Posts in Growth & Development
How to Help Your Teething Baby

Twenty little teeth will eventually push their way through your baby's gums, making it easier to chew and digest food. 

The sign of a first baby tooth, sharp under the pad of your index finger, is a moment that gives many parents a big wave of emotion: a mix of excitement and apprehension, sometimes even fear and exasperation.

Those baby teeth may start to make an appearance long before your baby is ready to eat any solid foods. Babies can start teething within the first few months of life, or the first tooth may not emerge until after the first birthday.

Typically, the first teeth to appear are the two bottom center teeth, followed by an upper center tooth. Remember that teething is a very normal developmental process that happens all on its own. You just have to watch and wait for it.

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Is it Teething, or Something Else? 

Signs that teething could be happening within the next couple months include drooling, swollen gums, fussy behavior, sleep regressions, and an increased drive to suck or chew on objects. Because these behaviors also often coincide with other developmental milestones off and on throughout your baby’s first year, you never really know for sure if it’s teething until you see that sharp, white protrusion cutting through the gums. 

If your baby has a fever or other signs of illness such as diarrhea, rashes, or congestion, these symptoms are not likely to indicate teething.

How to Help 

Many parents worry that teething will cause a lot of pain, and it is true that for some babies teething does cause discomfort. Other babies appear to not be bothered at all! If your baby seems to be uncomfortable, there are several things you can try to soothe those sore, aching gums.

  • Nurse often if you're breastfeeding

  • Wear your baby in a sling or carrier for comfort

  • Offer a cold, damp washcloth to chew on

  • Massage your baby's gums with a clean, wet index finger

  • Keep a rubber or wooden teething toy with you when you're out & about

  • Refrigerate a metal spoon and allow your baby to explore the cool sensation

  • Wear a chewable teething necklace while babywearing

  • Offer cold fruit in a mesh feeder if older than 6 months

What I Don't Recommend 

  • Homeopathic teething tablets (read more here)

  • Benzocaine or numbing agents (read more here)

  • Amber teething necklaces (read more here)

  • Teething toys or hard solid foods that could come apart or break off (Those gums are strong!)

  • Over the counter pain relievers (unless recommended by your pediatrician - otherwise, save those medications for true illness, not for normal developmental milestones)

Try to remember - teething is a normal, healthy process all babies go through. It's nothing to be afraid of or to fret over. Celebrate them one by one, and don't forget to take photos!


Would you Like some games to play with your teething baby?

Download this free printable of games excerpted from my book, Baby’s First Year Milestones and let the fun distract you both!

Here’s a little sneak preview…

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Download your free collection of games.

  1. Download the games. You’ll get the games, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home when you join my community of readers.

  2. Print / Save and share it with friends and family members.

  3. Play with your darling little teething baby!

Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Foods?

The weaning process begins with the first bite of solid food, long before babies stop nursing. In fact, milk will continue to make up most of your infant’s diet for the entire first year. Most babies are ready for a no-pressure introduction to solid foods around the middle of the first year and not before. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically urges parents to wait until their babies are at least 6 months old before beginning this new stage of life. This brief delay allows your baby to continue to receive the full nutritional benefits of milk while allowing the digestive system to mature. But age alone is not the only factor to consider when gauging whether your infant is ready.

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So how do you know if your baby is ready for solids? The first sign could be when your baby begins watching intently as you eat and reaching for the food on your plate. Another sign is that your baby has excellent head control and can sit up very well with little to no support. The tongue-thrust or “gag” reflex, where your baby pushes food automatically out of the mouth, is gone, and your baby is eager to bring food into the mouth to be chewed and swallowed. No one can pinpoint exactly when your baby is ready except...your baby!

