Eva Benmeleh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialization in the 0-5 age range.
Your baby is growing physically, emotionally, and cognitively every single day. Is there anything you can do to help them build up their coordination and skills? Is there anything you should avoid around this time? Eva Benmeleh, Bundoo Child Psychologist, answers the questions many parents have about their developing 18-week-old babies.
Bundoo: At 18 weeks, many babies are starting to get really fun, laughing and getting more mobile. Are there are any toys that you recommend to help them develop coordination and other skills?
Eva Benmeleh: Eighteen-week-old babies are definitely more mobile and curious about how things work. At almost five months of age, babies enjoy playing with toys that teach them cause and effect. They also have a greater appreciation for color differences. Toys of different colors and baby books are great ways to let your baby become acquainted with colors. They get a big kick out of things that make noises or change colors because of something they did. It teaches them that they have the power to cause things to happen. For example, toys that make sounds or change colors when they touch or shake them are great for babies (rattles, rings, textured books, musical instruments). Playmats and activity centers are also great because they can adapt to the baby’s developmental stage. Some activity centers are fun for babies to play with during tummy time, as well as while they lay on their backs. Look for toys that can be easily cleaned, with different textures and sounds for your baby to mouth at and hold. Toys that can be shifted from one hand to the next will help your child with gross motor coordination.
If you aren’t interested in purchasing toys specific to this stage of development, some household items will also do. A mirror (preferably plastic) is a great toy for babies. They do not yet realize that the mirror is a reflection of themselves, so it’s a fun game for them to interact with a new “friend.” Empty bottles of water filled with dried beans make great rattles. Having a comfortable blanket for your baby to lie on is a great way to try tummy time and rolling over as games. Try to keep some toys slightly away from your baby’s reach so that he or she can practice trying to get the toy. The great outdoors are an excellent “toy” to give your baby the opportunity to explore the colors of the trees and flowers or watch the leaves on branches sway with the wind. You can also be your baby’s greatest toy. Making funny sounds or animal noises is incredibly amusing to your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time until the age of 2, but the industry is still full of educational apps and videos aimed at parents. What do you think about this? Is there any value to “educational screen time” for younger children, or is this just marketing?
We get mixed messages from the media all the time about what is best for our babies. I agree with the AAP: children under 18 months of age should have no screen time, with the exception of video chatting with family and familiar faces. After that, children should be limited to no more than 1 hour per day.
Children mimic how characters act and talk, so be weary of this. Also, most apps and games give constant feedback, the twinkling sounds, the “good jobs,” the clapping — it’s too much stimulation, and it can be a precursor to your child looking for immediate feedback and gratification for their accomplishments. However, some games in moderation are okay. Try sticking to games with little work involved, like coloring apps or shows on television that are slower paced and non-violent. There are some apps that are based on neuroscience and are great because they offer parents suggestions as to what games to play with their babies based on their development.
Which toys do you think parents of 18-week-old babies should avoid for safety reasons?
Shows on television and apps should be avoided at this time. So should small toys that can be swallowed. Babies are explorers, and at this time period, they explore with toys by putting them in their mouths. Anything with long cords or strings should be avoided, since it can be a choking hazard. Toys with liquids inside that are not closed appropriately also must be avoided, since they can be poisonous if ingested. Check rattles and other toys with small beads inside before giving them to your baby. Some have been recalled for the heads coming off or the beads spilling out. Check for any cracks or openings on the seams of toys that may expose beads, foam, or wiring.
Can babies at this age get protective and jealous of their toys? Or is this something they haven’t really developed yet?
It depends, but for the most part, most babies are not protective of their toys at this age. They may gravitate towards a particular toy or stuffed animal, but they are not territorial over other people using their toys. This type of ownership over their belongings typically begins around 18 months to two years of age when their sense of self develops and their toys become part of their identity.
When it comes to play, are there any “red flags” you see in terms of behavior, such as lack of interest? Is there anything that should cause a parent to seek out evaluation by a professional?
Parents should look out for eye contact with others and lack of interest or excitement in toys. Does your baby laugh at how toys look or sound when he or she plays with them? Check to see if your baby reacts to you when you make silly faces or sounds, or when she plays with toys. When playing together, try to gage your baby’s focus on objects: can he or she direct focus on the same object as you? Is your baby cooing or babbling? Babies are social creatures, and they tend to love learning and exploring the world around them. It may be a warning sign when, more often than not, your baby seems bored or does not react to your silly sounds or your voice when you talk to them.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019