HFM Christian Counseling Center

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Babies & Toddlers

Cognitive Development in Babies and Toddlers

Reprinted by Integrity Counselling

Cognitive Development in Babies and Toddlers

Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. It was once believed that infants lacked the ability to think or form complex ideas and remained without cognition until they learned language.

It is now known that babies are aware of their surroundings and interested in exploration from the time they are born.

From birth, babies begin to actively learn. They gather, sort, and process information from around them, using the data to develop perception and thinking skills.  Cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory. Infancy

As soon as they are born, infants begin learning to use their senses to explore the world around them. Most newborns can focus on and follow moving objects, distinguish the pitch and volume of sound, see all colours and distinguish their hue and brightness, and start anticipating events, such as sucking at the sight of a nipple. By three months old, infants can recognize faces; imitate the facial expressions of others, such as smiling and frowning; and respond to familiar sounds.  

At six months of age, babies are just beginning to understand how the world around them works. They imitate sounds, enjoy hearing their own voice, recognize parents, fear strangers, distinguish between animate and inanimate objects, and base distance on the size of an object. They also realize that if they drop an object, they can pick it up again. At four to seven months, babies can recognize their names.

By nine months, infants can imitate gestures and actions, experiment with the physical properties of objects, understand simple words such as "no," and understand that an object still exists even when they cannot see it. They also begin to test parental responses to their behavior, such as throwing food on the floor. They remember the reaction and test the parents again to see if they get the same reaction. At 12 months of age, babies can follow a fast moving object; can speak two to fours words, including "mama" and "papa"; imitate animal sounds; associate names with objects; develop attachments to objects, such as a toy or blanket; and experience separation anxiety when away from their parents.

By 18 months of age, babies are able to understand about 10–50 words; identify body parts; feel a sense of ownership by using the word "my" with certain people or objects; and can follow directions that involve two different tasks, such as picking up toys and putting them in a box. 

Toddler-hood Between 18 months to three years of age, toddlers have reached the "sensorimotor" stage of Piaget's theory of cognitive development that involves rudimentary thought. For instance, they understand the permanence of objects and people, visually follow the displacement of objects, and begin to use instruments and tools. Toddlers start to strive for more independence, which can present challenges to parents concerned for their safety. They also understand discipline and what behaviour is appropriate and inappropriate, and they understand the concepts of words like "please" and "thank you."

Two-year-olds should be able to understand 100 to 150 words and start adding about ten new words per day. Toddlers also have a better understanding of emotions, such as love, trust, and fear. They begin to understand some of the ordinary aspects of everyday life, such as shopping for food, telling time, and being read to.

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