The atmosphere surrounding your newborn baby need not be perfect or overly protective. He can adapt easily to the normal activities of your life, providing you take care to introduce them gradually. For instance, immediately after birth and for the next few days, it is best to keep noise, abrupt changes, and visitors to a minimum. Then, little by little, more activity can enter into Baby’s days.
One of the first duties parents have is to help Baby get in contact with his senses. You need to help him learn to use and understand his senses to get information. Touch is one of the first sensations Baby recognizes, even more than sight or sound; touch transmits the first impressions of life to Baby. Babies must be touched or they will not thrive. Whether it be nursing Mommy and feeling warmth and reassurance from her body, or being held close by Daddy, touch is extremely important.
The next things they tune into are sounds. Babies like sounds. They have already learned to listen in the womb, so give them sounds. They love to hear your gentle voice. The sound of your voice is comforting for them, as they’ve heard it in the womb for several months and are familiar with it. Babies need to be talked to. They need to know you are there. They are learning to use their senses. They are beginning to learn about communication—starting with what happens when they cry. Crying is their first attempt at expressing themselves and communicating: “Help! Help me! I need you. This is a very strange place. This is a very new experience for me. In fact, this is my very first experience with anything! Help me through it.” Whether hungry, or wet, or lonely, crying is a universal communicator.
Keep walking, talking and rocking
You may have heard it said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Looking at the condition of the world today, you wonder if perhaps those hands were not always there as they should have been and when they were needed. Someone was not rocking, or talking to and teaching and praying for and watching out for Baby as they should. True, the people you admire most in life may or may not have had wonderful parents and a great childhood, but you can be confident that those who have grown to become a blessing to others received a touch of God’s love at some time in their life. Someone somewhere, perhaps at a time when it was most needed, reached out to them with a hug, a warm word of encouragement, a kind smile, a little present, an explanation that helped them view life in a better light. You can be that special someone for your baby. All you need to do is be there for him and you will make a difference for life.
Soul food for Baby
Babies enjoy spiritual feedings as well as physical feedings. They love to drink in the spiritual nourishment they feel when you are happy, full of praise, singing joyful songs to God, or just praying out loud. Talk to your baby about Jesus often. Tell Baby how much you love Jesus and how much He loves you and Baby. Let Baby know in many different ways how important Jesus is in your life. Baby doesn’t need a big talk or sermon, just a sweet sample of your devotion while he is nursing, or while you are changing his diaper. Sing him little songs about Jesus and His love, or tell him simple Bible verses or inspiring sayings, like “Jesus loves you!” or “Jesus is our good Shepherd!” or adapt them for Baby; “Jesus loves the little babies, all the babies of the world.” Put up a nice picture of Jesus where he will see it frequently, perhaps by his bed, and talk to him about Jesus as you look at or show him the picture. Lead and teach your baby to love and believe in Jesus by your own daily sample of love and devotion.
The Loveliest Flower
The soul of a child is the loveliest flower
That grows in the garden of God.
Its climb is from weakness to knowledge and power,
To the sky from the clay and the clod.
To beauty and sweetness it grows under care,
Neglected, ‘tis ragged and wild.
‘Tis a plant that is tender, but wondrously rare,
The sweet, wistful soul of a child.
Be tender, O gardener, and give it its share
Of moisture, of warmth, and of light;
And let it not lack for the painstaking care,
To protect it from frost and from blight.
A glad day will come when its bloom shall unfold;
It will seem that an angel has smiled,
Reflecting a beauty and sweetness untold
In the sensitive soul of a child.
You can explain God to your children as soon as they understand what a mother and a father are—people who love them and take care of them, who brought them into this world. Then you can explain that there is a great Father who, although they cannot see Him, is everywhere. He is the Spirit of love; He is love. In fact, even before your children can talk, you can lead them to the Lord all the time by your example and your love, by telling them about Jesus!—D.B.B.
