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Our Blog: April 8, 2011

How to Play With Baby

how to play with you infant age childHaving a doctorate in psychology has been surprisingly unhelpful to me in becoming a confident parent. It’s mainly served to make me nervous that I’m failing at one crucial aspect of parenting or another. I realized this when we brought home our first child – all pink and cute from the hospital — ready to be held, changed, fed, and interacted with. I knew interaction and play were important to her developing brain, but how the heck do you play with a newborn baby? She couldn’t even hold up her head, much less play “patty cake”.

Scientists have found that early interaction is crucial in building and maximizing brain growth and baby’s development — we’ve all heard about it. Luckily, it doesn’t take a fancy degree to maximize your baby’s amazing, developing brain. You can forget about fancy flashcards and expensive “Teach Baby To Read” videos. All your baby needs is you.

Keep these tips in mind as you go through the first year of your baby’s life – lots of responsive, fun play will help baby grow and thrive — and will solidify her relationship with a Very Important Parent — you!

  • Focus on the “conversation.” Take turns “talking”, making faces and gesturing.
  • “Match” your baby’s communications — move your body at about the same speed she moves hers, speak at the same volume, and give her a “visual break” by looking away and backing off when she does. Baby understands you much more through your non-verbal communication now.
  • Make the most of the “Happy-Alert” phase of your baby’s sleep/wake cycle. The cycle usually goes like this throughout the day: Sleep >> Wake >> Feed >> Happy-Alert >> Fussy-Sleep. Don’t take it personally if she’s tired or fussy — just try again during her next “Happy-Alert” phase.
  • Give her time to play with everyone in the family. You’ll see how she reacts differently to Mom, Dad, and big brother. Everyone already has their own special relationship with baby!

Your little one develops at light-speed during the first year. Add to your playtime to take advantage of your baby’s new abilities along the way. Here are some special clues for playing with your baby at 3 months, 6 months, and 10 months of age:

Your 3-Month-Old

“The Eyes Have It.” Now, she can control her gaze to keep you in sight, plus she can stay awake for a longer stretch of play. Keep her close so she can focus on your face. Make extra time to “talk”, and show baby new things at home and outside.

Your 6-Month-Old

“Happy Hands!” She’s working on controlling her hands – so that she can explore her environment on her own. Offer her your finger, a rattle, or a little colorful stuffed animal. OOH and AAH over her progress. Respond to her cute babbling with interest and encouragement.

Your 10-Month-Old

“Baby On The Move!” Although she’s mostly interested in crawling around these days, there’s still plenty of time for play. Name objects she brings to you – and those she points at. Pointing is an awesome development that ushers in a whole new host of skills – skills that will serve her well as she approaches toddlerhood. (Can you believe it? She’s almost a TODDLER!)

And finally: take care of YOURSELF. Having a baby is exhausting. The more well-rested and happy you are, the more responsive you’ll be to your baby. Even at this early age, she’s picking up on your feelings and emotions. Make sure to have enough support and help throughout the entire, amazing first year of your little one’s life – so that you can ALL enjoy this special time in the life of your family!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.