Dossier

Baby milestones

Their first smile, first full night’s sleep, first words, first time using the potty . . . Children and their parents share a lot of firsts, and with each one comes a rush of joy and emotion. What is it like to experience these milestones? Read on for expert insights along with first hand stories from parents.

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Magical moments

Each time toddlers do something for the first time or reach a new milestone, their parents shower them with praise and make a big fuss. This kind of encouragement is important for a child’s development.

By Julie Leduc

Each time toddlers do something for the first time or reach a new milestone, their parents shower them with praise and make a big fuss. This kind of encouragement is important for a child’s development.

“It’s perfectly normal for parents to make a big deal of their child’s firsts. Their excitement is an expression of love, but also one of pride,” says psychologist Marie-Ève Brabant. “Parents play an active role in their little ones’ learning; they’re proud of their children’s accomplishments.” It’s also good for kids to see their parents react so positively, she adds. “It makes them feel proud and capable, and it boosts their selfesteem.” All of which encourages them to continue exploring and trying new things.

A child’s firsts are also reassuring for the parents, says Brabant. “Parents are bombarded with information about child development, so it’s comforting to see their child take her first steps or get her first teeth.” These are welcome signs that things are on the right track.

One speed doesn’t fit all

That said, there’s no need to worry if your child talks less than a chatterbox cousin of the same age. “Every child is unique and develops at his own pace,” explains Brabant. “An infant’s temperament and his interactions with the people in his life are key factors. Some children, for example, just happen to learn to walk early and start talking later.” Loving parents and a safe, happy environment are generally all a child needs to grow up normally. But if ever you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to bring it up with a professional.

All smiles!

Parents never forget their baby’s first smile! It marks the start of an intimate bond between parent and child.

Parents never forget their baby’s first smile! It marks the start of an intimate bond between parent and child.

Babies usually begin smiling around the age of two months (between six and eight weeks). “Babies smile when they see someone’s face, usually those of their parents,” explains psychologist Marie-Ève Brabant. “They react when you make funny faces. For example, they may mimic you when you smile.” After about four months, babies also start to laugh.

A baby’s first smiles are a wonderful way for parents to bond and communicate with their little one. Marie-Claude, mother of 22-month-old Mathis and 3-month-old Gabriel, still melts each time her youngest smiles. “The moment I look at Gabriel, he smiles,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to know he recognizes me and is happy to see me. I love him so much! And ever since he started smiling, it’s as if he’s saying he loves me too! Sometimes, while he’s breastfeeding, he’ll stop just to give me a big grin. It’s magical!”

The sixth sense

Did you know?
A newborn’s smile is not a “real” smile. “Before the sixweek mark, smiling is just a reflex,” says Marie-Ève Brabant. “It’s not a conscious act, but a physical response to feeling content. These smiles often occur after babies have finished nursing or just after they’ve fallen asleep. That’s why they often seem to be smiling in their sleep.”

After about 16 to 18 months, your baby will begin developing a sense of humour. “Around this age is when babies start goofing around,” says Brabant. They might pick up a toy, for instance, and use it in a funny way to make you laugh, such as by wearing a bucket on their head like a hat. “Babies take after their parents,” Brabant continues. “If Mom and Dad are always clowning around, a child is likely to develop a sense of humour early on.”

Mathis knows exactly how to make his parents laugh. “He loves to dance,” says Marie-Claude, “and seeing him bust a move cracks us up. The more we laugh, the more he hams it up and tries to put on a show!”

How to make your baby smile

Babies naturally seek a connection with their parents. It usually takes very little to make them smile, and it’s so much fun! See for yourself by giving these tricks a try:

  • Lean in close to your little one’s face and talk to her, pull faces, or make funny sounds (e.g., mimic animal noises, the hum of an engine, or snoring).
  • Blow softly on her face or belly.
  • Give her little kisses on her neck and stomach.
  • Tickle her neck, feet, and armpits.
  • Sing songs that involve actions, such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
  • Play a few rounds of peekaboo.

Sweet dreams

New parents dream of the day their child finally begins sleeping through the night. Patience is key, however, as that day can take a while to come around.

New parents dream of the day their child finally begins sleeping through the night. Patience is key, however, as that day can take a while to come around.

“We celebrate when Marguerite sleeps for three hours in a row!” says Louis-Guillaume of his youngest, who is one and a half months old. As the parent of another little girl, 19-month-old Béatrice, he’s not about to be discouraged. “We’ve been through this before, so we know it’s just a matter of time,” he explains.

