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!