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Understanding Infant Independence

The Ever-Blossoming Independence of Infants


When your grandbaby is so new, it may seem way too early to start talking about independence, but helping a child feel secure and loved is the first step toward self-sufficiency – and you can be all about security and love!

Infants, as you know, are completely dependent on the caregivers around them. Having a nurturing relationships with those adults, based on responsiveness to physical needs such as being wet, hungry, tired or uncomfortable, helps to build a sense of security.

As a grandparent, what can you do from the start? Be aware of your grandbaby’s moods and patterns. Of course, the parents of your grandbaby are doing the same thing – and they’re also setting patterns they’d like you to follow. What you observe about the cues your grandbaby is sending out – when he’s tired, for example, or when she’s bored or uncomfortable, allow you to respond in nurturing ways. Some experts advise that you see it as a “partnership”: the baby is getting used to his world, and you’re facilitating it.

At the beginning, you can be sure your baby isn’t deliberately trying for a response from you – that baby just knows she NEEDS something.  The very youngest babies don’t even know they HAVE a self, apart from you – and during the first year of life, that will be one of their major learnings.

At about 4 months, your grandbaby may begin to understand that when she cries – you respond.  And when he smiles, you smile. Your grandbaby is just beginning to discover intention, maybe getting the first inkling of cause and effect.

At about 6 or 7 months, a realization dawns on the baby – she is SHE and you are YOU – and that can lead to separation anxiety. Are you, or her other loving caretakers, going to walk away? What if she needs you while you’re out of sight? Will you come back?

Sometimes this anxiety lasts for many months – and your reassurance, and the fact that you DO reappear, will usually help alleviate it. You can also play some games with your grandbaby that help – either peekaboo (where you hide your face and then make it reappear) or a variation with toys.

Children are hardwired for independence so as they develop, they will have a natural curiosity and drive to explore and master their world. It’s important to give babies some time to play and explore on their own. That doesn’t mean leaving them ALONE, it just means not being right in their face all the time. It may mean putting some fascinating objects on the quilt with the baby and letting the baby fool around on his own. You can stand back and observe.

As your grandbaby explores his world and attempts new tasks, there’s always a chance of frustration. And as someone who loves her and wants her to be resilient and self-sufficient, your job is not to instantly rush right in and make it all better.  The wise grandparent will know when to let the baby struggle a little and when to help. Is that bright duckie just out of reach? Stretching for it might just be the first step toward crawling.

As your grandbaby grows and attempts ever greater challenges, you can help by watching the level of frustration and then helping just enough to get the baby or child over the hump.

As infants grow to toddlers, so does their quest of independence

The way parents and grandparents react to a child’s efforts can have a great influence over that child’s self-confidence. Of course, doing something when you’re just learning takes longer. It can have questionable results. So being a grandparent through those stages requires patience and good judgment.

You can also create learning experiences. When your grandbaby is no longer an infant, but a walking, running, reaching, grabbing two-year old, he may enter the “Me Do It” stage. You can either fight it or facilitate it. After all, a toddler feeding herself usually makes a mess. Putting on clothes takes longer. And choosing clothes? That can result in some very weird outfits. And only you can decide what you’re comfortable with. But somehow, the toddler needs to get practice and to do a job imperfectly at first to become proficient.

Some ways to facilitate:

  • Come up with tasks where you can use their help. Simple baking or cooking, for example. Break down the steps. Break an egg? Use a whisk? Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups? The results may not be perfect – but the process is fun.
  • Feeding the dog or cat. Help setting the table.
  • Keep “their stuff” where they know where to find it. Have them pick out a book. Choose the pair of socks for the day.
  • An experienced grandma tells us that her best strategy for encouraging her toddler to “come along” is to give him something to carry or help with. “Do you want to push the elevator button?” “Can you pop the button on the car?” “I’d love your help carrying this bag into the store.”
  • Give choices so they get good at making them. “Red hat or blue hat today?”

#1 recommended tool for independence: The step stool

 infants infantsYou can’t do it if you can’t see it! When we talked to grandparents, they told us that having a step stool handy for their grandchild opened a whole new world of possibilities for fun, for helping, for learning.

Baby-Proof Your House so You Won’t Have to Constantly be Saying “No!”

If your grandbaby spends time in your home, basic baby-proofing is a must. Here’s a partial checklist of some important safeguards.

  • Cover sharp edges of furniture with molded plastic pieces made for this purpose.
  • Secure sliding doors.
  • Put window shade cords and lamp cords out of reach.
  • Cover electrical outlets.
  • Secure or lock cabinet doors.
  • Remove anything fragile or heavy from where the baby might reach.
  • Inspect surfaces and remove any small objects that pose a choking risk, especially batteries, pet treats and toys, coins, buttons, paper clips, or small pieces of food or candy.
  • Keep purses – and all their colorful, intriguing contents — out of reach.
  • Keep plastic bags away from the baby.
  • Be especially careful with balloons – they can be inhaled and block the child’s airway. Don’t let babies play with balloons. If a balloon in your house pops, throw the pieces away immediately.
  • Point knives and forks with the sharp parts facing down in the dishwasher’s utensil basket. Keep the dishwasher door closed and locked. If you use dishwashing soap packets, keep them out of reach – they look like candy.
  • Toys with magnets don’t belong within reach of children under the age of three.
  • Check the area frequently and each time before the baby begins to play in that room to see what might have fallen on the floor or been placed on the tables.
  • As the baby gets older and begins to climb on things, you will need a whole new level of security. Check to make sure the screens on your windows can’t be pushed out.

For more information on baby safety, click here for our friends, KidsInDanger.org. Before you buy new or used products, check out their safety.


Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.



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