It does, in fact, take some time for babies to develop a sleeping pattern. “During the first month, babies sleep intermittently,” says nurse clinician Évelyne Martello, author of Enfin je dors . . . et mes parents aussi, a parenting book on babies and sleep. Even if they spend 19 hours a day sleeping, it’s sleep interspersed with periods of being awake. “Their sleep cycles haven’t been straightened out yet,” Martello continues. “You have to be ready for anything. A baby might sleep for 10 minutes or for two hours straight.”

Did you know?
Babies dream too! By the age of four months, infants have more or less established a sleep cycle. This includes periods of REM sleep, which is when most dreams occur.

Week by week, babies will begin sleeping for longer periods. After about three months, they may well stay down for six hours and give their parents a pleasant surprise. “For me, the first night is when a baby sleeps from night to morning,” says Martello. “This begins after about four months, when babies are capable of sleeping for 10 hours straight.” Louis-Guillaume remembers the first time Béatrice slept through the night, when she was about six months old. “We woke up at the same time the next morning. What a great way to start the day!”

Sleep strategy

As Martello notes, no two babies are alike. “Some stay asleep for hours right off the bat, others take a little longer to become regular sleepers.”

However, setting up a bedtime routine—as Louis-Guillaume and his partner have with their eldest—is an effective trick. “Every night, after her bath, we tell Béatrice stories,” says Louis-Guillaume. “Then, we sing one or two lullabies before putting her in her bed, where she falls asleep by herself. We’re planning to start a routine with Marguerite soon.”

Night before day
Newborns can’t tell the difference between night and day. “That’s why some babies sleep more during the day than at night,” Martello explains. “Parents can teach their baby to distinguish one from the other by being more active in the daytime and less active at night.” She recommends spending the day going out with your baby, talking to him frequently, and bringing him to see different people. If he wakes up at night, keep the lights off and avoid any kind of stimulation.

Teething trials

So that’s why your little one suddenly wants to chew everything in sight—her first tooth has come in! It’s the first step in the long journey to a full set of pearly whites.

So that’s why your little one suddenly wants to chew everything in sight—her first tooth has come in! It’s the first step in the long journey to a full set of pearly whites.

It wasn’t very long ago that little Claire, aged 10 months, got her first tooth. “It came in when Claire was eight and a half months old,” recalls her mom, Annie-Claude. “Her second tooth appeared a week later. And I can already feel another one coming in at the top.”

A baby’s first tooth usually appears around the age of six months. “That’s on average,” notes Dr. Thao Phan, a pediatric dentist. “Some babies get their first teeth at four months, others after a year. The two small bottom teeth are the first to erupt, followed by the two middle upper teeth.” Those on the sides come in gradually, and children usually have their full set of 20 baby teeth by around age three.

Easing teething pains

Teething can be uncomfortable, but it won’t make your child sick. “Parents report all kinds of symptoms,” says Dr. Phan, “but there’s no study that demonstrates a link between teething and issues such as diaper rash or fever.”

Did you know?
Even if your baby still has no teeth by the age of six months, it’s okay to begin introducing solid foods. “The gums are very strong,” says Dr. Phan. “They can’t cut, but they can mash soft foods without a problem.”

These symptoms could be the result of another health problem, such as a cold. However, one thing is certain: teething babies produce a lot of saliva and need something to chew on. “We give Claire a toy made specifically for teething pains,” says Annie-Claude. “And we have to keep an eye on her because she tries to put everything in her mouth. One time we found her chewing on a flipflop!”

To help ease teething pains, Dr. Phan recommends gently massaging your child’s gums with your finger (make sure to wash your hands first), using a face towel soaked in cold water, or trying a teething ring that’s been chilled in the fridge.

As a baby’s first set of teeth grows in, 32 permanent teeth are forming behind them in the gums. Children lose their first tooth around the age of six or seven to begin making room for the adult set. Baby teeth fall out in the same order in which they erupted, and adult teeth emerge gradually until about age 16.

Don’t mind the gap
It’s normal for there to be a lot of space between baby teeth. “That’s what dentists like to see,” says Dr. Phan. “It means there’ll be room for the adult teeth, which are bigger. Gaps also reduce the risk of cavities because it’s easier to brush the teeth from all sides.”

Baby talk

Parents are always delighted to hear their baby’s first words—especially when those words are mama or papa!

Parents are always delighted to hear their baby’s first words—especially when those words are mama or papa!

