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Happy Un-Birthday, Baby! Celebrating Big Developmental Leaps

Studies show that toddlers have this amazing jump in self-perception around 18 months. (via Growing Child)

Paint a red dot on a tot’s nose and put her in front of a mirror. Before 18 months, she might notice the red dot, but she’s not going to be aware that it’s on her nose. Right around 18 months something changes. Suddenly, the tot becomes aware that the dot is on her nose, and she reacts to herself in the mirror differently. She reaches and grabs for it. This is considered the beginning of emotional and mental self-awareness, and it’s a huge milestone, but not one many would think to celebrate.

It’s funny how that happens, right? One day they’re filling their diapers, and the next they’ve decided to “be a big boy” and use the potty. Or that’s how it goes around here, anyway. My son Felix’s development happens less gradually and more in fits and starts, and never does it coincide with a birthday. That’s a moment of celebration, of course, not developmental shift.

Sometimes, there are backslides. One weekend, when Felix was eight-months-old, he began waving at strangers. My wife and I remember it clearly. We were at a cafe in Florida, where we were visiting in-laws, when he waved at the barista. She waved back, while we had one of those parenting moments. “You’re the first person he ever waved hi to!”

He took to waving the whole weekend, but when we came home — nada. His newfound skill just up and went away. He didn’t wave again for months.

Mostly, though, when the big change happens, it sticks. In part because Felix seems to practice and prepare himself before making a jump. He establishes some scaffolding for himself, talking about how now that he’s older, he’s going to do something different and new, mentally rehearsing if not actually practicing. So it’s happened that those few months just after his birthday — the period we’re in now, since he turned four at the end of May — are times of great change. It got me to thinking about those sea changes in development, those growth points that make a huge difference, a dividing line between before and after, and which are not celebrated or marked by the turn of a calendar year.

So, without further ado, here’s a short list of Felix’s most memorable developmental jumps that didn’t coincide with a birthday!

  • Happy Un-Brithday to You! 1 of 6
    first-slide1

    You're not older, but you made a leap!

    Photo via Eje Gustafsson on Flickr

  • Saying â��Noâ�� (8 Months) 2 of 6
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    For a hot minute Felix would say "Turtle" whenever he was in the tub, which in his speak sounded more like "turd-ah." He was about seven-months, I think. But this word disappeared, and then he said, "Da-da," which was cool. But no word changed the game like, "No." It was one of those moments of celebration that quickly turned to dismay, as the kid started saying no to everything. You know how it goes. Anyone can say, "Yes," but putting your foot down and sayin,g "No" — that gets people's attention.

    Photo by LizaWasHere on Flickr

  • Walking Unassisted (14 Months) 3 of 6
    walking

    At five-months-old, a friend taught Felix to walk by holding onto her fingers. "Oh, how cute!" everyone said. Felix had such a proud smile on his lips. By six-months, he was a pro at this assisted walking, and showed little to no interest in crawling. "He'll skip crawling," people told us. "You can tell. This kid's going places." That's true, but he wanted to go with a grown-up in tow for many months after that. It wasn't until he was around fourteen months that he finally decided he was ready to detach from our grasp, well after he had demonstrated (in short toddles) that he could walk on his own. My aching back was very grateful.

    Photo via Johnath on Flickr

  • Peeing in the Potty (2 Months After Turning 2) 4 of 6
    pee-pee-potty

    We bought Felix big boy underwear and showed him the potty, and when he used it a couple of times around fifteen-months, I crowed that I was going to have this kid potty-trained in no time. Of course, that didn't happen. Wasn't till Felix re-found that underwear in his drawer months later, not long after his second birthday, that he became excited about the idea of using the potty. He spent a day folding, refolding, and fondling the underwear, and then? He put 'em on and that was it. There were a few accidents, but for the most part, once he decided to take the plunge, the diapers were off for good.

    Photo via tornatore on Flickr

  • Pooping in the Potty (2 Months After Turning 3) 5 of 6
    pee-in-potty

    Except that when he needed to poop, he would still ask for a diaper. He had bowel control. If we were out, he would wait till we came home and then strap on a diaper. He even had a pretty regular routine, taking a number two every evening before his bath. But he refused to sit on the potty and go. "When I'm three," he kept telling us. When he turned three, I practically begged him to get on the potty. But it took a couple of months before he did it. Again, there were no accidents. He just needed to wait till he was good and ready.

    Photo via ToddMorris on Flickr

  • Taking a Shower (2 Months After Turning 4) 6 of 6
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    The other day, Felix announced that he wanted a shower instead of a bath. This, after a year plus of insisting that showers were for grown-ups and baths for little boys. Ah, but suddenly he's a big boy, and big boys like playing in sprinklers and are cool getting into the shower with their parents. A couple of showers under his belt, he wanted to do it on his own, and wash himself. Snap. With that, he decided he's done with diapers at night, and he's not so scared of the dark that he has to hide under the blankets when he falls asleep. "I'm a big boy now!" he keeps telling us. Indeed kid, it looks like you suddenly are. Very cool.

    Photo via M_AIPhotography on Flickr

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