One possible introduction to solid foods could be a bit of sensory play. While your baby is seated at a table or in a high chair, offer a small amount of a soft, mashed fruit or vegetable such as avocado or sweet potato directly in front of your little one’s eyes. Those exploring fingers will likely bring some of the food up to the mouth for tasting. Another possible introduction is to offer your baby a bit of pureed food on a tiny spoon. You can do this easily while your baby is sitting in your lap. Hold it right in front of your baby at chest-level and allow your baby to grasp the spoon and guide it into the mouth. With either technique, you are helping your baby to learn the art of self-feeding right from the start. Eating should always be an intentional process.

Things to keep in mind:

1. Don't rush it. There's just no need to! Your baby is still getting plenty of nutrition from breastmilk through the end of the first year. Let food be a playful and fun new experience, not a source of worry.
2. Offer, don't force. Let your baby take the lead when it comes to food. Some even wait until their babies themselves find something yummy on the adult plate and nab it!
3. Keep it wholesome. Whatever you choose to offer for a first food experience, your best bet is to make that first introduction a whole, unprocessed type of food without added sweeteners or artificial flavors. 

The Journey to Adulthood: Age 12 - 18

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.

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If you've ever thought that living with a teenager is like living with a toddler, you're not that far off. Adolescence, the third plane of development, is a time of great transformation that mirrors, in many ways, that of early childhood (the first plane).

The relative calm of the second plane (6 - 12) buckles under a surge of hormones, bringing with them a body on fire and a mind practically incapable of anything but looking inward.

The Inner Storm

During this time, when we observe young adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen, we often see them wallow in self loathing, leap without looking, and sleep until lunchtime.

They seem self-centered and egotistical -- the center of the universe. They are highly susceptible to both addiction and mental illness. There is a shockingly high risk of suicide.

These are children in a crisis of development.

A Four Letter Word for "Children"

Teenagers are hard. Little wonder that many adults roll their eyes at even the word "teenager." Compare it to the word "adolescent," which shares an ending (-escent) with lovely words like "effervescent," "luminescent," and "iridescent."

Roads go ever ever on, Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone, Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone, Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known.
— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

These words convey a general feel of a changing, a flickering, a movement, a shining. "Teenager" does not. It begins with a whine and ends in a raging growl -- two characteristics associated with this plane.

Yet "adolescent" is more accurate. Like the changing, moving effervescent spring, humans in the third plane are experiencing a period of intense, wild, and wonderful change.

The Second Half

By age fifteen or so, the fire is still burning, but the transformation is becoming more peaceful. The creative inner work that was done in the first half of this plane is being perfected. All of life shows this pattern. An ebb and flow.

Ages fifteen to eighteen are the "flow" of the third plane. You are likely to look at a seventeen year old and see a great gain in decision making skills and a resurgence in academic interest compared to a few years earlier. This is a sign that while not fully developed, the child is seeing himself more as an adult, looking outward into the world, the universe in its proper place again.

We have a tendency to think of development as something that happens to kids, petering out sometime after high school, but that is not the case. Development does not stop with the third plane (nor even the fourth plane). It is an endless journey, a road that goes on ever and ever. 

The Journey to Adulthood: Ages 18 - 24

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.

The first three planes of development (0 - 6, 6 - 12, 12 - 18) address age ranges that, by most contemporary definitions, fit neatly within our concept of "childhood." But what about someone in the fourth plan (18 - 24)? 

Before answering, consider this. Contemporary Americans would balk at the idea of a 11 year old in the workforce, yet in 1900 18% of the U.S. labor force was under 16. Today, billions are spent making and selling things to high schoolers, yet the concept of a teenager didn't exist before 1922

In other words, our definition of childhood is not an ever-fixed star. It is a social construct that changes to reflect the norms and standards of the time. 

The Endless Journey

Whatever we choose to label those in the final plane, we know it is a period of relative calm and maturity marked by a desire to find one's place in society. Montessori described it as a time "when the individual can develop the spiritual strength and independence for a personal mission in life." 

In keeping with the patterns of the first three planes, the fourth plane covers a six year period. However, the actual end of the fourth plane is a matter of debate. Some researchers argue it ends sometime between twenty-four and thirty. Others argue there is not an ending so much as a fading into older life. The aching and stretches of childhood simply become part of the past and are no longer relevant. 

