Cognitive Development in Early Childhood : 4-6 Months

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“Mom! Why does Tia keep repeating her behaviour again and again? And how does she get to know that her toy is hidden underneath the pillow?”, asked the 3-year old Rohan astonishingly. Tia, a 5-month old infant, repeats a behaviour several times and always manages to find her toys once Rohan has hidden them, which surprises Rohan. 

Questions similar to Rohan’s often crop up in our minds as well. What is it that goes on inside my baby’s mind? How does she get to know that she should cry to get my attention? How does she make sense of what I say? Does she even understand? Oh! My baby reacted to a thing, but why not to all other things? Why does she usually respond to me but not to others with such ease? In order to get an answer to thousands of such questions, we need to understand the cognitive development in early childhood. How a child grows, learns, and develops and gain an understanding of how the mind of a child works.

Let’s start with understanding what comes under cognitive development in early childhood

  • what exactly is cognitive development in children, and when does it actually begin to develop. 
  • Baby cognitive development milestones that a 4-6 months old should go through.
  • Activities you should do with your child to boost cognitive development in children. 

What does Cognitive Development in early childhood mean, and when does it begin to develop?

Before jumping to the baby cognitive development milestones that a child of 4-6 months age goes through, it is necessary to understand what exactly is referred to as cognitive development. It is a crucial element of a child’s mental growth as it encompasses skills such as thinking, learning, exploring, and problem-solving. Also, it includes the process through which a child learns a language, perceives the world, remembers things, and carries out physical actions. The way your child responds to affection, the way she throws things down and then looks for them or the way she expresses her happiness or sadness, all are examples of cognitive development in infants. 

Now the question arises, when does our baby’s brain start to develop? Is it before her birth or only after she’s born? Let’s consider this through an example. Do you remember the time when your child first reacted while you were pregnant? The music you listen, or the conversations you have with your baby or others, are all heard by the baby even from your womb and it continues even after birth. Thus, suggesting the brain starts to develop even before the child is born. 

According to Piaget, cognitive development in early childhood is majorly noted as learning by doing. The learning process at this stage begins by co-ordinating body movements with the incoming sensory data. As the baby intentionally tries to interact with the environment, she learns that certain action leads to specific consequences.  

In the opening situation, Tia’s repetition of behaviour or searching for her toys after they were hidden show her cognitive abilities. Tia repeats a behaviour over and over again to master a skill. This is very common with all the infants. You must have observed your child shaking the rattle again and again to produce the sound. She will continue to do so in order to learn better. However, her ability to recall a behaviour comes little later. It has been seen that by six months of age, babies seem to develop a better memory and remember their actions more appropriately. So, be calm and don’t panic if your six-month-old is unable to recall. 

Baby Cognitive Development Milestones : 4-6 months  

Our parents never worried too much about the cognitive development in our early childhood. They never even thought about the same and usually did what their parents told them to. They, like their parents, thought that babies learn automatically as they grow up. However, the time has changed, and we, as parents, show an over concern about the cognitive development in early childhood with our babies. Intellect seems to play a very crucial role for us. We all want our child to be intellectually smart and quick-witted. 

Let us see what baby cognitive development in early childhood milestones can a 4-6 months old seems to go through. 

1. Recognising familiar faces

Do you find your child watching you or her favourite toy thoroughly? Does she recognise you from a distance? The first sign of cognitive development in children can be noticed when they seem to watch faces very closely and try to recognise familiar people and things from a distance. She would recognise not only familiar faces but also familiar sounds and known voices. In the ‘Encounters with Children – Pediatric Behavior and Development’, Dinson SD et al. 2000 says, “children would visually search the room to find a familiar caregiver and will easily recognize those whom they meet on a regular basis”. For instance, Tia, by this age, would recognise her brother or her toy easily and might show affection towards her things.

2. Differentiating the old from the new  

When your child meets new people, how does she react? Does she stare at them for a while, or immediately pass a smile or does she simply ignore them? Research studies done by  Bornstein & Colombo, 2010; Sirois & Mareschal, 2002 suggest that, as a part of the cognitive development in early childhood, “4-6-month olds seem to stare longer at novel faces or objects as compared to familiar ones.”

This is because, babies too, just like us, tend to get bored by looking at the familiar things over and over again. The loss of interest, however, suggests that the infant has developed some sort of mental representation of the things being shown, which in turn, helps her in recognising and identifying those things later. When suddenly something new comes up, as a result of the baby’s cognitive development, her attention gets directed towards it, a process called novelty responsiveness.  It means that the baby not only recognises the old things but also is able to differentiate between the two.

When suddenly something new comes up, as a result of the baby’s cognitive development, her attention gets directed towards it, a process called novelty responsiveness.  It means that the baby not only recognises the old things but also is able to differentiate between the two.

3. Circular reactions: cause and effect

Just like Tia, other kids too, engross themselves in repetitive behaviour. According to Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, the cognitive development in early childhood helps babies learn circular reactions, i.e., repeat an action that involves an external object. For example: if you put a baby in a crib with a musical toy hanging overhead and attach it with a ribbon to the baby’s ankle so that whenever she kicks, the toy jingles, you’ll find that the baby keeps kicking in order to produce the jingling sound. When infants accidentally produce environmental events, they kept repeating it in order to review their action’s effects on the environment.