Building Baby’s brain power
Baby immediately begins gathering great amounts of information about this new world he has entered. Scientists tell us that brain cells, especially in very young children, change and develop complicated neural patterns and interconnections in direct response to sensory simulation and body movement. Providing your baby or young child with a variety of sense- or muscle-exploring opportunities not only stimulates brain development, but also lays a good foundation for a more alert, happy, and thriving child. Babies who are deprived of opportunities to explore, feel, touch, and learn in a safe, nurturing environment do not progress as quickly. Just as their physical bodies must have proper foods, liquids, exercise, rest, shelter, and be kept clean, so their developing brain seeks “feeding” through their five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.
As parents, you can help Baby immediately begin to discover things. You can say the words for objects and experiences as they appear or occur within Baby’s environment: “This is warm. This is cold. This is smooth. This is rough. Oh, what a noisy dog! Listen to him barking.” Let Baby touch, see, taste, hear, and smell all sorts of things. Let Baby hear music and a variety of sounds, look at colors and shapes, and touch various materials. Hold Baby up to see things like an aquarium, to watch the fish swimming. Explain the world to him. Daddy can hold Baby’s little hand up to the stubble of his beard and say, “This is rough.” Do all you can to help get his senses in contact with the physical world, so he can start to figure it all out. It is a whole new world for him!
Many of a child’s intellectual capacities are determined by the experiences he has had by the time he is five or six. So don’t lose any time; give him all the experiences you can. You can even teach your baby to read and learn other “difficult” things at an early age. Expose your child to as rich a vocabulary as you can. Don’t be afraid to use or tell him the correct word for something, even if you didn’t learn it until a much later age. Babies don’t understand that some things are difficult. Little children have a special gift for learning. They may not get it all, but every experience is a learning experience for babies. It’s easier for children to learn multiple languages before they’re about eight; after that, it becomes increasingly difficult.
Learning is a natural occupation for babies, and most of a baby’s learning comes through play. Remember to use love and encouragement rather than pressure and negative demands. Reinforce good behavior with love and interest. You teach by what you do, you teach by what you don’t do, but you especially teach by how you react to what your baby does.
Practical things you can do to stimulate your baby’s brain development
* You can do a lot to help your baby “connect” with his body. You can massage Baby gently, moving his limbs, touching his toes to different parts of his body. Watch the expression of wonder and delight as Baby discovers his toes touching his mouth, or touching his hands to his feet. It must be quite an experience for Baby in those first moments when he discovers that his toes are a part of him, and if he sticks them in his mouth he has two feelings at once. He must experience somewhat the same wonder and puzzlement that a puppy seems to have when chasing his tail. It is a great discovery: “Hey, I am touching something that feels like me. I am touching something that I can feel being touched.”
* Try to appeal to all of your baby’s senses. Present Baby with different things to see, smell, hear, and touch. Present examples of contrasting things: smooth and rough, dry and wet, warm and cold. Paste different pictures, shapes, and colors on cards for your baby to look at. Where possible, try to involve more than one sense. For example, let Baby feel the apple as well as see it, and try to sample it while you talk to him about the shape, color, and aroma of the apple.
Many approaches to education focus on learning through the senses. You learn concepts and abstract ideas by first feeling and experiencing things in the physical—the weight, the size, the color, the texture, and the smell. Music, of course, is very stimulating and an ability that can be developed very early. Choose good music with clear notes or voices.
* Give tiny babies every chance to watch what is going on. Prop them up in the corner of the room so that they can see everything. Baby learns by being there, by being around people, seeing things, doing things, having to react and interact with the environment. Try not to leave Baby in his crib too long once he is awake. Baby backpacks allow you to carry Baby around with you while you do simple chores, shopping, gardening, and going for walks. The bounce of your body, your conversation with someone, and the ever-changing sights and sounds and smells that you pass by all help stimulate Baby’s brain.
* Help Baby learn while you carry him in your arms. For example, you can show him how to turn on and off the light switch as you go in and out of rooms. Take his hand at first, and use it to flip the switch while you tell the baby what he is doing and help him realize that he is controlling the light by his actions. Of course, once Baby starts reaching out for things while you are holding him, you will have to be mindful that he does not accidentally touch something dangerous or pull something down.
While he is in your arms, be sure to let him inspect all the safe items of interest, like pictures, cupboards, drawers, and shelves that he has not been able to see or touch from the floor. Handling something he has previously only seen gives it a whole new dimension in Baby’s mind.
