From the minute your baby was born you have probably spoiled her with an avalanche of toys and games. After all, you want to keep her entertained and of course, give her a leg up in the learning stakes while you are at it. After all, you want your child to be as clever as possible and what better way to stretch those brain muscles than with stacks of educational videos and toys and a shelf full of books.
The truth is, over stimulating your baby can backfire. Pushing toys and activities that are beyond an infant’s capacity may raise her level of stress and interfere with her brain’s ability to function well.
Giving your baby the right balance of stimulation doesn’t have to involve a degree in psychology. All you have to do is follow her cues. Studies show that babies are pre-programmed to seek out the activities they need. All you need to do is fill your home with age appropriate sights and sounds and let her decide what captures her interest.
What your baby learns: Newborns will depend on their parents completely, so the most important thing your infant learns in the first four weeks is to trust you.
Brain boosters: Give your baby your undivided attention. Gentle words, loving touches and your quick response to her cries, will help your baby to understand that her world is a safe place. This sense of security is essential to her future wellbeing.
Take note: Your baby has been safe in your womb for the last nine months and the outside world is completely unfamiliar. Make sure you don’t expose her to too much external stimulation, such as bright lights and loud noises.
Top tip: Leave a dim nightlight in her room rather than flicking on overhead lights when you hear her cry or want to look at her.
What your baby learns: By now your infant is starting to understand her place in the world. All these people and things exist and are separate to her and from each other. She’ll begin to follow moving objects that are close by with fascination, and identify where certain sounds – such as your voice – are coming from. She’ll begin to understand her hands and will grasp for things.
Brain boosters: This is the time to place a mobile over her cot or try putting her tummy-down on an activity mat to play, as she will be captivated by anything that moves. When she yelps and cries for your attention, answer her with responses that are theatrical and larger than life and she will love the attention.
Take note: It is tempting to buy toys with lots of lights, bell and whistles, but these wont be much fun for your baby. Keep playthings simple and opt instead for small toys with interesting textures and non-breakable mirrors.
Top tip: Keep eye contact with your baby when feeding her, she will love having food and your attention at the same time.
What your baby learns: Your infant is now figuring out that her actions cause predictable responses. When she shakes a rattle, it makes a noise; when she smiles, you smile back. She is also developing the ability to take in information from two senses at the same time – she will look at your facial expressions as you talk to her, and listen to your voice. Her concentration has grown and she will spend a long time examining things.
Brain boosters: She is absolutely enthralled by small things she can grab, particularly if they have an interesting noise, so now is the time to bring out the bells and music. She will love soft toys with bells inside them and rattling plastic keys. She will also be fascinated by music and will gravitate towards toys that make noises and light up.
Take note: Make sure your baby has a consistent daily routine with plenty of repetition. Introduce her to visitors so that she gets used to strangers and the concept of friends but keep visits short; you don’t want to over stimulate her.
Top tip: Look out for your baby holding her hands up and her arms wide – this means she wants to play.
What your baby learns: It will dawn on your baby for the first time that words have specific meanings and she’ll begin to understand the most common ones she hears. She is also beginning to show signs of determination, and will keep reaching for toys that are out of reach. She will also love making banging noises and will try to copy you if you clap.
Brain boosters: Begin telling her the names of as many items as possible when she plays with them and repeat often. Encourage her to retrieve a toy for which she has to stretch. When she’s sitting on the floor or in her cot, make sure she has lots of toys to reach for, pick up and explore.
Take note: Your baby is clear what “no” means but saying this to her too often will hinder her love of exploration. Put any dangerous or breakable objects well out of her reach, and make your infant’s environment as baby safe as possible.
Top tip: Always answer her needs and cries; this breeds self-confidence and self-esteem.
What your baby learns: Your little clever clogs is now integrating all her senses and motor skills to discover how things work. Her word comprehension will also explode during this period and by one year she will be walking or making attempts to walk.
Brain boosters: On her feet and incredibly curious, your baby needs to be able to explore her environment without restriction. With your close supervision, let her open and close cabinets, empty drawers and rifle through boxes – all of these activities will expand her ability to process information. Improve her vocabulary by narrating as you play with her (“We’re pouring water into the bath”) and by reading with her as often as possible.
Take note: Experts say that the high pitched singsong voice that mums naturally use to communicate with their babies, helps them learn how to talk and comprehend.
Top tip: Read simple stories about animals and their young to encourage her interest in other “babies”. All babies love this and you can use this opportunity to make reference to you and your baby and how much you love her and will protect her.
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