Infants begin learning the moment they are born. They can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. It is through these senses that they take in the world around them and learn to feel secure in it. Your baby learns to trust the people around her through various activities and daily routines like bathing, being held, eating, and play. Your baby develops trust from having her needs met on a consistent basis. When your baby feels secure and has the expectation that her needs will be met, she can relax, explore and learn.
A baby’s brain is very flexible. Although there are areas specialized for certain functions like language and movement, it is her everyday experiences that determine the kind and strength of the brain connections. But we cannot separate the actual experiences from the emotional context in which they occur. Just meeting a baby’s physical needs is not enough. For your baby to thrive she must receive social interaction and nurturing love. She needs YOU!!!
SO what can you do to help your infant learn, grow and develop intellectually and emotionally? Following is a list of activities and experiences you can share with your baby that will not only help her brain to develop, but also strengthen the bonding and attachment that is so crucial for her thrive.
Birth to 12 months:
- Engage your baby with eye contact while you talk or sing to her.
- READ to her. It doesn’t matter what you read, but do so with emotion and a soothing tone.
- Use gentle touch. While holding her, stroke her skin, touch her fingers and toes, put her hand against your face, and rub her back. This can be done anytime during the day, but is especially fun outside on a blanket on a warm day.
- Play with her using a mirror. Hold her with her back against you as you both face a wall mirror. Make silly faces, stick out your tongue, SMILE—it is great fun when she imitates you!
- Hang a musical mobile above the bed. (Make sure she can see the figures as they spin). There are numerous types of toys on the market that have colorful items hanging down so she can look, kick, and reach for them. Be sure to alternate her view by switching her from her tummy to her back or sitting upright in a bouncy chair. Always supervise your baby during these activities.
- Show and then hold out various objects like rattles, teething rings, soft toys, and watch her reach for the,/ Describe the item and ask questions. She won’t be able to answer you with words just yet, but you are developing a strong connection and encouraging language skills.
- Play ‘pat-a-cake,’ ‘peek-a-boo,’ and ‘ where did it go?’ Hide toys under blankets and containers, then pull the cover away and watch her surprise.
- Let her makes some noise by banging on pots with a large plastic spoon, shake rattles, or just pat her hand on the table.
- Don’t forget water play. Older babies love to play and splash in water. Give her cups and funnels so she can practice pouring. NEVER leave your baby alone in or near water! Babies can drown in 1 inch of water!
- Use hand puppets to tell a story.
- As your child becomes more mobile she will enjoy many push-pull toys.
- Talk and read about different animals and make their sounds.
- Play in the dark with a flashlight.
- Blow bubbles. This is great fun. Younger infants love to watch and older babies may try to ‘pop’ them.
There are numerous ways children can experience physical abuse- shaking, jerking, slapping, pinching, pulling hair, and harsh spankings or beatings. Most often parents revert to these tactics because of extreme frustration, stress, and/or lack of appropriate parenting skills.
- Shaking – All infants cry, some much more than others. Parents who feel frustrated and helpless to stop the crying may shake the baby. This can result in brain damage or death. When violent shaking occurs the brain “bounces” around within the head causing it to bleed. It is also possible to break the infant’s neck. In a single moment of anger a parent can unintentionally kill their own child.
- Jerking, pinching, hair pulling – When there is tension and emotional turmoil in the home children may not understand everything going on. However, they do feel the stress and react in the only way they know how- with unruly behavior and tantrums. Although these behaviors are extremely frustrating it is never acceptable to jerk a child’s arm. It could pull the arm out of the socket causing tremendous pain. Pulling of hair or pinching is not only hurtful, but humiliating as well.
- Spankings and beatings – Harsh spankings or beatings are extremely dangerous to a child’s health especially if a paddle or belt is used. This could result in damage to the kidneys, spleen, liver and other major organs. Furthermore, spankings only stop unwanted behavior temporarily. Hurting a child does not teach him to solve a problem. It just makes him feel bad about himself, angry and resentful towards his parents, and increases his own aggressiveness.
What to do instead:
- Educate yourself about the development of your child and take classes about appropriate parenting strategies.
- Seek out a professional who deals with anger management, stress, and abuse issues. Oftentimes, parents who experienced abuse as a child instinctualiy react to their children in the same manner as their parents treated them. Sometimes parents do not even realize their behaviors are harmful.
- Learn to recognize your limits and get in touch with your body’s signals such as fist clenching, teeth grinding, and elevated heart rate. When you feel yourself getting extremely frustrated take a‘time out’. Make sure your child is in a safe place, go to another room, breathe deeply as you count to yourself and return when you feel you have regained control.
- Ask for help. Call a friend or family member to talk or ask them stay with your child while you get away for an hour or so.
- Look for the good in your child. Use praise whenever you notice your child behaving as you wish.This let’s him know how to act and your expectations.
- Call Alabama’s Parenting Assistance Line (I-866-962-3030). A Parent Resource Specialist will be available to talk, offer support, and help you find useful resources.