At this age, your baby likes to socialize through play. Games are a great way to bring out her personality and strengthen your bond. When you play with her, you're telling her that she matters. You're also reminding her that you're more than just a servant or a disciplinarian. You're a person who knows how to have fun.
Your baby's favorite games are the classics played by generations of other kids: peekaboo, pattycake, hide-and-go-seek, and so on. As long as she gets to enjoy your attention, just about any game will be a hit, and soon she will begin to initiate her favorite games herself.
A 1-year-old is also easily entertained with household objects or simple toys. Her improved dexterity allows her to manipulate two toys at the same time and to discover the relationship between them by banging them together, stacking them, or putting one inside the other. She also enjoys toys that allow her to practice her standing and walking skills. Some favorites include:
- Containers. A plastic cup or tub and a block allow your baby to explore how things fit into each other. She can practice putting the block in and pulling it out, dumping it on the floor, and shaking it. For variety, give her several blocks of different sizes, some of which don't fit into the container.
- Water play. Place a few containers in a sink or tub of water and let the pouring begin! Always watch her closely when she is near water.
- Pots and pans. This double whammy of a toy set allows baby to try fitting smaller things into bigger things, as well as making loud noises.
- Balls. At this age a baby hasn't developed the coordination necessary to throw the ball herself, but she delights in retrieving it when you throw it. Use small, plastic balls such as ping-pong balls or larger, lightweight beach or foam balls.
- Push toys. A sturdy wagon or walking toy is one way to help baby get used to being on her feet. Walking toys should have a bar that extends about chest-high and is securely attached to a stable base on wheels. As she holds the bar and pushes along, stay close and make sure she steers clear of the stairs.
Your baby may be interested in playing with other kids, at least in theory. Actually, although it's nice to have kids spend time together, most don't really play cooperatively at this age. They are more likely to engage in "parallel play" whereby they may sit at the same table and participate in similar activities, but do things more or less on their own. It's helpful if you have two kids playing together at this age to make sure there are two of everything so that you don't have to get into struggles over one prized object.
At this age kids can learn to be gentle and respectful of each other, but you'll have to make sure you monitor her behavior, especially the first time another baby touches one of her toys. She may decide that a good eye-poke is the best way to protect her property. Let her interact with other children, but watch closely to make sure everybody plays nicely. You can prevent some hurt feelings (and possibly hurt bodies) by showing your baby how to touch appropriately and reminding her to be gentle.
Your baby won't have any concept of sharing, and she's really too young to learn. If there's a conflict over toys, try offering other toys or redirecting the combatants until everyone is happy. It's not really effective to tell them they must share or to scold them too much for bad behavior, since they won't have much concept of that and probably won't be able to learn too much from strong negative reactions to their social behaviors at this age. Your baby is learning the major life skills of walking and talking -- her social skills will take a little longer to develop.
It's a good idea to remember that for every critical comment you make, you should give at least five positive encouraging comments. The best way to get the behavior you want out of a child is to give a lot of praise for good behavior and try to ignore behaviors that you want to discourage. When you need to discourage a behavior actively, try not to get emotionally upset, since children probably find it more difficult to interpret such messages when they are emotion-laden. In addition, parents should remember that if they want their children to use polite phrases like "please," "excuse me," and "thank you," then they need to use this language themselves. Kids learn many if not most of their adult coping behaviors by watching and listening to others -- especially you.
Her emotions are still fragile, too, and she'll need a lot of support throughout the day. She's still wary of strangers, and she's still worried that you might leave her and never come back. You'll have to give her extra comfort in unfamiliar places and extra time to warm up to new people. Most of all, be ready for tears and tantrums when you drop her off with someone else.
This is a good time to remind yourself that you really can't give your baby too much love. Other people may tell you that you're spoiling her, but you know what's best for your child. If you think she needs to be held and cuddled, you're bound to be right. Love and comfort breeds trust, and trust will take both of you far in the coming years.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. 2003. Little, Brown and Company.
University of Illinois Extension. A guide to the business of babysitting: Ages and Stages - Toddlers. http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/babysitting/age-toddler.html
University of Wisconsin Extension. Parenting the first year: month 12. 2006. http://learningstore.uwex.edu/Assets/pdfs/B3790-12.PDF
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Baby Bouncer. 12th month: happy birthday! September 2000. http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/chfd/CHFD-E-39-12.pdf
Nemours Foundation. Movement, Coordination, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old. http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/growth/movement/move812m.html
AskDrSears.com. Ten Toy Choosing Tips. http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T151600.asp