Nadège, mom to 22-month-old Médérik and six-month-old Dérek, was thrilled when her eldest said mama. “I was glad that was his first word because I was always with him,” she says. “But papa was his second word!” Like all babies, Médérik had lots of practice before saying mama. “Babies start babbling at the age of three to four months,” explains speech therapist Christine L’Heureux. “This includes making simple vowel sounds, such as ‘ahhh,’ in different tones or giving little shouts as they get a feel for their voice. After about six months, babies start saying things like ‘papapa, mamama, dadada’ and other series of syllables.”

Speech develops as babies learn to associate sounds they make with the meaning of the words. “This generally occurs around age one,” says L’Heureux.

First words

Since parents say mama and papa a lot, and both are easy to pronounce, these are often a child’s first words. First words are a way of naming useful objects or important people.

Did you know?
Generally speaking, boys are quicker to use the words car, vroom, and tractor, while girls are the first to say soft, beautiful, love, and gift. Among other things, this observation speaks to what babies are interested in and the different attitudes parents have toward the two sexes.

“Babies use them because they create a response or reaction,” L’Heureux explains. “Babies also tend to say words that they hear often.” That’s why words such as milk, hello, baby, bye, sleepytime, bath, blankie, doggy, and hi are common first words. The objects and activities that babies are interested in also influence their first words. For example, Nadège recalls that Médérik learned to say music early on. “I often put on music to dance with him,” she says.

The more words babies hear, the more they are able to understand and say. Between the ages of 18 and 24 months, babies begin uttering short sentences by pairing words together. Now almost two, Mérérik knows how to get a point across. “He makes wonderful sentences,” says Nadège. “He’ll say things like ‘I want milk’ or ‘I want a book.’ He’s always around people; my husband’s two older boys often play with him. That encourages him to talk.”

Why do some babies start talking earlier than others do?
“Babies learn to talk at their own pace,” says L’Heureux, “but the stimulation they get from the people around them and their own interests can come into play. Toddlers whose parents talk a lot and point out the names of objects may begin speaking earlier. Other babies are so interested in and preoccupied with developing their motor skills that they start talking later. Things usually balance out by around age three.”

Walk on!

Before babies take their first steps, they spend a lot of time in their parents’ arms. It’s a special moment to see them walking on their own!

Before babies take their first steps, they spend a lot of time in their parents’ arms. It’s a special moment to see them walking on their own!

Médérik, 22 months old, took his first steps around the time he turned one, recalls his dad, Yanick. “He started out by walking while holding onto the wall, and then one day, he was up and at ’em without any help. It was great to watch him go, I was proud of him,” Yanick says. “It was funny because Médérik would take two or three steps, stop, bend his knees and do a little dance, then take off again. We like to say that he was dancing before he learned to walk!”

Like Médérik, one in two toddlers will start walking around their first birthday, but their first steps may take place anywhere between 10 and 18 months. Before learning to walk, babies typically start with sliding on their bellies and then move on to crawling on their hands and knees. “These two stages allow babies to develop their balance and learn how to move to get around,” says Sonya Côté, an occupational therapist. “They’re also strengthening their necks, legs, stomachs, and backs so they can eventually hold themselves upright.” If your little one skips one of these stages, it’s okay to let her walk around on two feet. However, it’s still recommended that you play games with her that involve bellysliding and crawling on all fours.

Shoes or no shoes?
When babies are first learning to walk, there is no need to have them wear shoes inside the house. Walking barefoot exercises the muscles in their feet. It also helps them develop stability, balance, coordination, and muscle strength.

How can you help?

“For babies, every stage of motor development prepares them for learning to walk,” says Côté. “Being on their stomachs, for example, works their neck muscles, building the strength they’ll need to keep their heads up while sliding on their tummies, crawling, and, ultimately, walking.”

Did you know?
Some babies start crawling so early that it takes them longer to learn to walk. They simply don’t feel the need to find another way of getting around.

Côté recommends helping your baby along by allowing him to play on the floor on a regular basis. “That will give him a chance to use his body weight against gravity, build strength, and explore movement,” she explains.

Yanick’s youngest, sixmonthold Dérek, isn’t at the bellysliding stage yet, but his dad knows it won’t be long. “He’s a sturdy baby. Put him on the ground and he won’t move, he’s like a rock,” Yanick jokes. “But more seriously, he has no trouble rolling from his back onto his stomach, and if you put a toy near him, he reaches for it. We’re always having him play on the floor. He still likes when we hold him, but I know he’ll eventually start sliding on his belly.”

Bye-bye, diapers

The first time your toddler uses the potty turns the page on an entire chapter of growing up. But even if you can’t wait to be done with diapers, it’s important not to rush things.

The first time your toddler uses the potty turns the page on an entire chapter of growing up. But even if you can’t wait to be done with diapers, it’s important not to rush things.

