By Dr. Susan Hunsinger, MD, of Advance Pediatrics

A child’s first three years of life is an incredible journey for both the child and parents, as this is the most dramatic period of growth in life. The average newborn is 7 lbs at birth, 20 inches long and has a head circumference of 13 inches.  By six months of age, birth weight will double. At one year, birth weight will have tripled. At two years old, a baby will have quadrupled her birth weight. To put it in perspective, by the time a child is two years old, she is half of her adult height!

Early on, babies recognize voices, focus their eyes, and develop bonds of love and trust.This will be the foundation of the learning process. Their little brains (filled with 100 billion brain cells at birth) will start making billions of connections between cells, called synapses, as they experience the world around them. These connections become the basis for how the child thinks and behaves.

Two types of child development happen in conjunction: development that happens naturally (Nature) and development that occurs as a child learns through experience (Nurture). Appropriate growth and development happen when Nature and Nurture work together.

The synapses a child is born with govern functions like heart rate, eating and sleeping. Skills that babies learn naturally are called developmental milestones. They include mainly motor skills such as reaching and rolling (at four to six months), sitting with support and beginning to crawl (six to nine months), pulling to a stand and learning to point (nine to twelve months) and, finally, starting to walk (at 12- 16 months). Each stage is full of exploration and wonder – plan to take lots of video!

Children can learn some things best at particular ages. We call the time when something is easiest to learn a “window of opportunity.” Between 10 and 18 months, a baby’s emotions are developing. When we talk about emotional development, we are referring to children’s ability to:

  • Identify and understand their own feelings
  • Accurately read and understand the feelings of others
  • Manage the way they feel
  • Shape the way they behave
  • Develop empathy for others
  • Build and keep good relationships with friends, family and others

From birth to 12 months, touching, holding, comforting, rocking, singing and talking to your baby are critical to her emotional development. Enjoy this period of snuggling, as it will be short-lived; they will be mobile and begin to exert their independence around one year of age. The next adventure begins!

At 12 months (through about 24 months), toddlers begin to develop a sense of self-awareness. They realize they are separate from others. As a result, the toddler years are times of intense emotions. This can be quite challenging both for parents and toddler. Toddlers learn best when you let them play, explore and be independent. Give them just enough help so they can master a challenge with out becoming overly frustrated. They need to develop the skills of emotional regulation (the process of learning how emotions make them feel inside and healthy ways to show these emotions to others).

This process starts when your child is a toddler and takes many years to develop. It is important at this stage to parent with positive behavior support by setting limits, noticing and commenting in a positive way when your child is behaving within those limits, and being kind and firm in helping your child understand the consequences of going past the limit.

By the time your child reaches age three, she is quite independent, able to communicate effectively and has learned the social and emotional skills that form the foundation for happiness and success in life.

Each child is unique, paves her own path and travels at her own speed. Savor each moment and enjoy the journey!

Sponsored by Advance Pediatrics, a Cornerstone Health Care practice