Babies are born ready to communicate and interact with adults. Even at a very young age, a baby will start to communicate feelings and needs through gestures, noises and expressions. Jan Parker and Jan Stimpson say in their book, Raising Happy Children, that responding to your baby, echoing back your baby's sounds, mimicking their movements and expressions will help your confidence in each other to grow. These first 'conversations' are an important part of your baby's emotional and social development.
A really special moment is your baby's first real smile in response to your face or voice. This usually happens around 4-6 weeks. About this time your baby will also start making a range of non-crying noises such as cooing and gurgling to show pleasure and contentment.
After about 6 weeks your baby will begin to enjoy play, for example splashing in the bath, holding different toys and hearing songs. If you tickle and tease them you can produce smiles and laughter. They will recognise you and familiar faces and objects. They may also anticipate being picked up by waving her arms and kicking her legs.
At this stage your baby will be more aware of other people and their surroundings and will start to recognise and respond to familiar sounds, voices and objects. They will also react to tones of voice - be upset by anger and cheered by a jolly voice.
Around this time your baby will start to babble - making 'goo' and 'ga' sounds joined together. They will make noises to show their feelings of pleasure or distress and may object if you take a toy away. You should continue to talk to your baby, particularly in response to their own noises. They will be having more varied experiences, for example with solid food and learning to hold toys, which gives you more to talk about.
Your baby will have much more control over their movements now and enjoy playing with objects that they can hold onto for a while, such as a rattle, and things that can bashed and kicked. They will start to reach out for objects and will begin to grasp, chew and put things in their mouths. Try giving them a range of objects with different textures to explore such as rubber, plastic spoons, wooden spoons, and different sorts of material. They will also enjoy exploring different shapes such as balls, board books and squashy toys that change shape.
From around 6 months a baby will start to understand signs such as a bib means food and may even understand phrases like 'Daddy's coming'. They may enjoy learning social skills like waving bye-bye, clapping or imitating noises. Even very young children enjoy other children's company, although at first they play alongside each other rather than with each other. This can be a good time to try a parent and toddler group. Your local library may have a list of toddler groups or try asking your health visitor or other mothers.
Your child will probably be on the move by 9 months, either crawling, bottom shuffling or even walking. However, Tessa Hilton, in the Great Ormond Street New Baby and Child Care Book, stresses that all babies develop at their own rate and it is not possible to speed up your baby's physical development. Early crawling, standing or walking is not linked to intellectual development, she says.
Many children go through a clingy stage around 9 months when they begin to show wariness of strangers. They may want to be picked up and carried a lot, which can be very tiring. This is normal and a stage of development that will pass.
Once your child begins to understand words it is important to adapt your speech to a child's level by simply repeating words. Jan Parker and Jan Stimpson say focusing on individual words like 'spoon' instead of 'Look, here's your spoon, let's put it in your hand, well done,' helps your child identify and name objects more easily. Try to have quiet times playing and talking with your child. Research has shown that children from homes with constant noise from TV, music or radio take longer to learn to talk.
At this age your child will enjoy songs, nursery rhymes and finger games. Don't worry if you don't know many at first, you will soon pick them up. There are plenty of places for you to find them, you can stream or download from the internet as well as buying some CDs, so you and your little one will have plenty to sing along to.
By the end of the first year your child will definitely be on the move and you need to give them plenty of opportunities to exercise. Going to the park or swimming pool is a good way to tire out an active toddler. Or find out if your local leisure centre has a soft play area - climbing about on the spongy equipment is a great way to encourage physical development.