Looking out an open window is always fun, but as in all new experiences, watch out for the child’s safety. Hold Baby tightly, as a sudden move could cause the child to fall forward out of your arms. When you’re carrying a baby, if he drops something, rather than picking it up for him, you could sometimes lower the baby to pick up the lost item, while encouraging him to pick it up for himself.
* Let Baby explore. For babies and young children, movement is learning, and some of the best learning takes place when children are allowed to touch and taste and experience for themselves. Don’t expect your little one to sit down and be quiet all the time. Sitting passively is not the best for brain development, and does little for physical and social development. No matter how captivating television and videos are, a child’s brain and body will still hunger for other exciting physical and sensory input and experience. Periods of passive learning must be balanced with more activity.
* Eye movement exercises are good for Baby. How well babies see will affect many other areas of their development. Play with colorful objects back and forth in their line of sight. Rolling balls, swinging pendulums, appealing mobiles all help stimulate Baby’s visual skills.
* Stimulate Baby to react to you in some way. Talking to him whenever you are with him is very good. Encourage him to give a response, a hand movement, a laugh, coo or babble. Don’t be afraid to depart from the usual “baby talk” and just say some interesting words about the day, or talk about him or yourself, or repeat some simple rhymes or phonetic sounds. Babies become fascinated with all sorts of things, and are constantly learning things when you don’t even realize they are learning. They will slap their hands on the table to feel the sensation on their palms and hear the noise it makes, and to see your reaction. These daily new experiences become a whole world of discovery.
* Involve Baby in a variety of safe activities. Finding ways to involve your baby in an interactive activity takes patience and creativity on your part, but the payoff is well worth the effort. A generation of television addicts may claim that much learning can take place during times of passive observation, but science and common sense tell us that active participation makes for better quality learning.
* Encourage Baby’s language development. Children recognize and understand words and sentences even before they can talk, so it is good to not get into a habit of just talking baby talk. If you have other children, encourage them to speak clearly, as though the baby is able to understand normal speech. Since babies of only a few months old are beginning to understand speech, it is very important that you become mindful of what you say about Baby in his presence. Babies listen to every word, believe it or not, and all too often their developing self-image and self-esteem can be greatly affected by what you say and how you say it. Don’t be fooled into thinking a child doesn’t understand speech because they don’t talk, and don’t assume that your baby automatically turns off when you turn to talk to some other person. It is often Baby’s own well-kept secret, but he is recording and reacting to everything he hears.
* Bath time is a wonderful experience because bathing totally covers Baby’s body with feeling—the water, the splashing, hearing the sounds, the sensations of being wet and washed. Baby can have a lot of fun in the bath! Give him a clean plastic bottle with the bottom removed so he can watch the water run out of the ends. A little boat or some other small, colorful, floating toys are fun. Caution: Never leave a small child alone in water, even for a few seconds! A small child can drown in only an inch or two of water.
* Babies need exercise for all their limbs. Developing simple muscle skills plays an important part in the development of your baby’s coordination. Use every opportunity to exercise, massage, and move his arms and legs.
Making your home a safe place for Baby
It’s fun to grow up with a baby, being there when he learns something new. Look around at your home environment and try to see it through your baby’s eyes. Consider what accidents could be caused by dangerous items being left where Baby could pull on them, push them, or put them in his mouth. Here are some ways to be sure your home is baby-safe, especially once Baby becomes more mobile:
* Remove or baby-proof furniture with sharp edges and corners. Pad any sharp corners that remain.
* Remove anything breakable from a surface that is less than one meter (or yard) from the floor.
* Make sure there are no electric wires trailing across the floor, and that other cords, like those on venetian blinds, are out of Baby’s reach.
* Remove dangling tablecloths that Baby can pull, thus dumping the contents of the table onto his little head.
* Cover electrical sockets within Baby’s reach.
* Make sure that stair and balcony banister supports are too narrow for a small child to fit his head through.
* Make sure that all cupboard doors are closed firmly and that the handles are out of Baby’s reach; if they aren’t, lock them or seal up with masking tape.
