Your baby has arrived! Congratulations, you have made a place in your home and heart for a brand new person. This is a tremendous responsibility and it can be just as overwhelming. But relax, believe it or not, you can do this, you have everything you need. When you bond with your baby, you stimulate neural pathways, laying the foundations for their physical, social, emotional and intellectual mastery. No batteries required.
At birth, there are nearly 100 billion neurons developed in your child’s brain. These are called “tentative connections.” Since your child’s success in the first two years is almost completely environmentally dependent, the more we bond with (action) and nurture (interaction) our babies, the more we are strengthening and reinforcing these information super-highways. Once hardwired, these lay the groundwork for your child’s future success, both academically and personally. But like all highways, if they are not maintained, or ignored or impacted by negative experiences, these highways will fall into disrepair and eventually be discarded (neural pruning).
So what does that mean? Well, while in short-play, swaddle, sing, snuggle, converse with, respond to, and interact with your baby. You are the only toy he or she needs. Try to create a stress-free environment. That means eat right and rest when you can, because the chores will wait. Your time is best spent interacting with your baby. What about our working-outside-the-home-families? Most do, and that’s fine; find good caregivers while you are at work and focus on the quality of your time together when you are at home. It’s not about quantity time, it’s about quality time.
Here are a few activities for you and your baby that will stimulate his or her brain development while strengthening your bond.
- Monkey See, Monkey Do – Coo and encourage your baby to imitate, make a popping face, smile, imitate animal sounds.
- Peek-a-Boo – Hide your face, unhide “Peek a Boo.” Initially he will be surprised, then smile; by 9 months he will be kicking his legs, laughing and trying to pull your hands away from you face.
- Sing, Sing, Sing…and Dance – So you can’t carry a tune in a bucket—children don’t care. This stimulates both cognitive and language development. It may also make the child feel happy or comforted.
- Where is it? – Help babies practice tracking an object; hide it behind your back. Where did it go? Here it is!
- Talk to Me! – Talk about my day, my family, my toes! Doesn’t matter what we talk about, babies just love and need to hear your voice.
If your baby is a Toddler, your fun is ramping up. Here are a few activities for you and your toddler that will continue to stimulate his or her brain while strengthening your bond.
- Icky Sticky – Sensorimotor input is a critical component to brain development. Fill a big plastic bowl with cooked spaghetti. Allow your baby to handle it while you use as many different descriptive words as you can think of to help expand their language skills.
- Running, Climbing and Action Games – Oldies, but goodies, like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge”
- Do It Again, and Again, and Again – Toddlers learn through repetition. Repetition, whether in actions or rhymes in stories, helps children predict; knowing what happens next builds confidence and security.
Having children is scary, but it is also the most fun you’ll ever have. In nurturing your baby you are actually laying the foundations their brain needs for healthy long-term development. Give yourself permission to play.