Is your baby as smart as you think?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 27, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

Since all your questions were lost... this has been on my mind! The question you printed today asks what is reasonable to expect of a 4 year old in terms of manners.
I'm wondering what's reasonable to expect of our daughter in terms of listening and following instructions, both now and in the near future. She is only 9 months old right now, and I never would have thought that a baby that young would understand any directions. However, we've been saying "no" and she seems to respond! If she bites when nursing, or pulls hair, or similar things, we say something like "no biting Mommy" or "no pulling hair" and remove her or her hand or whatever. We've been pretty consistent and now if I say "no pulling hair", she lets go of my hair.

From: Carrie, Medford, MA
So this has me wondering if this is just a fluke or whether it is reasonable to expect her to follow instructions. For example, keeping her sun hat on at the beach this summer. I'd like to get off on the right foot with this, but she's just a baby and I don't want to be unreasonable either.
Thanks for your insight!

Hi Carrie,

Babies are amazing, aren't they? As a society, we tend to underestimate their abilities and their sensitivity. (If a mom has post partum depression, for instance, the baby is considered to be at risk, because they react so strongly to a mom's moods.) That said, I don't want to burst your bubble. Is your baby responding to your words or to your tone of voice? Presumably, when you say, "No biting," your tone if very different compared to probably everything else you say, different enough to cause him to take notice: "Whoa, what's that all about?" But let's give credit where credit is due: Pretty amazing for that to register, isn't it?

Take advantage of it. Nine months, says author and pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, is the time parents need to start to think about discipline and safety because a baby's sense of curiosity is so strong, it can get baby in trouble. Brazelton writes, "The first time the baby crawls to the TV or to the radiator and looks around to be sure you're watching, he is asking for discipline. He demonstartes his awareness of the forbidden and his need for limits." (The italics are Brazelton's.)

What are babies capable of at 9 months? Motor skills and hand/eye coordination typically make great strides. For a very insightful (and perhaps eye-opening) understanding of this time in your baby's life,, check out my favorite book on child development, "Touchpoints, Birth to Three," which, not incidentally, is written by Brazelton.

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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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