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Mums in Singapore: Dutch expat Xaviera on the Wonder Weeks

By: Amy Brook-Partridge

London-based Dutch expat Xaviera Plas, daughter of The Wonder Weeks author Doctor Frans Plooij, answers our questions.

Xaviera with her husband Marco, son Thomas (17), and daughters Victoria (12) and Sarah (5) 

I’ve noticed “The Wonder Weeks” mentioned more and more on parenting forums. What are they?
Have you ever questioned why a normally well-tempered baby becomes difficult and demanding, then suddenly he’s doing things he could not do the day before? That’s a wonder week, or better said, a leap in the baby’s mental development.  Leaps happen at set times calculated from the due date (not the date of birth) and they all exist in three phases.

First the perceptional world of a baby suddenly changes. This happens at set times calculated from birth. Then it’s the fussy period; this whole new perception of the world is scary for a baby. Suddenly he perceives everything differently than before, as if he woke up on a different planet. What would you do if this happened to you? You would cling, cry and get cranky, hence the three C’s that are typical for this phase in a leap.

Finally it’s the wonder week. After the fussy period, just as suddenly as the leap came, your baby is sunshine and light again, and suddenly able to do so many things he couldn’t do before. These new things, or skills, can be physical, social, or emotional.

Who came up with these wonder weeks and what’s their professional background?
Psychologist and biologist Doctor Frans Plooij and educational psychologist Doctor Hetty van de Rijt discovered this phenomenon first in Gombe, Africa, where they studied mother-child chimp interactions with Doctor Jane Goodall. Baby chimps were seen to be fussier at set times, and after this fussy period they were able to do things they never did before. After the doctors returned from their field research, they started observing human baby-mother interactions and found out babies go through timed leaps – the wonder weeks – as well.

How do you recommend parents best deal with their babies during these Wonder Weeks?
When a parent understands the interests a baby has during a specific leap, this parent is much more able to stimulate these new perceptions by playing certain games, or showing the baby certain things. The more a baby perceives things that appeal to him during a leap, the more he learns and the sooner the fussy phase is over.

At what age do these wonder weeks stop, and why?
Wonder weeks, or leaps, continue our whole lives. Puberty is, I guess, the most famous one. All leaps are timed, but the older we get, the wider the starting period range is. Babies’ leaps can be calculated in accuracies of a week, while puberty has a starting range of two years.

What would you say to doubters who feel that babies are just fussy when they are fussy, and sticking a label on it is just there to make parents feel better?
Wonder weeks are a fact. You can measure them, see them, and feel them, like puberty. You can’t just “not believe” in puberty. However, parents should not use a wonder week as an excuse. The worst thing one can do as a parent is say “oh, it’s a wonder week, I don’t have to do anything about this tamper tantrum, it’ll pass in a couple of weeks”, or “it’s a wonder week, let him cry, It’ll be over soon”. A wonder week is a fact, but not an excuse, during a wonder week a small baby needs comforting and a toddler needs guidance in rules.