Have you ever wondered why your toddler isn’t responding to you with what you believe should be a “normal” reaction? Or you can’t understand why your baby keeps opening and shutting the closet door over and over again?

Humans are one of the few species on earth born “unfinished.” At birth, our brains are nowhere near fully developed, and in fact, the human brain develops quite slowly over time. New technology such as CAT scans, MRIs and PET scans all indicate that your brain is still developing into late adolescence.

Therefore, the way your baby and toddler thinks is colored by his stage of development. At first, your baby will view the world in concrete terms. The way he reasons and responds is directly correlated to this particular stage. For this reason, it is important to take your child’s development into consideration when speaking with your child and when placing behavioral expectations on him.

Synaptic pruning

Your infant’s brain is born into the world with approximately 86 billion neurons; while this sounds like a lot, it is actually about half of what it will have by the end of your baby’s first year. In fact, your baby’s brain will increase in size by a factor of up to 5 by adulthood.

At age two or three, the brain has up to twice as many connections as it will have in adulthood; the reason, is that as we grow older, our brains perform a sort of “use it or lose it” function: effectively “pruning” unused connections over the years.

Your baby’s first year on earth is full of neuron growth as well as the pruning of synapses which is affected by environmental stimulation (or lack therof).

Your Baby’s Brain: Age One

So much happens during the first year of life that many parents I know are often overwhelmed and amazed at the changes their baby makes at this time. I am going into more depth in this matter in my upcoming book, but I wanted to give you a brief glimpse of your baby’s brain development – particularly in terms of cognitive and social learning – during ages zero to three. In today’s blog post, we’ll take a quick look at your baby’s brain development from birth through his first birthday.

Social and Cognitive Learning

The brain development that happens in your baby’s social learning as well as basic problem-solving is phenomenal in the first year2. Your baby goes from not knowing how to do anything to being able to speak a foreign language, follow simple directions, such as “pick up the book,” and using items correctly, such as using a book for reading time and using a cup to drink.

While your baby still may not understand the nuances of physical activity, he is learning to explore by banging things together, throwing things, dropping items, and shaking them up and down. This is your one-year-old’s way of learning how things work. He may be throwing a stuffed animal across the room over and over again, but know that this action is not to annoy you, nor is it done as an emotional response. Your baby is simply doing what all babies do: repeating a movement in order to understand it.

Meanwhile, your baby also begins to develop social and emotional connections during his first year. You may wonder why your normally calm baby suddenly seems scared of strangers around 7-8 months old. This comes from a brain spurt in the frontal lobe that brings about attachment; your baby has already formed an attachment with you and with other familiar caregivers, thanks to the familiar sounds of your voices and your touch, and they may experience sudden fear when you leave and/or when someone unfamiliar approaches3.

Until your baby is one year of age, he is still lacking behavioral control. That is to say, that he may start to understand that hitting a sibling is wrong, but his brain is still in the process of developing the ability to override the impulse to do so. Therefore, it’s important for you to be aware, and to react to his developmental stage appropriately.

In my next blog post, I’ll share some parenting tips for parents of newborns.

References for this post:

2. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones

3. http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/brain-development/baby-brain-map.html


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.