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‘Cause and effect’ is an important stage of cognitive development when babies learn that they can cause things to happen through their actions.

Learning about cause and consequence

Very young babies’ actions are unintentional — but it’s not long before they realise that they can cause interesting things to happen. Through trial and error, they learn that they can deliberately shake the rattle they’re holding to make a noise. When they smile, mum and dad smile back. When they cry, dad or mum comes to comfort them. In this way, babies begin to understand the connection between an action and a consequence.

Repetition is important for baby’s development

Babies are naturally curious and want to keep experimenting. They’ll repeat an action over and over again to see what happens each time. Most parents have had times of feeling frustrated when their baby throws things over the side of the high chair and looks at them to pick the things up, only for baby to throw them again.

It helps if parents understand that baby is learning from repeating these actions. This is a very normal and healthy stage of development. As baby repeats an action, the connections in the brain become stronger and baby can do the action more efficiently.

Babies love to shake, rattle, drop, bang and throw things to find out what they can do. They learn to push a button to make something happen, and become fascinated by putting things into and taking things out of containers. This may progress to posting shapes into a sorter, and other activities that stimulate their problem-solving skills.

Babies don’t need expensive toys to practice their understanding of cause and effect. There are plenty of safe toys in the kitchen cupboards that they can experiment with — spoons, saucepans, bowls and cups.

Other resources

Supporting your child’s thinking skills from 0–12 months | ZERO TO THREE(external link)