How often do we really think about how busy a baby is?
The human infant is a marvelous package. If all goes well, the newborn emerges on their birthday with a wonderful set of equipment for exploring, acting on, and adapting to the world they enter. Vision, although initially limited, gradually expands to colors and to greater distances. Hearing may be a bit muffled at first, but gradually improves. The basics of taste, touch, and smell are also there. Combined with what appears to be aimless exuberance in wriggling arms and legs, these senses and motions make an infant as busy and as great an explorer of a new world as any we learned about in history.
This exploration involves not only the physical world, but also the emotional and social world.
Lately, many have focused more on school-aged children and the demands and crises they face. However, it’s important to remember that to cope with difficult times in life, all children rely on emotional lessons they started learning from the day they were born.
It’s important that in those early days parents, caregivers, and other significant people in infants’ lives be loving teachers, guides, and models for the skills that babies are developing, even if it’s hard to see that development from day to day.
Here are some important skills babies work on from day one, and how parents, caregivers, and others can help that work progress:
- Babies are learning whether their world is predictable and whether they can rely on certain people, events, toys, and more. Help your baby learn this by establishing a routine and educating others who may care for your infant, such as grandparents and other relatives and friends, what your child expects and relies on to maintain a sense of safety.
- Babies are learning to communicate with others. Encourage efforts to communicate such as babbling, making eye contact, and smiling. You can mirror what your baby does and build on it by, for instance, making new sounds for the baby to imitate, smiling back, and stating what smiling means: “Looks like you’re happy!”
- Babies also communicate when they are not happy. When they cry or show discomfort, take the time to soothe them, talk about what the crying might mean, and work to find a way to help the baby feel better. This helps the baby learn that no matter whether they are happy or not, you and other people who care about them will help them.
- Babies are developing exploration skills. Ensure that the areas baby uses, such as those for play or sleep, offer opportunities for growth while avoiding hazards. Parents and other caregivers can encourage a young infant to make that first rollover by holding a toy just out of reach to one side—but not at the top of the stairs! Being encouraging helps a baby try out limits and exceed them, thereby developing confidence and new physical and emotional skills.
- Babies develop a positive sense of themselves through affection and nurturing. They thrive best when parents and caregivers show them affection and pay attention to their needs.
In summary, some qualities that are important in parenting an infant include being responsive, supportive, nurturing, and encouraging. As the website for the organization Zero to Three (reference below) notes: “Starting from birth, babies are learning who they are by how they are treated.”
Author: Marilyn Bacarella, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania. She has been a psychologist at Community Behavioral Health since 2012. In her 30-plus year career, she has worked with young children in a therapeutic preschool setting, as well as children and adults of all ages in outpatient and residential settings.
From understanding others’ needs to prosocial action: Motor and social abilities promote infants’ helping, Developmental Science, November 2019, Vol. 22, Issue 6, Koster, M., et al.