Paul Nuttall
Professor Emeritus, Human Development
Human Relations
University of Connecticut

Copyright/Access Information


  • what to expect from infants.
  • all infants are different yet they have similar patterns of development.
  • the first year of life is very important.


Two infants born at the same time may be very different. Some infants are very quiet and sleep a lot. Other infants are very active. Accepting these differences will make it easier to take care of infants and help them grow and develop.

This fact sheet lists characteristics of most infants. These characteristics are listed for three main areas: physical (body),social (getting along with others) and emotional (feelings), and intellectual
(thinking and language) development. Remember that all infants are different and reach the various stages at different times. A child who walks or talks at a younger age than another child is not necessarily “better” or more advanced. All age ranges given are approximate.

Learning more about infant development will help you:

  • plan activities that help infants grow and are fun,
  • feel good about what you do as a provider, and
  • help infants know they can do things and are loved.

Remember that there is no perfect family day care provider. Sometimes you won't know what to do. That is all right. Trust your own judgment and stick to it. Learn as much as you can about infants. It takes time and practice to be a good provider.

Also, there is no perfect infant. Infants are human. They have needs and feelings. Infants look and act differently. Some babies are born quiet. They may want to sleep all the time. Some babies are demanding and very active. Let each infant be himself or herself. Adapt to each infant's behavior instead of pushing the infant to be more like other infants.



– At birth, infants cannot control their body movements. Most of their movements are reflexes. Their nervous system is not fully developed.

– For the first few months, infants can see clearly objects that are about 10 inches away from their faces. By 6 months, their vision is more fully developed.

– By 4 months, most babies have some control of their muscles and nervous system. They can sit with support, hold their head up for short periods of time, and can roll from their side to their stomach.

– By 5 months, most babies can roll over.


– Infants can sit alone.

– They start to eat and sleep at regular times.

– By 8 months, they can reach for and hold objects.

– They eat three meals a day and drink from bottles at various times.

– They start using a cup and spoon to feed themselves.

– Infants still take a nap in the morning and in the afternoon.

– They crawl with their stomach touching the floor, and they creep on their hands and knees.

– They pull up to stand, they stand holding onto furniture, and they can walk when led.

– They can pick up objects with their thumb and forefinger and let objects go (drops things). They start to throw things.

– By the time they are 12 months old, most babies weigh three times what they weighed at birth and are two times as long as they were at birth.



– They begin to develop trust as their parents and providers meet their needs (for example, feeding them when they are hungry, changing their diapers when needed, or holding them when they cry).

– When frightened, infants cry and look surprised and afraid. They cry to express hunger, anger, and pain. It is their way of communicating.

– They are easily excited or upset.

– They need to be cradled and comforted.

– It seems as if they cannot tell where their bodies end and someone else's begins.

– Infants smile in response to a pleasant sound or a full stomach. At about 6 weeks, they smile in response to someone else. By 4 months, they smile broadly and laugh when pleased.

– They learn to recognize faces and voices of parents and providers.


– Infants will talk to themselves in front of a mirror.

– They respond when you say their names.

– They get angry and frustrated when their needs (for example, being fed, having diapers changed, being held) are not met in a reasonable amount of time.

– Eye contact begins to replace some of the physical contact that younger infants seek.

– They begin to learn what is and is not allowed.

– They begin to fear strangers. They begin to fear being left by their parents or other care providers.



– Infants can focus on and follow moving objects with their eyes.

– They cry in different ways to express hunger, anger, and pain.

– They babble, coo, and gurgle.

– They turn to locate the source of sounds.

– They study their hands and feet.

– They forget about objects that they cannot see.

– They explore things with their mouth. They put anything they can hold into their mouth.


– Infants make sounds like “dada” and “mama” (two-syllable sounds).

– They repeat actions that cause a response. (For example, when given a rattle, they will shake it and laugh.)

– They wave bye-bye and play pat-a-cake.

– They look for things not in sight.

– They begin to pretend by acting out familiar activities.

– They respond to simple directions.

– They make sounds that can be understood by people who know them well.

– By 12 months, many infants speak their first understandable words.


Infants learn by exploring with their bodies. Young children do not learn simply by being told something. They discover meaning. It is important that they have as many chances to explore and learn as possible. They must do this exploring in an environment that is safe. It is the family day care provider's challenge to encourage infants to learn by exploring and to provide a safe environment. Keep the following safety tips in mind.

– Infants try to put everything in their mouths. Watch for small objects that can fit in infants' mouths. Children under the age of 3 years should not be allowed to handle small objects because of the danger of accidental choking.

– Keep all poisonous substances out of the reach of young children. This includes cleaning products and house plants.

– Be sure to wash objects that children put in their mouths. Many toys and rattles can be cleaned in the dishwasher.

– Each infant should have a safe crib or playpen to rest and sleep in.

– Always use the safety straps in infant seats and other furniture. Use federally approved child restraint systems when transporting an infant in a car.



– Talk and sing to the babies when you feed, diaper, and clean them.

– Imitate the sounds that the babies make.

– Point to and say the names of the babies' mouth, ears, nose, fingers, etc.

– Place toys and other colorful objects where babies can see and/or touch them.

– Shake a rattle behind a baby's head and let the baby turn and grab the rattle.

– When you hold or rock the baby, sing lullabies or other soothing songs.

– Place babies in different positions. For example, place them on their stomach so they can practice lifting their head and rolling over. Encourage hand clasping and kicking.

– Take care of babies' needs promptly. (For example, feed a hungry baby or comfort a scared baby.)


– Play peekaboo or other games in which you disappear and reappear.

– Give babies a safe place where they can crawl, creep, and pull themselves up.

– Roll a ball or place a toy where babies have to reach or crawl for it.

– Give babies toys that squeak.

– Give babies teething toys.

– Read aloud books that have large pictures and not much writing.

– Talk to babies and name objects as you and the babies handle them.

– Begin to teach what is allowed and what is not allowed.

– Do not force baby to interact with strangers.

– When babies indicate that they want help, provide it.

– Rock and hold babies when they are upset.

– Let babies fill containers with objects and then dump them out.

– Change toys often when babies get bored with them.


  • Babies learn trust and that they are loved when you respond to their needs
    for food, comfort, and attention.
  • Toys that go in babies' mouths should be cleaned before giving them to another child.
  • Toys should be big enough so that infants cannot swallow them.
  • Games and toys are the tools that infants use to learn.
  • Unless the parents are harsh or critical, the way you and the parents treat the infants should be similar.
  • Taking care of infants is demanding work. When the infants are not in your home, take some time to do something for yourself


*Parent Express*, a monthly newsletter, University of California Cooperative Extension System, Davis, CA 95616.

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