Ever wondered exactly what it is your baby needs from you to give her the right start in life? Here are 25 practical ways to increase her confidence, boost her happiness and ensure she achieves her full potential.
1. Make eye contact
Take advantage of those brief moments when your newborn’s eyes are open and look right into them. Babies recognise faces early on and yours is the most important one of all. By doing this you get into the habit of looking your child in the eyes when you communicate with her. Looking into your baby’s eyes conveys the message that you’re sincere and she’s important to you.
2. Make conversation
While you’ll probably feel silly conversing with a young baby who just isn’t going to talk back, by leaving short pauses where your baby would speak she’ll catch on to the rhythm of conversation and start filling in the blanks. Her gurgles will eventually fill the spaces and you can respond to these as though you’ve understood what she’s said.
3. Make faces
Studies show that newborns as young as 2 days old can imitate simple facial movements. So stick out your tongue, widen your eyes and form your mouth into an “O” to look surprised. This will teach your baby very early problem-solving skills.
4. Make her laugh
Tickle your baby’s toes or tickle her all over. Making your baby laugh is the first step in developing her sense of humour. Also, playing games like “This little piggy” (finish by tickling her under the chin) or “I’m gonna get you” teaches your baby to anticipate events.
5. Let her see herself
Have your baby stare at herself in the mirror. At first, she may think she’s just seeing another baby, but she’ll start to interact with the reflection and will love making the “other” baby wave her arms and smile.
6. Make dull routines fun
Endless nappy changing can get terribly dull but it’s a great time to teach your baby about her body parts or pieces of clothing. Also, talk her through the process of having her nappy changed so she learns to anticipate routines.
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7. Surprise your baby
Every now and then, delight your baby by gently blowing on her face, arms, or tummy. Make a pattern out of how you blow air on her, and watch her react and anticipate.
8. Let her spot the difference
Once your baby has learnt to focus, you can try this. Hold up two pictures that are similar but have a few differences. Even a young infant will look back and forth and figure out the distinguishing features, which sets the stage for letter recognition and reading later on.
9. Sing a song
Learn as many tunes as you can, or make up your own verses (“This is the way we wash your hair, wash your hair, wash your hair...”). Play Bach, the Beatles, or Britney Spears. Some research suggests that learning the rhythm of music is linked to good maths skills later on in life.
10. Be a jungle gym
Lie down on the floor and let your baby climb and crawl all over you. This will help boost her coordination and problem-solving skills.
11. Preempt your actions
When you announce, “I’m going to turn on the light now” before flipping the switch, you’re teaching her about cause and effect.
12. Turn the tissue box into a toy
If your baby loves pulling tissues out of the box, let her. For a few rand, you’ve got sensory playthings that she can crumple or smooth out. Hide small toys under them and thrill her when you “find” them again.
13. Give her a money box
While your child isn’t ready for pocket money or to start worrying about future financial investments, dropping coins into a money box is a fantastic way of improving her fine motor skills. Give your baby large coins (R5) and let her drop them into the slot while you sit with her to guide her hands so she doesn’t get frustrated.
14. Change the scenery
Switch your toddler’s high chair to the other side of the table. You’ll challenge her memory of where things are placed at meals.
15. Read again and again!
Scientists have found that babies as young as 8 months can learn to recognise the sequence of words in a story when it’s read two or three times in a row. This will aid your baby’s language skills.
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16. Make a family album
Include photographs of relatives near and far and flip through it often to build your child’s memories. When Grandma calls, show your baby her picture while she listens to her speaking on the phone.
17. Let your baby play with her food
When she’s old enough for solid or finger food, serve foods that vary in texture, including cooked peas, cereal and pasta. This will encourage her to practice her pincer grasp and explore her senses.
18. Feel the way
Walk around the house carrying your baby, and as you go place her hand on the cool window, some soft laundry, a smooth plant leaf and other safe objects. Talk about how they feel as you go.
19. Let your baby be the boss
Build your baby’s confidence by giving her a choice between two items whenever possible. Pick two outfits in the morning and let her choose which one she wants to wear. For instance, allow her to choose between a blue or pink bowl at meal times or let her choose between two activities.
She will learn that her decisions matter and she has an important place in the family. This method works wonders when your toddler is exerting her independence and wants to feel empowered. It cuts conflict down to a minimum.
20. Put her in the spotlight
Toddlers love to hear stories about themselves – there’s no better way to get their attention than by starting a sentence with, “When you were a baby” – so tell her stories about her babyhood, show her pictures and watch home videos in which she plays the starring role.
21. Count everything
Count how many blocks your toddler can stack. Or the number of steps in your house. Or her fingers and toes. Make a habit of counting out loud. Engage her in an activity she’ll enjoy and then give her opportunities to count. For instance, when you bake a cake together let her count the number of eggs you break into the bowl and then let her count out the decorations she’ll put on each cake.
22. Make more out of story time
Point out little details in the pictures, ask your toddler questions and discuss the parts of the story she finds most fascinating. Also, ask her questions about the characters and find out who she likes and dislikes. Ask her why. It’s a great way of finding common ground with your toddler.
23. Make a family photo memory game
Take pictures of your partner, baby, her siblings and family pets. Have two copies printed of each and when you have five minutes to play a fun game, bring out the cards. Lay them face-up on the floor, and help her find the two that are alike. As she gets older, you can alter the memory game by starting with the photos face down.
24. Recycle toys
Dig out those toys that are considered “too young” for your toddler – rattles and mirrored baby toys – and watch her find new fascination and new uses for them.
25. Don’t forget to give it a rest
Spend a few minutes each day simply sitting on the floor with your baby – no music, bright lights, or playful tricks. Let her explore, and see what she does. And don’t forget the basics – cuddle, kiss and laugh.