Module 1: Promoting Mental Health in Infancy

Cognitive DevelopmentBaby Playing with Blocks

Learning and Growing

The early experiences that appear to best support complex brain development are repetitive activities that match the baby’s interests and abilities and that occur within the context of a loving relationship with parents and other caregivers. It is through interaction with parents and others as well as with objects that a baby comes to understand the world.

Questions to Ask

  • What are some of your baby’s favorite activities?
  • What are some of the new things she is doing?
  • What kind of social games do you play with her?
  • Does your baby imitate sounds or gestures you make?
  • What does she do with her hands?

Provider Tips

  • Describe the notion of causality Information appears in a pop up window. Through repetition, babies learn that one action causes another.

    When parents coo in response to their infant’s coos, when the mobile moves every time it is batted by the infant’s hand, and when the parent responds to the infant’s cry for food, the infant develops an understanding of the concept of causality.

    Gradually, the infant’s actions become more purposeful and goal directed (e.g., “I reach in order to grasp”) and the infant begins to separate means from ends (e.g., “I pull the string to grasp the pull toy; I hit the button to make the balls spin around in the top”).

    Infants begin to see themselves as agents of change; they become purposeful learners who experiment to make interesting things happen.

    Source: Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume I, pg. 37.

  • Explain the concept of object permanence Information appears in a pop up window. As babies explore objects and the relationships between themselves and objects, they learn about the permanence of objects (objects and people continue to exist even when they are out of sight).

    Initially, infants believe that objects that are out of sight no longer exist.

    Through repetitive experiences with objects and people, infants develop the capacity to hold images of objects hidden under blankets or cups, usually at 6–9 months.

    As infants’ mobility increases, they search for parents and others who have moved away from them.

    As infants develop the capacity to hold an image of their parents in their minds, they exhibit increased separation anxiety (e.g., crawling frantically after a parent who momentarily leaves the room).

    Source: Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume I, pg. 37.

  • Help parents understand how imitation Information appears in a pop up window helps their baby learn. Imitation happens very early as the baby adjusts his movements to mirror the movements of his parent (tilting his head as the mother adjusts her own head during a face-to-face encounter).

    Piaget described imitation as pure accommodation, changing one’s own behavior and mental structures to copy the behavior of another.

    Imitation of the actions of others provides infants with new ideas on how to explore the environment and to act on objects (e.g., the infant learns to roll a ball back to her father by imitating his rolling of the ball to her).

    Initially, imitation immediately follows the action to be copied. However, as older infants develop the ability to hold action sequences in their minds, they display delayed imitation, storing such interesting spectacles as tantrums observed on the playground,
    and displaying them later in the day.

    Imitating the actions of others leads older infants toward greater autonomy and independence, such as with self-feeding.

    Source: Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume I, pg. 37.

  • Using the guidance below, help parents understand the cognitive processes that their baby is developing.

Guidance for Parents

  • You can help your baby learn about the “world” around her by taking her for walks or sitting with her outside or in a park. Talk to her about the people and things you are seeing and hearing.
  • When your baby coos and babbles, she is making sounds that will eventually become words such as “mama,” “no,” and “bye-bye.” Imitate your baby’s sounds and encourage her when she imitates the sounds you make.
  • Your baby will enjoy learning how to imitate actions when you sing her songs that have clapping and other body and finger movements.
  • As your baby gets older and develops more, give her simple “cause and effect” toys, such as:
    • Balls to roll and bounce
    • Cars and trucks to push or pull
    • Blocks to stack up and knock down or put in a container and dump out
  • Play “peek-a-boo” and “hide and seek” with your baby to help her understand that things and people still exist even when they are out of sight.
  • When your baby is about 6 months old, put her in a high chair or upright seat during her awake times so she can look around and interact with you and others.
  • Give your baby a chance to “explore” safely on the floor. Stay near her so she can check to see that you are close and so you can make sure she is okay.
Provider Resources

Cognitive Development Information appears in a pop up window

Age Permanence Causality Imitation
3 Months
Believes that objects that are out of view no longer exist Does not understand that one action causes another; however, by observing the connections between actions and outcomes (e.g., the infant flings his/her arm uncontrolably, hits a block, and makes the block move), these connections become more apparent Sticks out tongue in response to parents or others sticking out tongue
4-6 Months Stops feeding to look around and locate source of sounds Focuses attention on objects and attempts to them do something (shakes a rattle or bangs a spoon to make noise) Imitates parents' and others' sounds
7-8 Months Uses eyes to follow an object dropped from sight ( e.g., watches food dropped from high-chair tray Repeats actions to make events happen after discovering the action by chance (e.g., batting a crib gym to activate a spin toy Imitates symbolic gestures (e.g., waves good-bye)
9-11 Months Searches for a partially hidden object (e.g., looks under his/her "blankie," peeks behid chair) Understands that one thing causes another and tries to imitate the sequence (e.g., unsuccessfully manipulates mechanism on wind-up toy and hands toy to a parent for activation) Imitates others' actions on objects (e.g., pushes button on busy box, dumps toys from box)
1 Year Searches for an object after seeing it hidden (e.g., looks for a block under a blanket) Uses a string to pull a toy Imitates social actions (e.g., "talks on the phone)

Source: Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume I, p. 38.

Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Infancy