Cause and effect (babies)

Cause and effect (babies)

You know when your baby bangs her spoon non-stop on the high chair, she’s not just doing it to give you a headache (no, really!), she’s energetically exploring cause and effect.

Good to know about your baby’s understanding of cause and effect

From the moment your baby is born she’s learning and after a little while will begin to realise that her actions can affect the environment around her. For example if she kicks off the blanket that you’ve just carefully placed on her in the cot, she’ll wonder “did I do that?” “Yes, I did!”. And then it becomes a game where she excitedly repeats the action.

Babies first learn about their ability to change their environment through their earliest interactions with mum and dad. When baby cries and you respond by comforting and holding her, she learns that the world is a trustworthy place.

When baby cries and you respond by feeding her, she learns that needs will be fulfilled. When baby smiles and you smile back or lean down to give a hug, she has just learned more about cause and effect.

The more time you spend with your child, and the more types of communication you try out, the greater your opportunity to help baby learn about making things happen.

As babies become more observant and attuned to the notion of cause and effect, they become fascinated by light switches, TV remotes, and other things that seem like powerful agents of change. As babies slowly learn that for every action, there’s a reaction, they strengthen their comprehension of cause and effect, which increases their sense of control over the world.

Do you always sing a particular song as you feed baby? After a while your baby will start to expect the song at feeding time. Or perhaps you sing the same lullaby before bed. This lets your baby know it’s time for sleep. These actions show baby cause and effect.

As babies develop they learn how to make someone smile by opening their mouth or clapping their hands. When they make giggly sounds they can draw mum or dad’s attention – and they start to charm their captive audience!

Claphandies PlayTips to help your baby learn about cause and effect

When baby is lying on a mat with a play gym she will start to kick out her legs and move her arms about. Eventually her kicks will make the mobiles overhead move about. She soon realises that her kicking is causing the toys to shake. Just watch her having great fun repeating this new trick!

You can start with simple changes: Open and close a cupboard door or dresser drawer, then turn a light switch on and off (besides on/off, this demonstrates light versus dark).

Then branch out into more active scenarios: Roll a ball across the floor to baby; put a stuffed animal at the edge of the table, then push it off onto the chair. Let her ring the doorbell; let her turn the cold tap on and off.

In ClapHandies PlayLabs we demonstrate cause and effect by using shakers, with mum or dad showing baby that: “I shake this bell and it makes a noise, I stop shaking and the noise stops”. Then it’s baby turn to shake like crazy and then stop for a few moments of blissful silence, then it’s shaking time again.

Build them up, Knock them down

Another activity is using stacking cups, where mum or dad helps baby to build a tower. Older babies will gleefully knock down the cups while younger babies can see that when mummy or daddy knocks them they fall down and make a noise. Mum or dad can try placing the tower near her feet or arms and help her knock it down.

Other little games involving everyday items include:
I flush the toilet and it makes a big noise.
I squeeze the toy and it squeaks.
I bang my spoon on the table it makes a noise – as well as giving mum a headache!
Give your baby toys with wheels that move when tapped or spinning tops.
Provide baby with toys that make sounds when your baby plays with them, such as baby musical instruments or activity centres.

Babies love Water

Bath time provides another opportunity for learning together. Show baby how to slap hands on the water to make it splash, as you say the word ‘splash’. Demonstrate how adding weight into the tub (your hand, for instance) makes the water rise higher on your baby’s body. Or, by moving baby back and forth in the tub, you can create mini-waves for your baby to enjoy. In no time, baby will get the hang of the game – and your bathroom will never be the same!


In PlayLabs we love to blow bubbles for our babies. We try to get them to catch the bubble on the wand and show the older babies how to pop the bubble. We are always careful to blow the bubbles around the babies and not near the face in case the soap pops.

References: ‘Understanding cause and effect’ Parenting Topics
‘Thinking Skills’ Zero to Three

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