From birth, a baby’s sensory system is working in unison–across all 8 senses (8!)–to lay a foundation for wellness and development.
The Wow of Now:
Baby’s more-integrated brain can finally begin to take control of their body. This allows them to willfully engage with their environment in a more coordinated fashion and with more controlled motor skills–like tracking and swatting–which are beginning to develop.Are they...
The Wow Ahead:
With this new level of integration, rhythm, and connection comes a new experience of flow in the stream: dreaming. With dreaming comes changes in sleep patterns and an opportunity to reinforce an important learning: consistency is integral to training security. This is key to navigating the potentially rough waters ahead.
Congratulations! You’ve unlocked a new phase in baby’s play and development—the social smile. Though brain development is a combination of genes and experiences, science has proven that back-and-forth interactions (also called “serve-and-return” interactions) with a caring adult are essential to a baby's ability to learn, grow, and thrive. The architecture of their brain is built on loving and consistent responses from caregivers like you. Think of back-and-forth interactions like a game of catch: Baby smiles or coos, you respond in return. You smile or coo, baby responds in return. Baby reaches for an object, you label what they are reaching toward. Baby cries, you provide comfort. In this way, baby’s brain mirrors the expressions they see, copying the reactions and responses of those around them.
Sportscasting and Parentese
Narrate what you are doing step-by-step, like a sportscaster on TV, to keep the language flowing—then pause for your baby to respond. Because you want to encourage dialogue, really ham up your delight in their responses. You can even do this when baby is upset, for example, “I know you are tired and I’m right here to help your body calm down. You’re crying to tell me that you’ve had enough and I hear you.”
Studies have also shown that using “parent-ese” (also known as “caregiver-ese”)—a high-pitched, sing-song voice with elongated vowels and exaggerated tones used across many languages and cultures–improves baby’s language acquisition. Unlike “baby talk”, it is not made-up words or gibberish, but rather grammatically correct, real sentences. This voice is accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions, which help baby to connect emotion to the quality of language.
Waaay before babies can speak, their brains are starting to predict the motor movements necessary to turn their thoughts into words. Your baby learns the patterns in sounds of speech from listening to you fill their days with words. In addition, hearing your voice uniquely soothes and comforts them, building the critical connection between you two.
Place baby on a blanket or mat on the floor and get close to explore together. Notice how they are beginning to track your face as you shift from one side to the other. To “test” baby’s vision, start 3 feet away from them and make a funny face or noise to elicit a smile. Then, move another 3 feet away, and another, until baby stops smiling. This tells you how far they can see!
Next, lay baby down and move their hands and feet to a familiar song, like “The Wheels on the Bus.” (Singing while you do it will elevate the experience even more.)
Practice mirroring emotions by sitting face-to-face and imitating baby’s emotions and facial movements.
Sit in front of the mirror and let them reach and touch the baby they see in front of them.
Make a book of familiar faces in the family–nice and big–and talk through all the people who love and care for them nightly before bedtime.
As social creatures, babies learn every time you engage in this bidirectional dance as you build important communication and social skills. It’s a two-way conversation, with and without words, and it’s one of the first ways you can improve their attention skills for the rest of their life!
In addition to a bath- and night-time routines, create structure around other parts of the day, like feedings (same chair, same song) and naps (same locations and times of day). Work on developing healthy routines that allow baby to predict what will happen next. Create a schedule that accommodates your lifestyle and baby’s temperament. What the routine is doesn’t actually matter, the key for baby’s development is that it is consistent.
Through repetition in their day-to-day, baby experiences a sensation of flow and feels safe enough to begin predicting what will happen next based on what has consistently happened in their lifetime to date. Routines allow all humans to feel safe within the transitions of life. Giving babies a daily routine helps them understand their world better and creates a sense of trust and security that allows their brains to be open to learning.
Support for You
Your reliable presence in baby’s life is laying the foundation for their healthy brain development from the moment they are born. Their relationships with loving, caring, consistent caregivers literally shapes the physical structure of their brain. Beyond this, we now understand that relationships also create an important buffer for baby to help absorb whatever adversity life inevitably brings. This buffer helps baby to grow resilience and adapt to difficult circumstances, take on challenges, and experience stressful events without long-term damage.
On the flip side, knowing that baby is so dependent on your relationship can feel like a lot of pressure. You can’t respond to baby’s needs every minute of the day, and you won’t be on your A-game all the time. That is not only OK, but good. Making mistakes as parents and caregivers creates opportunities for repair; to find the connection with baby again. These repairs are extraordinarily beneficial as they teach baby how to recover, return to safety, and to grow more confident in their knowledge of how relationships and interactions work in the real world.
When you need a minute, make sure baby is safe (like in their crib) and take one. When you feel lost, find a way to reconnect with a snuggle or some face time. When you need a cry, have at it. Caregivers aren’t perfect, they’re permanent. You’re teaching your baby that you are sticking around, even when it’s hard, tiring, or just plain rough. You show upm and that is what makes you the most important person in their life.
Let's Check on the Basics
EatIs baby eating?
SleepIs baby sleeping?
PoopIs baby pooping?
Yes on all three? Great! One or more No’s? Let’s talk about it.
Book a session with Mariel Benjamin, LCSW - Head of Parenting to dig in.