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What are the Wonder Weeks?

Babies going through a wonder weekIs your baby having a fussy week? Maybe it is a wonder week!

Research has shown that babies tend to go through ‘fussy’ phases just before they make big steps forward in their mental development.

These fussy periods are predictable in their timing and once babies have come to terms with the new development they tend to have periods of less fussiness.

Of course it is important to rule out other reasons that your baby might be fussy (nappy rash, illness, teething etc) before assuming they are having a wonder week.

So how do we know when our babies are going through a ‘wonder week’ and how did the concept come about?

We chat to Dr Frans Plooij, who co-authored The Wonder Weeks with his wife Hetty van de Rijtabout, about the theory behind the popular parenting book.

What are the Wonder Weeks?

Q. What are wonder weeks?

A. Wonder Weeks occur ten times in the first 20 months of life when your baby is doing a small step back followed by a giant leap forward. So a regression followed by progression, or, in other words, reprogression.

The regression, or difficult period, or fussy phase, is characterised by the three Cs: Crying, Clinging, and Cranky. The progression is characterised by the emergence of a number of new skills. And because of this progression we came up with the name The Wonder Weeks.

Q. How did you come up with the concept of the wonder weeks?

A. The discovery was made in East-Africa where my wife I studied free-living chimpanzee babies and their mothers in the Gombe National Park from 1971-1973 under the inspiring leadership of Jane Goodall.

A year after we returned from the field, a scientific literature review article came out that reported the same phenomenon of difficult periods in 12 monkey species and even in two non-primate mammals. Then we knew the phenomenon we discovered in chimpanzees was a very old phenomenon, indeed, going back many, many millions of years, being shared by mammals, monkeys and apes.

It was logical to assume that, if the phenomenon was that old and also present in an ape species, modern man was likely to show it as well. We set out to study human babies, to begin with in the Netherlands, our home country. When we had found the same phenomenon in our own species and had reported it in scientific journals, we immediately wrote the parenting book in 1992 in Dutch (title: Oei, ik groei!), because we felt parents had a right to know the story as soon as possible.

This Dutch edition was followed in subsequent years by German, French, Swedish, Italian, Danish, Spanish, English, Japanese, Korean, and Russian editions. Our original research in The Netherlands has been replicated and confirmed by other researchers in Spain, Britain and Sweden.

Q. How do you know if a baby is going through a wonder week?

A. Each time it all starts with a difficult period and that period is not only difficult for your baby, but also for you parents. So, you will know, believe me!

Q. What happens during a wonder week?

A. Underlying each difficult period followed by progression is a leap in the mental development of your baby caused by a brain change. This change gives your baby a new ability, a whole new way of perceiving the world.

At first this frightens your baby and that’s why (s)he is difficult. Just imagine that you wake up on a new, strange planet. Wouldn’t you be frightened? But after a while, your baby starts exploring this new perceptual world, as a consequence of which (s)he develops a whole bunch of new skills.

Q. When do premature babies have wonder weeks?

A. When your baby is born too early (or too late) you have to correct for this. You should calculate the age since the date at which the baby should have been born, not since the actual birthday.

Q. How can parents help their babies during a wonder week?

A. When your baby is in a difficult period, comfort him or her. You should realise that (s)he can’t help being difficult and that (s)he is having a tough time. When your baby starts to explore the new world, try to understand what this new world is like and help him or her conquer this new world through facilitating his or her play and learning new skills.

Q. What are sunny weeks?

A. After rain comes sunshine, they say. And after a difficult period comes an easy period, or sunny weeks. Your baby is his or her good old self again and this is when (s)he starts exploring the new world.

Your baby has become more independent and is often busy putting new skills into practice. (S)he is more cheerful, too.

Q. When exactly are the Wonder Weeks?

Week 5 – The World of Changing Sensations

Week 8 – The World of Patterns

Week 12 – The World of Smooth Transitions

Week 19 – The World of Events

Week 26 – The World of Relationships

Week 37 – The World of Categories

Week 46 – The World of Sequences

Week 55 – The World of Programs

Week 64 – The World of Principles

Week 75 – The World of Systems

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