Developing Infants

Parenting an infant is akin to trying to hit a moving target, with the ever-changing infant developing in fits and starts at her or his own pace. Amidst this spectrum of developmental issues and matters that parents must confront, infants themselves are mute but potent. The very young neither understand their parents' speech nor respond to them verbally. At the same time, they are also notoriously uncooperative and seem unmotivated to perform or conform. Still other pervasive infant characteristics vex parents or give them pause—depending on a parent's perspective or the moment: Infants possess limited attention spans and, in addition to lacking speech, have limited response repertoires; in their first months, they are also motorically incompetent or inept. Yet infants are consistent and voracious in their demands. Reciprocally, parents need to interpret aspects of infant function unambiguously and must accomplish this in spite of changes and fluctuations in infant state. Perhaps the major problem faced by parents of infants is that, at base, parents are constantly trying to divine what is "inside the baby's head"—what infants want, what they know, how they feel, what they will do next vis-a-vis the things and the people around them, and whether they understand and are affected by those same things and people. Thus parents of infants seem constantly in search of patterns, often even on the basis of single transient instances. New (usually inexperienced) parents have the job of disambiguating novel, complex, and rapidly emerging uncertain information, and at the same time they are called on to parent appropriately and effectively. Even if most face the formidable challenges of infancy with a degree of psychological naivete, parents do not meet these tests totally unprepared. Both biology and culture equip parents to respond, understand, and interpret infancy and its vicissitudes.

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