For the first couple of months, the relationship with your baby was a one-way street. You gave her love and attention, and she soaked it in. She could smile and cry, but she never really tried to connect with you or the other people in her life. Now, in her fourth month, the relationship is finally starting to flow in two directions. She has the brainpower to know what she wants, and she’s finding new ways to show her moods and her needs. Above all, she’s discovered that other people are the key to her comfort and happiness.
Just look at how she reacts when someone walks into the room. Unless she’s in a crabby mood, she’ll probably give each person a big smile. She’ll also start encouraging people to pick her up and hold her, either by flapping her arms excitedly or crying with quick, breathy sobs. She’ll laugh maniacally when she’s tickled, a pointed way of saying that she wants you to do it again. And if she sees a toy or book that she wants, she’ll gesture for it longingly.
Now that she’s expressing her desires, you may begin to wonder who’s really in control. You may also wonder if you’ll spoil her by picking her up whenever she cries. For now, you can put these concerns to rest. As child health experts William and Martha Sears write in The Baby Book (Little, Brown, and Co., 2003), the best thing you can do for a baby is quickly respond to her requests. “Responsive parenting turns out secure, independent, less whiny children,” they write. “Put the fear of spoiling out of your mind.”
Your baby is taking a new interest in her world — the sound of a rattle, the colors in a picture book, the feel of a plush animal — but she still finds you more fascinating than any object. If you bring her a favorite ball or teddy bear, she’ll probably stare at your face for a while before even looking at the toy. The best gift you can give her is your time. Whenever possible, keep her with you as you go about your day. She’ll enjoy being with you, even if you’re just folding the laundry.
Her interest in you is so strong that she might try copying what you do. When you have her attention, try saying simple sounds like “ahh” and “oooo.” She just might answer back. And if you hear her say recognizable syllables, you can repeat them back to her. She’ll be excited to realize that you care about what she has to say.
She’ll be even more excited — and comforted — to know that you care about how she feels. Hold her when she cries, play with her when she’s happy, and give her things she asks for. You won’t be spoiling her. You’ll just be reminding her that you share a special relationship, one that works both ways.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby. From Birth to Age Two. Little, Brown and Co.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. Bantam Books.
University of Florida, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences. How I grow: Months three and four. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FY633