You might think that for the first few months of your baby’s life, everything is about feeding, sleeping and changing diapers. But you have countless daily interactions that teach him about love, attachment, security, trust, compassion, language and even math. “Babies are like little learning machines that pick up everything around them,” says Dr. Gail Gross, a family and child development expert in Houston. If this sounds stressful, relax. You don’t need to schedule fulfilling activities for your child. Chances are, you’re already providing a priceless experience without even realizing it. Look at what he can learn from you and what you can do to make those moments more meaningful.
Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding is a major way to build intimacy. By holding your baby and nourishing her, you let her know that she is loved and protected. Your presence reassures her and helps her adjust to the unfamiliar world outside the womb. In fact, the bond you make during feeding is as vital to your baby’s health as the nutritional value of the food itself. Dr. Gross says: “Research shows that babies who have a close relationship with their parents are more receptive to learning and better able to process information.” .
Try this while breastfeeding, sitting in a quiet room and focusing on your baby. Hold her close (newborns can only see up to 10 inches), snuggle her and talk or sing to her. Ask other caregivers to do the same so that your baby is in a warm, loving environment at all times.
Your baby’s brain learns more when you stretch out real words, articulate them clearly, and say them in a somewhat high-pitched, melodic tone, says Renate Zangl, PhD, author of Raising a Talker: Simple Activities for Ages 3 and Up! Hearing his parents’ language will keep his brain active in a way that it doesn’t when he hears normal speech. In fact, a study by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle found that children in families where this type of speech was used regularly mastered twice as many words at age two as those whose parents did not use it. Of course, once your child begins to understand words and starts talking, he no longer needs you to talk to him that way.
Try this You may naturally speak to your baby in the language of the parents, but there are ways to make this approach more effective. Keep your words simple and speak in complete sentences as often as possible to help him learn words and sentence structure. Repeat phrases slowly and clearly, as it takes a lot of repetition to build early word memory. “Babies learn to understand and speak by watching and listening to you,” Dr. Zangl says. “Come closer and exaggerate your mouth movements as you open your ‘ooos’ and ‘eees’.” He can hear the sounds and see how they are formed. Find ways to include his name in stories and songs. Once he knows it, it will be easier for you to get his attention. Also, stop and give your baby a chance to respond, whether it’s cooing, smiling, or kicking him in the foot. Then respond to him; he’ll be happy to be part of the “conversation”!
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Help with hygiene
Changing your baby’s diaper can give him a sense of order, security and routine. The same goes for bathing and brushing teeth. These opportunities give her early cues to take pride in her body. Dr. Gross says: “Every task that involves touch and intimacy enhances a child’s emotional development.” .
Try this When you’re changing or bathing your baby, take a moment to talk about what you’re doing. A quick round of “This Little Piggy” on the changing table can make this chore more interactive and fun.
Doing your best to maintain a calm tone in a stressful situation teaches your child a lesson in how to regulate his emotions. Babies are sensitive to their parents’ facial expressions,” says Kirsten Cullen Sharma, PhD, psychologist and associate director of early childhood clinical services at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center. “If they see you looking scared or frustrated, they may mimic your behavior.”
Try this Dr. Sharma says your child learns the phrase “uh-oh” early and can relate it to a mistake that has happened. Use it to acknowledge a misfortune and then laugh it off. You might say, “Aww, that was silly of me to drop my cup on the floor. But I could have easily cleaned it up! ”
Share family mealtime
When you include your child in the meal, it reinforces that she’s part of the family,” says Kristen Yakel, a graduate student and child-feeding specialist in Vancouver, British Columbia. . Once she starts eating solids, let her explore with her hands instead of just spoon feeding her, which will teach her that food doesn’t need to be controlled by adults and that you trust her to listen to her hunger cues, Yarker says. You can also help her discover through multiple senses (touch, smell, taste and hearing), which will make the eating process more enjoyable and help counteract her picky eating habits.
Try this Even if your baby isn’t ready for a high chair, you can hold him on your lap during family dinners. Resist the urge to help when she eats (even if she makes a mess). Figuring out how to get various shapes and textures of food into her mouth will improve her fine motor skills. When she is ready to sit in her high chair, pull the chair up next to the table. Avoid forcing her to take “another bite,” which may inadvertently teach her to eat to please others. Instead, give her some healthy choices and let her decide what she wants and when she’s done. Be sure to talk to her at the dinner table. You can name different foods, describe what they taste like, or talk about anything you like. The key is to let her know that eating is a social experience.
Take a walk
Whether you’re out for a walk or your baby is strapped into a backpack for a serious hike, the way you act during these outings affects how he feels about being outdoors and physically active, says Dr. Sharma. If you’re out of breath or seem irritated by a long hike, your baby will know it’s not an enjoyable thing to do. But if you show that fresh air energizes you, he’ll inherently think being in nature and exercising is fun.
Try this when you’re outside, try naming things you see, like leaves and rocks, and let your baby touch them. If you don’t have time to stop and observe, tell him how much you like the colors and smells of the flowers. This will also help him appreciate these things.
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Hug your partner
Show affection in front of your baby and let him know how warm and kind his family treats each other. The more he sees you hugging your partner, cuddling your sibling, or petting your dog, the more likely these behaviors will become part of his skill set.
Try this Don’t be shy about letting your child see you kiss or touch each other. Say “I love you” often and avoid arguing in front of him so he knows your home is a safe, loving place. Dr. Gross says: “Your behavior in front of your children teaches them values.” .
Play the tunes
Research shows that music can improve a child’s mood and improve his concentration. It may also help develop mathematical understanding: Elements such as melody and meter provide opportunities to internalize patterns, sequences and counting.
Try doing this dance to the song while you hold your baby, or tap your baby’s back to the beat to reinforce the rhythm. Get out some baby instruments, such as xylophones, sandballs and drums, and play along as she practices motor skills.
Watching you leave can be hard for your baby, especially when separation anxiety starts at 6 to 8 months or peaks again at 15 to 18 months, says Richard So, M.D., a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic for Children.
Try this When you need to go out or leave her at Grandma’s, don’t sneak away, or your child will feel abandoned. Instead, you should say, “Bye. “I’ll be home soon,” Dr. Su suggests. Keep your goodbyes brief. When you return, give her a hug and say, “I told you I’d be back. I missed you so much. I’ll always come back to you.” Start this habit early, even if your baby doesn’t fully understand your words yet. She’ll still get used to this routine, and while it won’t immediately eliminate her anxiety, over time she’ll realize that goodbye doesn’t mean forever.