* Dangerous household cleaning agents and other chemical products should be kept out of reach.
* Put sturdy gates at the entrance to stairs leading to the second floor and basement. Block the entrance to the kitchen, too.
* Be aware of what Baby is up to at all times even though you have baby-proofed the rooms he is in.
When Baby arrives, it is time to consider whether your pet, if you have one, is safe for Baby. Your pet may need some extra attention and reassurance when Baby comes, as animals can sometimes get jealous and nasty, which they may not show when you are around. Your pet may not be as thrilled as you are about Baby—especially if it was used to being the center of your attention. Pregnant women and tiny babies also should avoid close contact with cats, because they are known to harbor a parasite that can cause serious problems (toxoplasmosis) in unborn and newly born babies.
Baby care is a family affair
If you have other children, they too need help to understand and appreciate and learn to welcome Baby. Teaching Baby can be a team effort. As you have more children, it will be harder for you to pour a lot of individual attention into the youngest one, but older children can also help teach Baby. Keeping everyone who is involved in a household happy about Baby can involve a lot of work for Mom and Dad. It takes time to understand and explain things to the other children, but that is part of growing into parenthood. Caring for each other, caring for Baby, and caring for the other children is what transforms a couple into a family, and individuals into parents!
Parents are a child’s first teachers, and children in turn teach parents. Parents help their children master the essential skills of life: walking, talking, and getting along with others. Parents have the great joy of hearing their child’s first laugh, watching his response to a tickle, seeing his first smiles, hearing his first words, clapping for his first steps. Parenthood is rich in rewarding daily blessings.
Nothing stimulates brain development like hands-on experience.
A good toy should be attractive to the child’s sense of sight and touch (a handy size, with interesting shape and feel), and provoke him to use his hands in some activity with it. If possible, it should challenge him or should have some problem to solve, usually requiring physical coordination. Toys that merely passively entertain are of the lowest level of learning value, even if they talk or have flashing lights. The toy should set some goal and encourage exact choices or movements by the child. It should not be too cluttered with features, but allow the child to concentrate on a few things at a time. The toy could contrast certain qualities, or if possible, have graduations of size, color, sound, speed, touch, or whatever. Peg-and-hammer toys, nesting cups or barrels, stacking blocks, shape boxes (boxes with objects of various shapes that fit through corresponding holes) are all examples of such toys. Good toys should also be child-size, sturdy, safe, and easy to clean.
Baby’s mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of his body, and everything he finds will be put into it to taste and feel. Make sure everything Baby puts in his mouth is clean and safe. Inspect baby toys closely. Look for problem areas such as small parts that may break off and choke Baby. Keep out of baby’s reach all toys that could possibly be small enough, or have parts small enough, to be swallowed. Avoid objects that might be colored with lead-based or other toxic paint. Avoid poor-quality teething rings or other baby toys that are filled with liquids which could contain bacteria or toxins that could leak. Avoid toys that make sharp or very loud noises, as they may damage the child’s hearing.
Remove any strings or wires that Baby could get tangled in and strangle. Avoid dolls or animals with button eyes or noses that could be pulled off and swallowed, wooden blocks or boxes that could splinter, sharp objects, flammable toys or clothes, etc. Your older children’s toys may be safe enough for them, but very dangerous for your baby or toddler, so teach your older ones to keep them out of the little one’s reach. A good general rule to follow when choosing objects for the baby to play with is not to give him anything that is smaller than his fist.
Warning: Items that are dangerous for babies to play with because they may suffocate baby include deflated beach balls, balloon pieces, plastic bags, wrappings of toys, cellophane, etc.
Rather than spend money on toys that present little challenge or have little teaching value, try to invest in equipment such as hanging mobiles (or make your own), a music box, exercise pillow, bouncing swing, realistic posters and books—items that will not only stimulate Baby, but can be passed on to others once Baby has learned all he can from them. Simple wooden toys and stacking toys are often enjoyable for Baby. Satisfy his curiosity for handling new and different objects by giving him safe household items to play with, such as a whisk, plastic cups, bowls, and wooden spoons.
You can make a simple toy box from a sturdy cardboard box, possibly covering it with some colorful cloth or contact paper.