The first years of life are filled with exciting new skills that babies love to show and parents love to see. Each milestone has its own set of challenges, but don't miss out on the joy of each one, and the opportunity to interact and encourage your child as they move along.

1. The Social Smile

The first recognition of a real smile is often a favorite moment for most moms and dads. It usually arrives around two months, sometimes a bit later.

  • This is a great time to start working on the game of peek-a-boo.
     
  • Give your children big smiles when you walk in their view.

2. Vocalizing

When it first starts, often around 6 months, moms and dads just can't get enough of hearing "ma-ma" and "da-da." Some days, you'll have more than you can take, but cherish the moments when you can participate in "conversation."

  • Sing songs to them.
     
  • Teach rhymes and finger plays.
     
  • Read lots of short books, and provide them with small board books, or soft books that contain vivid illustrations.

3. Sitting (6-8 months)

This milestone is a great time to help children learn to entertain themselves for a few minutes.

  • Set a basket of age-appropriate toys beside the child so they can reach in and pull out some to play with. They learn a whole new way to entertain themselves.
     
  • Sit a short distance away from your child and teach them to roll a ball back and forth.

4. Scooting on the stomach

This milestone shows up around 6-8 months, and sometimes looks like an army crawl for some kids.

  • Place toys 12-15 inches away to give them something to move toward.
     
  • Get down on your stomach, face to face, and talk to them.

5. Feeding self

This is why dry cereal was invented! It usually occurs around 9 months, and allows children work on their dexterity (fine motor) skills, using that all-important pincer grasp.

  • Start with one piece of food at a time to encourage eating little bites.
     
  • Great foods for this: cooked carrots (diced), Cheerios, goldfish crackers, bits of cheese, small pieces of toast, and pieces of banana, tofu, and avocado.

6. Crawling

Ah, real mobility. You may see it anywhere from the ages of 7-10 months. This is when the real fun begins (for baby) and the real work begins (for parent).

  • Set a child-safe, lightweight mirror at an angle against the wall, resting it against the wall and the floor. Children have a fun time discovering their reflection (or what they think is a new buddy).
     
  • Get ready, set, go! Have a fun "race" with your new crawler. Head down the hallway, or just across the room.

7. Walking

Many children are up and at it by 12-14 months. As for management, it's really not much worse than crawling, and now they're up off the floor for longer periods of time.

  • Teach hand-holding, but give them some space. At home, in a fenced-in area, in a large room: allow them the independence to explore. But now that they can go faster, for longer, they're new-found freedom can get them into real trouble. Work on holding their hands in parking lots, near streets, and on stairs.
     
  • Being upright means they can now reach things they never could before. This is a good time to reevaluate decorations and adult-only items that are close to edges of bookshelves and desks.
     
  • They may fall down. A lot. Be patient, and encourage them to get back up on their own.

8. Following simple instructions

They certainly won't do everything you want, but this is a great time to work on your child's listening skills, as well as their independence.

  • Have them bring their cup/bowl/plate to you when mealtime is over.
     
  • Ask them to bring you certain toys (ball, doll, bear). This helps them learn and understand the vocabulary for each object.
     
  • Work on the names of body parts, and encourage them to point to their own.

9. Talking

Children can usually speak at least 75-100 words by the time they are two years old — sometimes more. By that time, you might get tired of hearing them. But oh, what fun it is.

  • Make sure they are around other children—even if just once or twice a week. Kids talking to other kids is good practice, and a language you don't want to miss.
     
  • Even if you can't understand every word, do your best to carry on a conversation with them. It encourages social, language, and cognitive development.

Note: Infants and young children don't always hit developmental milestones in "textbook" order. Skills may show up and different times, and may have nothing to do with delayed development. However, there are nuances of development that sometimes only parents — or professionals — can pick up on. If you're concerned, don't brush it aside. Talk to your child's physician, and check out the Early Intervention resources in your state.