Baby Development: Words, Behavior & Notions

Newborns are like tourists in a foreign country: they don't speak our language or understand what we tell them. But they learn quickly and are always attentive. Studies show that babies begin to listen to their parents' voices as early as pregnancy. From birth, they notice the way you speak and try to understand what you're saying. They also use their powers of observation to learn more complex things about the physical and emotional world, such as love, trust, time, cause and effect.

At what age does a child begin to understand words, behaviours and concepts?

Interpreting what others say and do begins before birth. At first, he won't understand the meaning of the words you say, but will recognize your feelings (such as love, fear, worry and anger).

At 4 months, he'll be able to recognize his own name. Between 8 and 12 months, he'll begin to understand simple commands like "no" or "don't touch that". By 27 months, he'll be able to understand double commands, such as "go to the kitchen and get your shoes".

By the age of three, he'll have a vocabulary of several hundred words and a good understanding of the more complex aspects of daily life, such as shopping, keeping time and household chores.

How does a child begin to understand words, behaviors and concepts?

  • From newborn to 1-month-old child

At every waking moment, infants "absorb" new information about the world around them. They use their 5 senses to guess what's going on around them. They don't have as much information as adults and older children to understand everything that's going on. They increase their "store" of information every day. Many experts believe that children understand much more than their parents think they do.

A newborn smiles

By survival instinct, babies are able to sense the emotions of those around them. They can guess your thoughts and feelings from the sounds of your voice and the shape of your mouth, as well as the rhythm of your breathing, the texture of your skin and the sparkle in your eyes. Your baby will construct his own version of reality based on the way you react to him. He'll believe he's worth it because you hold him every time he cries, look at him with love and feed him every time he's hungry.

As his knowledge and understanding of the world evolves, so do his motor skills and memory, attention span, social and language skills.

  • Between 2 and 3 months.

Your child continues to absorb everything in his environment. He likes to watch what's going on around him. He trusts your ability to calm him, feed him and play with him when he needs it. This is when his first real smile appears, much to your delight. He knows it's a way of telling you he's happy. He also likes to see your facial reactions to his smiles. After three months, he'll make a few chirps to start an informal dialogue with you.

  • Between 4 and 7 months

A 6-month-old baby

The child knows his name and knows what it means to call him every time you call. The child will respond by turning to you. He also gets used to your voice. If you're cheerful, he'll respond happily, but if you're more stern, he'll probably cry. He's also beginning to differentiate between faces he recognizes and those he doesn't. He may start to cry. He may start crying when you put him in the arms of someone he doesn't know.

  • Between 8 and 12 months

Your child is beginning to understand simple commands. When you say "no" in case he tries to reach a catch, for example, he'll stop and stare at you. He may even nod in your direction.

What's more, he'll test your reaction to his actions. He throws food on the floor to see how you react and then records the response in his brain. He'll also throw his glass of water to see if you react in the same way.

  • Between 12-18 months

By the age of 18 months, your child will be able to understand and speak at least 50 words. He'll be able to follow your instructions even if they require two separate actions, e.g. "pick up the blocks and place them in the toy box".

  • Between 19 and 23 months

Your child is beginning to understand that his preferences may not match yours. He'll try to assert his position by extending his arms in a defined way when you ask him to hold your hand, for example.

An 18-month-old baby

He is also beginning to grasp basic concepts such as dimension and space. He can now solve an easy puzzle, is aware of the distinction between a triangle and a square, and is able to place each shape in the right hole in the shape set. He also understands cause and effect. For example, he understands that if you pull the tab on his surprise box, a clown will come out. This new skill may come in very handy when he's ready to go to the toilet (certainly not for the next two months).

  • Between 24 and 36 months

Your child has mastered language. Experts in developmental studies claim that the majority of 2-year-olds know at least 150 words and add 10 or more to their vocabulary every day. Since language acquisition is now an automatic process for your child, he's now able to focus on more complex concepts that involve his emotions.

Between the ages of 2 and 3, your toddler grasps the fundamental concepts of relationships: trust and love. He understands that the family is there for him, and that they value him. He has learned these essential concepts from the way you cared for him in his early days. It's obvious that your actions of showing love and taking charge of his needs and care have helped him become a confident and optimistic child.

He's able to understand the more complicated aspects of daily life, such as shopping, keeping track of the time and even cleaning, all by watching you go about your daily routine. It's also because he's watched you that he's able to understand the way he behaves with others.

The best way to help him become a kind and caring person is to be kind and helpful to him and to others.

The next stage in baby's development

The number of languages your child is able to understand and use will continue to grow rapidly. By the age of 6, children can speak over 13,000 words. In the years to come, they will begin to understand more complex concepts and situations, such as mathematics, notions of right and wrong, and knowledge of what's going to happen in the near future.

Your role as a parent

Talking and reading with your child can help him develop his communication skills. Your child is likely to know the meaning of a word even before he can pronounce it.

A boy kisses his mother

Playing with him can help him discover the world around him. Play with age-appropriate toys to encourage his physical and mental development.

Be kind and show your child that you care and cherish him or her. This is the most effective way of teaching emotional concepts such as empathy.

When should you worry if your child doesn't know words?

If, by the age of 3, your child seems to have difficulty understanding even the simplest instructions or suggestions, talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor when your child looks at you with a confused expression when you ask him to do something simple. For example, if you've taught your child the steps to open a container several times, but he can't figure out how to accomplish the task, he may be suffering from intellectual retardation.

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