You’ve just welcomed a new baby. For the next year you – and only you – are responsible for ensuring that your child receives adequate stimulation during that first year, but where does a new parent begin?
There are so many different opinions on what is best for your baby and so many recommended toys to choose from. Even when you choose one, your baby may look at it for a few minutes and then burst into tears. You may wonder “What am I doing wrong?”
Sometimes we can become so worried about providing the ‘right’ stimulation that we forget the primary way our babies learn: by bonding with their parents. That’s right, no extra toys required!
Take Time to Get to Know Your Baby
In the first months of life, your baby is experiencing and processing everything for the first time: the light and the darkness; your face (which she will study intently); your gaze; your voice, which sounds a little different outside of the womb; your eyes, your expressions; your smell; the feeling of clothes, and even the way your earrings reflect the light.
Instead of reading or dangling a shiny toy over baby’s head as you breastfeed, focus on making eye contact and learning to read your baby’s emotions. Try talking or singing gently and observe the response. If it’s too much, try stroking baby’s head or body to see the reaction. Some babies like a very gentle touch while others prefer a firm caress.
Take the time to discover exactly what your baby likes. When you think you’ve figured it out, watch as your baby’s preferences evolve. You don’t need to add any more stimulation than your amazing self, tired and all!
Introduce New Sounds
As well as visual stimulation, your baby is learning a great deal from hearing you speak. All of the phonetic components of language are learned in the first few months of life. Not only that, your baby is learning your different tones of voice: when you are happy, when you are tired and when you are angry (even if you are just angry at the dog). Research from the University of Oregon has shown that sleeping newborns can recognize their parents’ angry voices!
When you feel your baby is ready for more stimulation, go for a walk and discover new noises outside – from a bird chirping to a car driving by – absolutely everything is a learning experience for your baby!
Another great activity to share is listening to good music, dancing with your baby in your arms or reading a book together. Baby learns a great deal by hearing you say words for the first time, experiencing the different intonations in your voice and, eventually, enjoying the images in the book. It is never too early to begin reading, and it is something you should do every day.
Explore Smell, Taste and Touch
Your baby is also learning from smells in the environment. Some are wonderful aromas coming from your kitchen; others are a little less pleasant, like a dirty diaper. All smells and tastes are learning experiences for your baby, who is busy classifying them and organizing them, creating neural connections in the brain.
Babies also need physical touch in order to develop. They learn from being stroked, massaged, held, touched, rocked, kissed, and everything in between. You never have to worry about ‘spoiling’ your baby through too much touching and holding – remember that these are essential to brain development and crucial for your baby’s emotional development.
Create a Routine Together
Once you feel your baby is ready for more, the best stimulation will come from your daily walks outside. There is so much to see, hear, touch and feel out there: the first drop of rain on your baby’s hand, the feeling of sand on the toes, the smell of grass, or the heat of the sun.
The supermarket can provide enough stimulation to last for months to come! Spend time together looking at the colorful fruits and vegetables, talk about what to make for dinner or what kind of toothpaste to buy. Even if it’s only you talking, engage your baby in conversation as you would a friend. Avoid using this time to talk on the phone with someone else.
Build Emotional Intelligence
The most important thing you will learn as a parent is how to establish a strong connection between you and your baby. As you learn to “read” each other, your baby will give you cues when it’s time to play and laugh, go outside and explore the neighbourhood or read a storybook together. While you are busy cooking, showering, or driving, you may wish to occupy your baby’s time by filling the surroundings with beautiful toys.
Without even realizing it, every day you are presenting your baby with something new to learn. The best part is that not only are your interactions contributing to baby’s intellect, even if you don’t say a word you are helping to develop emotional intelligence – and that is something no toy, tablet or television can do!