TIMED FUSSINESS: THE TRUE REASON
It’s not your imagination– all babies go through a difficult period around the same age. Research has shown that babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes – or leaps – during their first 20 months of their lives. During this time, they will learn more than in any other time. With each leap comes a drastic change in your baby’s mental development, which affects not only his mood, but also his health, intelligence, sleeping patterns and the “three C’s” (crying, clinging and crankiness).
Babies cry during a leap because they’ve reached a radical new step in their mental development. That is good: it gives them the opportunity to learn new things. The “difficult” behavior is actually a signal that great progress is underway.
Like the physical growth spurts that a child makes, the mental development of children is also made with leaps. Neurological research has shown that such leaps are accompanied by changes in the brain. The Wonder Weeks, by Dutch authors Hetty van de Rijt and Frans X. Plooij, describes in easy to understand terms the incredible developmental changes that all babies go through during their first 20 months of life.
WHAT IS A MENTAL LEAP?
A leap in the mental development of your baby means that suddenly there are many changes in his head. Suddenly, his brain perceives things it wasn’t capable of perceiving before. This change is so great that his entire world suddenly looks different.
WHY DO I HAVE TO FILL IN THE DUE DATE AND NOT THE DATE OF BIRTH?
The timing of the mental development of a baby is linked to the age since conception and not to the age since birth. Therefore, to know when your baby is making a leap, you have to fill in the due date, and not the date of birth.
PHASES IN A MENTAL LEAP
Just as your baby has processed the previous mental leap and has mastered a number of new skills, the next leap announces itself! The life of your baby will change drastically yet again. This process keeps repeating itself during the first two years. Especially in the first three months, when leaps follow one another in rapid sequence.
You can well understand that your baby has not had time to fully master all skills the previous leap made feasible before the next leap begins. That does not matter, because he will keep going, mastering skills made possible by previous leaps while going through the next stages of development. Mastering all the skills made possible by one leap extends beyond several additional leaps
CLINGINESS, CRANKINESS AND CRYING
For 35 years, we have been studying interactions between mothers and babies. We have documented—in objective observations, from personal records, and on videotape—the times at which mothers report their babies to be “difficult.” These difficult periods are usually accompanied by the three C’s: clinginess, crankiness, and crying. We now know that they are the tell-tale signs of a period in which the child makes a major leap forward in his mental development.
Babies all undergo these fussy phases at around the same ages. During the first 20 months of a baby’s life, there are ten developmental leaps with their corresponding clingy periods at onset. The clingy periods come at 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, 55, 64 and 75 weeks. The onsets may vary by a week or two, but you can be sure of their occurrence.
All babies experience clingy periods when big changes in their development occur. Usually calm, easygoing babies will react to these changes just as much as difficult, temperamental babies do. But not surprisingly, temperamental babies will have more difficulty in dealing with them than their calmer counterparts. Mothers of “difficult” babies will also have a harder time as their babies already require more attention and will demand even more when they have to cope with these big changes. These babies will have the greatest need for mommy, the most conflict with their mothers, and the largest appetite for learning.
HOW DOES YOUR BABYS’ WORLD CHANGE DURING A MENTAL LEAP?
With each mental leap that your baby makes, it gains a new kind of perception. It is through this new potential or ability that he is able to perceive new things—that is see, hear, taste, smell and feel new things. All the new things he is perceiving now were already present in the environment before the leap. He just did not notice them because his brain did not make them out at the time. After making the mental leap, he suddenly notices the new things in front him. It is difficult for us adults to imagine this, but your baby’s whole world has now changed.
CONSEQUENCES OF A ‘NEW WORLD’
The new kind of perception your baby gains when he makes a mental leap gives him the ability to develop many new skills that require this level of perception, though it may be some time before he develops a particular skill of the many that are possible. Think of it as a store with different departments where products are sorted by properties they have in common—in this case that they require a particular level of perception. When a mental leap occurs, your baby can enter a particular department for the first time. Once there he needs to choose a product, a skill, to practice. He can not suddenly buy everything offered in the whole department. What he chooses, and how he chooses it, makes your baby unique.
DOES A BABY CONTROL EVERYTHING ONCE A MENTAL LEAP IS COMPLETE?
If your baby has completed a mental leap, it means that he has come to terms with his new perceptual ability. He is no longer crying, cranky and clingy. But that does not mean that he can do everything or has all the skills that this new kind of perception potentially has given him. Basically his brain is now capable of developing a whole set of new skills, but your baby has to try them out and practice before he can fully control them. This does not happen by itself. Your baby will learn by experience, learn by mistakes, and learn by trial and error.
This exercise takes a lot of time. Your baby will master some skills right after a leap, but other skills will have to wait or take more time. And babies differ regarding their preferences and what skills they develop quickly after a leap.
HOW DO YOU DISCOVER YOUR BABY’S PERSONALITY?
When you open up to your baby and look for everything he ‘tells you’ with his body language, you get a very good idea of your baby’s personality. By keeping track of which skills your baby chooses after a leap, from among the many new possible skills listed in each section of ‘The Wonder Weeks’, you get an even better picture. Some parents want to check off as many skills as possible. Don’t do this. This is like expecting an athlete to master all possible sports at once. Developing skills takes time and practice. The intention behind each list is not for you to check off as many new skills as you can, but to see what your baby’s preferences are.
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