Sunday, May 01, 2005

Small Steps to Independence

It's hard to believe that your teensy little bundle will someday become an adult. Your baby will need to develop all of the skills needed for a successful life in a few short years. Among these vital skills are the decision-making skills that lead to independence. It's a lot of work, but parents need to nurture these fledgling skills and avoid standing in the way of their development.

How in the world can decision-making skills apply to your baby, you ask? After all, this tiny person can't talk yet. How can the baby make decisions? The fact of the matter is that baby's brain works just fine. The infant thinks about a lot of things, but simply doesn't have the motor control to act on his or her thoughts.

Studies have shown that even very young infants can express their preferences by using eye movements and sustaining their focus on items they enjoy. Older infants can turn their heads to get a look at interesting items. Babies of all ages show preferences for some things over others. In other words, they make a decision about what they like best.

This is the beginning of decision-making. You can begin to build this skill into a stepping-stone to adult independence by offering baby chances to make decisions that impact his or her own life. When the infant is able to reach and touch things intentionally, you have a way to understand what is wanted. Offer two choices and implement the one that baby indicates by reaching and touching.

At first, the reach-and-touch will be completely random. Babies flail their arms and sooner or later, the infant will accidentally touch one of the items you are offering. But if you consistently follow through with using the item "chosen," the baby will quickly figure out that his or her touch causes that item to be used. Baby has found a way to influence the world.

What kinds of decisions can you use to involve baby? Nearly anything will work provided you follow through. Clothing choices are an obvious area to involve baby as soon as possible. Does baby want to wear the read shirt or the blue one? Will he or she pick white socks or brown? Just make sure you use the one baby chooses. If you have a strong reason for choosing one outfit over another, then it's not a good day for baby decision-making. Don't offer a choice where none truly exists.

Your baby will also be able to choose toys in this way. Offer two stuffed animals and let baby choose which to play with. Show two books and let the little one choose which to read with you. This decision-making process evolves over time, so give your baby a chance to grow into it. If it doesn't seem to be working out right now, put the idea aside for a few weeks and then try again.

These simple steps to decision-making are the very first. With your guidance, your baby will learn how to choose among available alternatives. It's an important skill to have, and your child will grow into better decisions and greater independence.

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