The road to adulthood is long but the journey of the soul never ending. 

Human Development is Messy. Montessori's Four Planes Helps.

Have you ever raised a litter of kittens? It's pretty amazing. Kittens are only kittens for a short time, little nothings with sharp claws and silky fur. Within just six months, they have changed into long, sleek, almost-adults capable of having litters of their own. 

Watching kittens grow -- or plants sprout -- makes development seem so orderly and straight. We ingest calories; we grow bigger. We acquire information; we get smarter. Inputs and outputs.

Not a Line But a Wave

The truth is that growth happens not in a steady trickle but in waves of passion, long periods of lethargy, occasional bouts of depression and changed interests. Growing is push-pull, grab and release, ache and exaltation.

To us, the cat is the miracle of life in miniature. In July, it's a kitten. By Christmas, it's having kittens. But to the cat, the journey is long and hard and begins before it takes a breath. The time spent in the womb and the effort made in his own birth are intense and miraculous.

We forget that when our kitten's eyes were sealed shut, it must have felt like he was seeking nourishment out of the darkness for ages.

We overlook the energy it required to learn the physical skills needed to hunt for food -- to try and lift his entire body into the air and - for the first time - pounce.

It is the same with humans, but since our childhoods are so much longer, so, too, the journey. By adulthood, we've lost our memories of the darkness of the womb, the ache in our muscles from learning to stand upright and walk. Even the long, painful years we spend yearning for independence yet subject to the whims of adults fade in time.

But these events shape us -- whether in our conscious minds or not -- and when we take it all in, from conception to maturity, we see it is a long road worthy of our admiration. Growing up should be celebrated.

The Four Planes of Development

Still, our drive to find linear order in growth is strong. To counter, we find guidance in Maria Montessori's work. She described human development as occurring in a series of four planes, or periods, and in 1951 developed a graphic to help explain the concept. Here's a version:

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The flame at birth represents the beginning of life: the spark of existence. As the child grows up and passes into and out of each plane, different characteristics emerge. They are surprisingly consistent across all of humanity regardless of culture.

The graphic is powerful because it lets us see that development is not as a single, smooth line but rather like waves. It very clearly distinguishes the different planes of development from one another yet shows their balance and unity. Notice, for example, how infancy and adolescence mirror each other, as does the elementary child and the college age almost-adult.

Moreover, it captures the journey within each plane itself -- for example, the change at age 3 from toddler to preschooler. Growth and development become like waves within waves, a turbulent ebb and flow that captures the truth of the matter. Growing up is hard.

The Story Continues

For all it's strengths, no single image can really capture the complexity of development. The sharp points of the triangles and the heavy lines convey too much rigidity or structure. Growth is more like the gradual lift and decline of a hill, not the stiff peak of a mountain. (Maria must have felt the same hesitation because she later developed a more organic visualization).

None-the-less, thinking of child development in this way is truly powerful, for it simultaneously recognizes the ebb and flow of development while giving it an understandable structure. Like the kitten that seems to age before our eyes, the chart makes tangible what is abstract. The miracle of life in miniature.

The Journey to Adulthood: Birth to Age 6

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood. 

Unlike many of our mammalian cousins, newborn humans arrive essentially helpless -- half blind, completely reliant on others for food, no ability to escape danger. Some even consider the first few months of life more an extension of the pre-natal journey (a fourth trimester). 

Still, in the grand scheme of things, that early period of extreme helplessness is brief. Within months, baby has gone from an eating and sleeping machine with few communication tools to a curious toddler navigating the world.

A few years later, the toddler is a child running, playing, speaking, reading, doing math, telling jokes, and otherwise well on her way to becoming a regular, old human being. 

A Time Like No Other

Early human development may seem a snail's pace when compared to horses, who all but walk out of the womb, but don't let looks deceive you. While gross and fine motor skills may be crude (or non-existent) at first, there is a raging fire of growth and development inside that most complex of machines -- the human brain.

