New research shows you can stimulate the cognitive and emotional development of your baby by the way you two interact over the first 12 months. Gavin Evans sifts through the evidence and shows you how to do it…
Recent studies of babies’ brains reveal that neural pathways can be developed – or impeded – by early experience; in particular by the way their parents relate to them.Fathers have a vital role here.
It all boils down to the way you look at, hold, talk to and play with your baby, and the time you spend doing so (the more, the better). It starts in the womb, picks up in the hours after birth when they’ll be particularly alert, and never stops. And remember, they’ll be learning at a rapid rate, so never underestimate their brain power.
Babies carry memory of particular sounds, including your voice, so hearing dad’s voice soon after birth creates a comforting connection at a time when your partner may be too exhausted to engage.
The mutual gaze stimulates your baby’s brain, prompting connections between brain cells. You can make it easier for them by holding their hands to keep their body and head in the right position. Keep this up in regular, small doses (they’ll soon grow tired and become restless - time to stop the direct gaze).
Touch is a vital way of communicating with and calming your baby – and babies find it easier to learn when calm. In addition to bathing and bottle-feeding, try holding your baby close (in a pouch or sling) while you go about your business.
Babies can’t learn much when upset - anxiety impedes brain development: another reason to understand your baby’s moods and how to respond.
Babies learn through imitation. Long before trying their first words, they experiment by observing mouth movements.
Babies learn by playing. From three to four months old it is worth introducing games. Do this in a way that is active and engaged (rather than just observing).
Before they can understand the words, they can learn from the sounds, pictures and the contact with you. Books become a source of pleasure – giving them a headstart.
Well before their first birthday they’ll be experimenting with words.One way to help is to repeat words. It also helps to play with language – by using rhyming words.
All babies respond to music, particularly if it involves singing. It can also calm – or stimulate – them.
Babies enjoy watching others and being watched, and this helps them learn. Participating in circle time at playgroups is one way to do this.