What Your Baby Learns from You Every Day

May 30, 2018

From birth, you have countless interactions with your infant every day that teach him about love, security, empathy, language and even math. “Babies are like little learning machines, picking up everything around them,” says Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., a child development specialist in Texas. If that sounds like a lot of pressure to live up to, relax. Odds are, you’re already providing these experiences without even realizing it. Discover how your baby learns from you and what you can do to make these moments even more meaningful.

Getting close at feeding time.

Nursing or bottle-feeding is prime bonding time. By cradling your baby and nourishing her, you’re letting her know she’s loved and protected, helping her adjust to the unfamiliar world outside the womb. “Research shows that a baby who forms a close attachment with a parent is more receptive to learning and processes information better,” says Gross.

At feeding time, sit in a quiet room and focus on your infant. Hold her close (a newborn can only see things clearly up to 10 inches away), cuddle and talk or sing to her.

Speaking “parentese” to Baby.

Your baby’s brain will learn more when you stretch out real words, articulate them clearly, and say them in a somewhat high-pitched, melodic tone, says Renate Zangl, Ph.D., author of Raising a Talker. In fact, a study by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington found that young children whose family often used this speech style with them knew twice as many words by age 2 as those whose parents didn’t.

Keep your words simple and speak in full sentences as often as possible to help Baby learn about words and sentence structure. Repeat phrases slowly and clearly, as it takes lots of repetition to build early word memories.

Establishing hygiene routines.

A diaper change can give your baby a sense of order, security and routine. The same goes for bathing her and brushing her gums. These are early opportunities to help her take pride in her body. “Every task that involves touching and bonding also enhances your child’s emotional development,” says Gross. When changing or cleaning your baby, take the time to narrate what you’re doing, and look for games—like counting her toes—to
make the process more fun.

Staying calm.

Maintaining an even tone of voice in stressful situations gives your little one a lesson in how to regulate his emotions. “Babies are sensitive to their parents’ facial expressions,” says Kirsten Cullen Sharma, Psy.D., a child psychologist in New York. “If they see you looking fearful or upset, they may mimic that behavior.”

Your child learns the phrase “Uh-oh” early on and can connect it to the fact that a mistake has happened, says Sharma. Use it to acknowledge a mishap and laugh it off.

Sharing family mealtime.

“When you include your baby in meals, it reinforces that she’s part of the family,” says Kristen Yarker, R.D., a child-feeding expert in Canada. Once your baby starts eating solids, let her explore with her hands (rather than solely spoon-feeding) to teach her that food doesn’t need to be controlled by an adult and that you trust her to
listen to her hunger cues, says Yarker.

Resist the urge to help out when she is eating (even if she makes a big mess). Figuring out how to get foods of various shapes and textures into her mouth will improve her fine motor skills. Give her a few healthy choices at each meal and let her decide what she wants and when she’s done.

Playing tunes.

Research shows that music can improve your child’s mood and boost his concentration. It may also help foster mathematical understanding: elements such as melody and beat offer opportunities to internalize patterns, sequences and counting.

Dance to a song while cradling Baby, or gently tap his back to the beat to reinforce the rhythm. Break out some baby instruments, such as a xylophone or maracas, and play them together while he works on his motor skills.

Saying goodbye.

Watching you leave can be tough for your baby, particularly when separation anxiety first kicks in around 6 to 8 months or peaks again at 15 to 18 months, says Richard So, M.D., a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

When you need to leave, don’t sneak away—or your child may feel abandoned. Instead, say, “Goodbye. I’ll be home soon,” So suggests. Keep your bye-byes brief. When you return, give her a hug and say, “I told you I’d be back. I missed you. I will always come back for you.” She’ll get used to the routine, and while it won’t eliminate her anxiety right away, over time she’ll realize that goodbye doesn’t mean forever.

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