4. Understanding different emotions

Does your child express her emotions to you? Does she jump when excited? If yes, then she’s exhibiting another cognitive development found in infant. Usually infants by this age let their caregivers know whether they are sad or happy. According to the book, Caring for your baby and young child: birth to age 5, Fifth Edition, edited by Steven Shelov and Tanya Remer Altmann, 2009 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies even respond to affections shown by their caregivers and are able to differentiate between emotions.” They will react and respond to the facial expressions shown to them and even try to imitate them.

5. Where did it go !

According to the Revised HELP Checklist: Birth to three years. Palo Alto: VORT Corporation; 1994, “infants by this time seem to start looking for dropped or partially hidden objects”. You must have observed that if you dropped a spoon accidentally, your child will look down, searching for it and will repeat the same action herself, i.e. throwing down the spoon again and again. Removing the cloth from the face or playing peek-a-boo seem to interest kids of this age a lot”, says Rebecca J. Scharf et al in Pediatrics in Review.

6. The curious George

Have you noticed your child trying to stretch her hands or getting on the toes (with support of course) to grasp objects that are little hard for her to reach? That’s another example of cognitive development found in children. She does so because she feels curious and eager to get the object in her hand. 

Infants by this age generally show curiosity about things and try to get things that are out of reach. They will excitedly grasp objects that are dangling in front of them. 

Bright futures: Guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents, Third Edition, edited by J. Hagan et al. 2008
7. Hand eye co-ordination–a sign of cognitive development in early childhood

Not only this, The American Academy of Pediatrics: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age 5: The Complete and Authoritative Guide. Shelov, S. P., & Hannemann, R. E., 1994 suggests  that, the cognitive development in children at this stage, stimulates them to start using their hands and eyes together and can even track moving objects with ease. Try this out! Show your kid an object far away from her, and you’ll be surprised to see her reaction. Similarly, if you show and point towards a flying bird, she might feel excited to see it. Passing things from one hand to another seems to be easy too by this age. 

Activities to Improve and Boost Cognitive Development in early childhood

If you feel your baby is not doing a few things that she should be doing, don’t panic. Help your baby learn and grow. Talk, read, sing, and play together every day and try out some simple activities to boost your child’s brainpower. Here are some fun activities to enjoy with your 4-6-month-old babies:

1. Introduce Music

Music is a very effective instrument to stimulate cognitive development in infants. It has a soothing and relaxing property and is a good way to teach your kid learn new things. She will not only enjoy it thoroughly, but learning through a melodious medium makes learning easier and fun too. By playing and singing nursery rhymes, you’ll find your child happy and showing willingness to try to hum along with you. Thus, this activity will help your child’s memory to boost and enhance word recognition in them. But make sure not to expose your baby to screens as it has many other side effects. Simply play the audio or sing yourself with proper actions.

2. Sounds and Noisy Toys

Make your child aware of different sounds and noises that are easily heard throughout the day, such as the chirping of the birds or sounds of a vehicle. Help her to learn, compare, and identify different sounds that are produced by different objects by giving her such toys. You can also do so by playing different sounds to her like ring a bell, play the drum, or make her listen to various animals sounds. Buy musical toys for her, especially those that make sounds when touched. This will help her learn the cause and effect relationships.

3. Read to her

Reading different and colourful books is a great way to stimulate cognitive development in early childhood. Babies enjoy and love to see vibrant pictures, bright colours, and bold contrasting patterns while listening to your voice. This activity will help her learn a language and add new words to her vocabulary.

4. Play with Colours and Shape

Babies love and get attracted to vibrant, bright, and bold colours. Take different shapes and colourful toys and make her play with them. Keep saying the name of the shape and colour while she is playing with those toys. This will help her identify and learn colours and shape while playing and enable her to associate things with each other (in this case, colours with the shape). 

5. Talk to your baby–essential for baby development in 4 months

Talk to your baby and tell her about your day. Engaging her in a conversation while making eye contact will stimulate her cognitive development in her early childhood. Use a lot of actions and facial expressions. This will enable her to learn a language faster and make associations between words and actions. She will also be able to differentiate between expressions and will learn a habit of discussing things with you.

6. Hang Mirrors and Small Objects at Her Level

Hang unbreakable mirrors and other small objects to your baby’s cot. Allow her to play with these objects. When she will look through the mirror, although she won’t be able to understand that she’s looking at her own reflection, but will enjoy playing with it. Dangling objects seems to make children excited and initiate a curiosity inside them to grasp it. Thus, this activity is not only going to be fun for her but will also teach her to show curiosity about things and a willingness for trying out new things like in this case, trying to reach and grasp objects that are far from her reach–all part of baby development at 4 months.

7. Play Peek-a-boo

Play peek-a-boo with your child by hiding behind a small piece of cloth or cover your face with your hands or do so vice versa (i.e., cover your child’s face). Let her find you! The moment she touches the piece of cloth or your hand, drop or remove it and say ‘you found me’! Playing peek-a-boo is not only enjoyed by babies, but it is a good learning activity too. Through this activity, your child will learn the concept of object permanence, i.e., baby’s understanding that things continue to exist even if they disappear, they aren’t gone forever. Developing object permanence is a crucial milestone as it helps children to work through separation anxiety. It is a part of baby development in 4 months.

All babies are unique and special in their own ways. If your baby doesn’t do what other babies of her age are doing, then do not unnecessarily panic. All babies develop at their own pace. As parents, it is important for you to understand and appreciate their uniqueness and give them as much time as you can. Babies need attention, and it is essential for their learning and growth. However, if you notice your baby is experiencing developmental delay, then please contact your doctor for understanding the reason for the same and take necessary actions to bring about a change. Happy Parenting!

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