Congratulations on your new or newest arrival to the family. Hopefully the birth was without incident and you and your baby, and family are doing well. With the new member to the family, there will be lots of things to consider. Beyond the obvious diaper changes, feeding and bathing is interacting with your infant. Some new mothers are almost afraid to engage in any form of activity for fear that they’ll frighten the child, hurt him/her or even prevent the baby from sleeping should he/she be tired. Engaging in meaning activities with your newborn is extremely important in establishing and strengthening the bond between mom and baby and of course dad too!
You are, no doubt, establishing a new routine which for some can be difficult especially if there are siblings involved. Have no fear, siblings can truly be a blessing and should also be encouraged to engage in activities (age appropriate and supervised) with their new sibling. Promoting a healthy relationship between the newest addition to the family and an older sibling is paramount in creating a happy, healthy environment free from jealousy and regressive behaviors of the older child.
Learning to communicate and interact with your new baby will be done daily through some of the simplest activities such as the basics like feeding your child, changing his/her diapers, bathing and putting the child down for naps or at bedtime (if there really is such a thing with an infant). While doing these necessary tasks you can engage in simple play. Infants like toddlers, adolescents and teenagers need daily parental interaction.
Let’s begin with some basics.
Birth to Three Months:
During the first three months of your child’s life, things will be new to both of you. Your child is attempting to adapt to life outside the womb where it was always warm, he/she received nutrients without any effort on their part and basically “life was good”. On the outside, they will become fussy in an effort to communicate their most basic needs to you. In fact, the first three months you’ll experience the most fussy behavior of all. Understanding this simple fact will help you recognize the need for you to maintain your composure and not allow the “learning process” to agitate you. Your child will sense your frustration which can lead to more fussy behavior. You little baby will begin developing into a “little person” very quickly and will be demonstrative of the attainment of developmental milestones. At this point in their development, human interactions such as body awareness and verbal communication are important.
- Talking to your Baby. When you were pregnant you probably spoke to your baby, at least I did. I had regular conversations as if he was being held in my arms. Talking to your infant should be no different. It doesn’t matter what you say as long as you are engaging. Your baby finds comfort in your voice. By communicating regularly with your baby, even before he/she can respond using words, you are modeling verbal communication which will one day elicit words from your child. Establishing eye contact while talking is very important as your child will know that you are speaking directly to him/her. Be yourself. Your child doesn’t care if you’re talking about washing dishes or feeding the dog. He/she will show delight in just hearing your voice and feeling your touch.
- Sing to your Baby. Okay, moms and dads, this isn’t American Idol auditions we’re talking about. Who cares if you can sing or not. Your baby will “light up” hearing you sing to him/her. Singing to your child accomplishes several things. For starters, if you sing when your child is calm it can have a calming effect on them when they are not. Secondly, by singing songs to your child he/she will eventually learn the lyrics and will be able to sing along with you. Additionally it has been suggested that your child will more likely sing to his/her children one day as well.
- Dance with your Baby. Babies enjoy being cuddled as much as they delight in movement. Playing music and gently moving about with your baby will provide a wonderful bonding experience. Children enjoy music from most genres. However, I’d recommend something that is soft and comforting vs. rock and roll in the early months. While dancing, provide support for his/her neck and avoid any jerking movements that could startle and injure your child.
Infants grow quickly, in fact so quickly that you’ll probably get very little use of the adorable infant clothes that your purchased or received as gifts. However, this growth isn’t just physical in nature. A child’s brain is also growing rapidly as you’ll notice as he/she reaches developmental milestones. Let’s look at what you can expect of your child from four to six months of age.
Four to Six Months:
During the first three months of your child’s life a lot of learning took place. Perhaps you were able to recognize a lot of it, perhaps you were not. The next three months, however, will certainly provide developmental milestones that you will recognize and delight in yourself. During the months four through six of your child’s life, he/she will develop social, motor, visual and language skills. Encouraging this growth through play and interacting with your baby is very important. This is also a great time to encourage sibling’s participating on a higher scale than the first three months. At this point your child will be able to roll over with little effort, some will be attempting to sit up, and he/she will be grabbing for and capable of holding toys and things that they enjoy.
- Communication with your Baby. Did you know that your child has a fully developed sense of sight at this point? He/she can recognize you, certain toys that they enjoy, their pacifier, bottle or other individuals with whom they’ve had repeated contact. Playing with your child at this point emphasizing visual stimulation is a great way to teach your child as well as entertain him/her. Some parents even begin teaching Baby Sign Language to their children as a form of communication. Due to the enormous capability of your child to learn and process information at this age, take advantage of every opportunity to present new things to your baby. Reading books to your child to enhance his/her listening skills will lead to the development of his/her verbal skills. Books with pictures will stimulate your child’s sense of curiosity and will entertain.
- Outside Activities with your Baby. Remember to participate in outdoor activities with your baby. Babies enjoy the outdoors, perhaps not if it is 50 degrees or below, unless they are well dressed for this type of weather. But, a baby finds delight in the sights, sounds and smells that they are exposed to while being pushed in a stroller. Hearing a dog barking, spotting a butterfly or a bird flying above or smelling the fragrances of certain trees or plants is a wonderful type of exposure for your baby. Rocking your baby on the porch, or holding your child while you swing gently on a porch swing will provide an enjoyable experience for you and your baby.