Parents aren’t the ones who decide when it’s time for potty training. “Children become potty trained when they’re ready,” says psychologist Marie-Ève Brabant. This happens when they gain control over their bladder and bowels, between the ages of two and four. “To figure out when to begin potty training, parents should look for signs that their child is ready,” Brabant explains.

Here are a few clues to watch for:

  • Your child is curious about what happens in the bathroom (e.g., he follows you when you go in).
  • His diaper remains dry for several hours.
  • He can get partially undressed without any help.
  • He understands simple instructions and communicates his needs (e.g., “Want milk”).

“If you’ve noticed these signs, you can start potty training your child,” says Brabant. “But if things don’t go well—if your toddler refuses to sit on the potty, for instance—wait a few months, then try again.”

That’s exactly what Marc and his wife did with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Olivia. They made a first attempt to get her interested in using the potty last summer, but to no avail. They decided to take a break and give it another go in the fall.

Did you know?
Before the age of four, children need their parents’ help to wipe themselves properly.

“We took advantage of the Thanksgiving long weekend to get Olivia to try wearing underwear,” says Marc. “Of course, there were a few little accidents, but that helped her recognize when she needed to go. We’ve also put a sheet of paper in the kitchen where she can reach it that says ‘Olivia goes pee-pee in the potty.’ She adds a sticker every time she goes. It’s a great way to keep her motivated.”

There’s no point forcing a child who isn’t ready to be potty trained, reiterates Brabant. “Your toddler might lose interest in using the potty. That could also cause problems with constipation, making your child want to use it even less.”

Patience and support

Some children will become nighttime and daytime potty trained at the same time. As Brabant explains, however, “One often comes before the other. Sleep can affect a child’s ability to control the urge to go, so nighttime potty training may take a few months longer.” It’s also worth noting that little slipups are normal, even if potty training is going smoothly. “Olivia has the occasional accident,” says Marc, “but we never scold her for it. Instead, we make sure to give her extra praise when she goes the whole day without any incidents.”

Toilet trepidation
To help your little one feel more secure, it’s recommended to attach a training seat to the toilet and provide a small stool for your child’s feet for added support and stability.

Do you want to play with me?

The first friends your child makes are important. The time they spend together isn’t just about play, but also about learning how to get along with others.

The first friends your child makes are important. The time they spend together isn’t just about play, but also about learning how to get along with others.

Marianne, 4, met her friend Victoria at daycare. “The girls were always playing together at the daycare centre,” recalls her mom, Véronique. “But I’d say Victoria really became her friend last summer, when she invited Marianne over to her house.”

Children start developing friendships at the age of 3 or 4. “It’s around this age that they start enjoying interacting with other kids and building relationships with people other than their parents and family members,” says psychologist Marie-Ève Brabant. “In addition, having a strong bond with their parents makes it easier for children to make friends. A child who feels loved and selfassured will be more open toward others.”

It’s also at this stage that toddlers begin developing their identity; they’ll tend to hang out with children who look like them and share the same interests. “That’s why boys will mostly befriend other boys and girls, other girls,” explains Brabant. Indeed, Véronique acknowledges that Marianne and Victoria have similar personalities. “They’re both even-tempered girls with active imaginations, and they love dressing up and making up stories.”

Did you know?
By the age of about 18 months, toddlers are happy to be around other kids, but they play next to rather than with one another. This behaviour is known as parallel play.

Learning with friends

To make friends, children have to be able to control their emotions. “When they play with other kids, children are continuing to develop the social skills it takes to get along with others,” says Brabant. “Having friends encourages sharing, teamwork, waiting one’s turn, and resolving minor conflicts.”

Véronique has noticed that her daughter acts more mature around her friend. “We invited Victoria to our house at one point,” she says, “and it was great to see Marianne play host. She showed her around the house. With her big sister, who’s 10, Marianne doesn’t always like to share, but she opened up her toy box for her friend and let her try all her costumes. She was so well mannered and generous!”

Do toddlers fall in love?
If your little boy says he loves Léa, he doesn’t mean love in the conventional sense. “There’s no sexual connotation either,” says Brabant. “It’s friendship. He means they get along. They might hang out together a lot, hold hands, or give each other hugs. But you shouldn’t draw too much attention to their relationship or make comments like ‘Here comes your girlfriend!’ That kind of thing might make your child feel pressured and affect his behaviour.” Childhood romances are most common during preadolescence, around the age of 9 or 10.

 

Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, January–February 2018
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator

 

Photos : Maxim Morin (all) and gettyimages/Alija(Bye Bye diapers)