challenges your child's cognitive skills without frustration. As we all know, most objects end up in a young baby's mouth, so always provide close supervision and be sure items are not too small.

Teach "cause and effect"
Your baby learns from dropping, rolling and waving objects, and from fitting items inside one another. Your child may intentionally drop things to test this newly discovered ability to influence the environment. Give him or her wooden spoons, plastic cups or small boxes and make it a game.

As your child matures, move to interactive toys or activity boards. Show him or her that pushing a button creates music or opening a toy barn door makes a cow moo. Seeing the results of actions strengthens self-confidence.

Provide safe opportunities to explore
Fill an accessible drawer or lower kitchen cabinet with baby-safe objects that vary in shape, texture and size for your baby to discover.

Play make-believe to reinforce names and functions
Provide props, such as a soft hairbrush, toy phone, toothbrush, cup or spoon and demonstrate the proper way to use each object. Give praise when your baby imitates the action. By 12 months, he or she will understand that items have both a name and a function.

1 Accessed March 24, 2014. 

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
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