- Play Music for your Baby. Babies will wiggle to the rhythm of music; they will coo to the sounds and giggle too. Music is good for the soul – even for the baby’s soul. I regularly played classical and soft jazz music for my sons from pre-birth until they were ages four and six consecutively. It was part of my nap-time and bedtime ritual. They enjoyed the music, would clap their hands or tap their toes, roll around on the floor, bounce up and down and all types of physical activities. Not only were they delighted when playing to it, it was quite soothing and comforting to them when it was time for a nap or bedtime. I rarely had issues trying to encourage their rest. It also made traveling with an infant a much more pleasant experience. Exposing your baby to all types of music is a good thing, although exercising good judgment on the volume should be taken.
Whether you like it or not, your baby is on his/her way to becoming an independent thinker and toddler. Although you’re probably describing him/her as a sixteen week old to persons that inquire, the inevitable is occurring. Your baby is growing up. The next few months will be full of developmental milestones. Some that you’ll graciously welcome while others you may not. Let’s take a look at what you can expect and ways to interact with your child.
Seven to Nine Months:
Between month’s seven and nine, your child will begin to develop attachments to certain objects. This is not to say that your child desires these flashy gadgets over your company and interactions so please don’t plop your child down with a bunch of toys thinking that this is the type of stimulation your child prefers. Your child is still learning from his/her daily experiences and exposures to various stimuli. At this point in development, your child may even be able to engage in “chants or songs” that you began introducing during the first three months of his/her life. Now is the time to really engage your child in activities requiring physical and social opportunities for growth!
- Social engagements. This is a good time to introduce your baby to socializing with other children who are close in age. This will allow your child to begin learning socialization skills with someone other than you and your immediate family. Socialization needs to be encouraged as it will provide an opportunity for your child to share, interact and engage in “child babble” with other children. These experiences will often provide your child with modeling of behaviors that other children can provide. Obviously close supervision and interaction by an adult is best as leaving two or three babies unsupervised could be dangerous.
- Providing age-appropriate manipulatives. At this stage of development your baby will be fine-tuning his/her small motor skills such as his/her ability to pinch objects between their fingers. Providing objects that will encourage this skill such as plastic puzzle pieces that they can attempt to put together, or objects shaped like squares, balls or rectangles that they can manipulate into spaces of the same shape are great for encouraging physical skills and cognitive learning opportunities as well.
- Large Motor-Skill Activities. Children will be crawling, attempting to stand by pulling him/herself up using objects within his/her reach. Encouraging these movements by participating with him/her will strengthen your child’s muscles while providing a wonderful opportunity for you and your “soon to be” toddler to play. Tossing a soft foam ball to your child to encourage him/her to catch it and toss it back to you is a lot of fun. Holding your child’s hands to provide stability while he/she squats and stands or even attempts to jump up and down is also a great activity that you can enjoy together. At this point your child will be more than capable of letting you know what he/she likes and dislikes. Your child may even be able to talk at this point with vocabulary large enough to “cue” you to what he/she desires.
It’s happening parents. Your baby is finally nearing his/her first birthday. Wow! Time sure flies. Your child is probably communicating verbally at this point, perhaps with only a few recognizable words. If you taught your child Baby Sign Language, he/she is definitely utilizing it to communicate his/her needs. No doubt your baby is capable of crawling quicker than you’d ever have imagined and probably beginning to take “baby steps” toward becoming an independent walker. Let’s review activities that you and your baby can enjoy at this new stage in development.
- Communicate! At this point, your child is probably capable of saying a few very crucial words. “Mommy, Daddy, Eat, Hold me” are probably something you can recognize or some deviation of the same. Talking to, singing with and encouraging the use of words is an important activity at this age. Teaching your child words to effectively communicate his/her desire to eat, drink or get down in order to reduce the “whiny” behaviors typical at this age in an effort to get what he/she wants is critical unless you want this type of behavior to continue. If you taught Baby Sign Language to your child, encouraging your child to begin using the spoken word along with the sign symbol(s) would also be a good idea.
- Play Games. Playing games which have a more educational tone is a great way to stimulate your child’s cognitive skills. For example, using objects or shapes to create a row of patterns for him/her to duplicate; stacking blocks and counting them as they are being stacked; identifying colors and specific shapes all add up and can be done in a way that your child doesn’t even know he/she is learning. To them, its just play.
- Take Field Trips. Taking your child on mini-excursions can be a lot of fun and a teachable experience too. By visiting a zoo or aquarium you are sharing the wonders of the world with your child. Experiences such as these can stimulate and promote your child’s interests providing you countless opportunities to teach your child. Your field trips can be as basic as visiting your garden in your own back yard too. Remember, every experience you provide your child will be new to him/her.
Engaging with your newborn is vital to his/her overall development. Play is the primary way in which an infant builds a strong bond between mother and child. It provides the necessary stimulation that teaches your baby how to move, communicate, socialize and understand his/her surroundings. Babies, even though you may think incapable of learning, are ready to learn about the world around them. Providing every opportunity for your child to learn through your interactions will lead to a happy, secure and capable toddler.
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