Consider - "Research has shown that half of a person's intelligence potential is developed by age four" and that the brain reaches "half its mature weight by about six months and 90 percent of its final weight by age eight." 

The First Plane: Birth to Age 6

While humans never stop developing, what happens in those very early years is unique, remarkable, and greatly responsible for shaping a person's entire life. The scientist and educational pioneer Maria Montessori defined this period as the first plane.  

Montessori work stems from an era when our understanding about how the brain works reached new heights (both Freud and Jung were contemporaries). A physician by training, Montessori applied her skills of observation and diagnosis to her studies of childhood development and learning. From this work, she was able to define and describe the qualities four distinct planes (or phases) of human development. 

The Absorbent Mind

During the first plane (birth to age six), the mind is like a sponge, greedily soaking up information and experiences primarily. Montessori describes the mind of a young child as "absorbent" with good reason.

Just how absorbent is the mind? Consider the gulf between what a one week old and a six year old knows and can do.

We can make sense of this epic journey if we think of it as a move from unconscious to conscious thought.

In the early years, the child absorbs information fairly unconsciously, primarily through the senses. At around age three, the child enters the second half of the plane, becoming increasingly susceptible to direct adult influence and instruction. Still, the two halves of the journey remain bound by the supreme absorbency of the mind.

Adult Mindfulness

Because first plane children are so absorbent and ready to learn, adult interactions require a high-level of mindfulness. What an adult says or does will have a lasting, perhaps permanent, effect on the child.

That said, the human brain is also incredibly malleable and never stops growing and developing. In other words - "Parents and teachers, you WILL make mistakes. The child WILL survive. Relax!"

The key to success with a first plane child is to follow the child's lead. If you provide the child enrichment, let her naturally curiosity drive the learning, and model with regularity (not perfection) the characteristics and behaviors you hope to foster, you will succeed. The child will learn and explore with a ferocity we adults only wish we could replicate.

Babies -- we could learn a lot from them.

Yes, Early Experiences Shape Our Lives. Yes, We Can Change.

Though Sigmund Freud's star has fallen quite a bit over the decades, his studies of the mentally ill laid the groundwork for modern psychotherapy. In his deep discussions with patients, Freud uncovered a correlation between childhood traumas and emotional difficulties in adulthood.

The fact that our childhood experiences can scar us for life seems obvious to us today, now that the field of psychology is well grounded and respected as an academic subject, but back then, Freud's work was groundbreaking.

The Human Spirit

One of his notable contemporaries was a young medical doctor and educational theorist named Maria Montessori. As a scientist, Montessori felt compelled to take his assumptions about the nature of the human spirit and challenge them.

Her conclusion -- Freud's studies, however significant, gave a skewed view of humanity. (Another great example of how Montessori was a person ahead of her time).

In The Secret of Childhood, she insists that in order to understand the true human spirit, we need more than to study mentally ill adults. We need to study the normal child in as natural a setting as possible, so we can understand what makes a healthy adult as well.

Permanent Impermanence

Everything that happens in childhood (including the pre-natal genetic coding) affects the adult personality. If you could look back in your past and see your childhood hopes, dreams, interests (what Montessori calls "the child's soul"), you would see a mirror of your adult self "grasping the realities of human life." In some sense, we are today who we were then.

But do not despair in your "fixed" faults and anxieties. Recent discoveries, such as neuroplasticity, show that adults are able to grow new neural pathways in the brain and even generate new neurons themselves. In other words, we can overcome even strong tendencies toward certain personality traits. It takes effort, but it can be done. And it starts by preparing for a life of continued growth while in childhood.

Freud was right. Our early experiences matter. But there is more to us than the scars of childhood. Children are incredible beings -- revolutionary, powerful, and possessed with the potential to transform our world. To help them reach their potential requires strength, sacrifice, self love, and a reverence for their ability to never stop growing.