Many parents understandably assume that a new born baby is simply a blank slate that requires us to do everything for them and that they really are incapable of anything other than crying, drinking and sleeping or not, as the case may be!
Research in recent years highlights the fact that the young baby in fact is born already well equipped with a number of significant abilities. They have certain reflexes that allow them to suck, to cry, to grasp with their hand. They have a range of cries depending upon whether they are hungry, tired, or in discomfort. They recognise particularly their mother’s smell and are already able to focus in on people’s faces. They attach primarily to their primary carers, usually their parents, and by about 6 months of age, realise if someone other than their parent or carer is around them.
They take in information by watching our facial expressions, listening to our voices, mouthing objects such as toys and teething rings and as they start to sit up and crawl, they explore a range of things. Studies highlight that babies and toddlers are born already with a range of survival reflexes and abilities that are the basis for thinking, understanding and learning. At birth, a baby is able to produce a wide range of sounds. They mimic our sounds through our own particular language and take on the intonations and sounds of our own language. In other words, there is a lot going on inside a young babies mind, even though it is not as refined or mature as an older child's.
These inborn abilities however require further exposure and stimulation to ensure that their learning and development continues to progress appropriately. Research indicates strongly that young babies must have adults who interact daily with touch, smiles, things to play with and mouth, singing, cuddling and talking to. This facilitates healthy brain development and continues to build upon the aspects of the brain at birth. Without this further daily rich stimulation, the baby may become dis-attached to their primary carer, listless, and not retain their natural curiosity to explore and interact with their environment.
Why is this important?
The beginning of life is one of the most important times in the lifespan. Early relationships are being formed, children’s brains are ripe and ready to experience and learn, and we need to provide children with many opportunities to develop their thinking, understanding, problem solving and motivation. Without these early opportunities, future relationships, learning and life may be more challenging and difficult.
The role of the parent and home life
The family, home life, parent interactions, things to play and interact with, and being able to explore the immediate environment are critical and yet easy every day experiences that parents can provide.
Understanding and promoting thinking and learning for your baby
- Provide overhead mobiles that hang about 30-45 centimetres from your child’s face. This stimulates their visual and brain development. Too far away from their eyes makes it difficult for them to focus in their early months.
- Some mobiles may be close enough that the baby, as they grow, can reach out to touch them. Touching is an important part of learning to take in information.
- Provide music in the background from time to time that is quiet and gentle. It is soothing and provides other stimuli for the baby.
- Give them toys that they can hold, squeeze, that has sounds and textures. All of this promotes what is known as sensory experiences that help your child’s perception skills.
- Babies love mirrors. They delight in looking at themselves. This helps them to build an image and sense of themselves.
Kathy Walker has been working with children, parents and teachers for over 30 years. “What’s the Hurry”, her book for parents, was an Australian bestseller and she has a new book on positive parenting due out in 2010. Kathy’s consultancy, Early Life Foundations, provides support to families, government, educational institutions and the corporate sector.
For further practical tips on promoting rich language skills, visit www.fisherpriceexperts.com.au