Your habits lead to major developmental boosts for little brains. Way to go, mama!
Before their first child is even born, women are often confronted with unsolicited advice and questions like, “Have you signed her up for preschool yet?” “Are you going to teach baby sign language?” “You know, you should really start reading to her now—she can hear you in there!”
Its easy for new parents to be overwhelmed—after all, amid sleepless nights, the stress of breastfeeding (or not!), making sure baby gets enough tummy time and enough stimulation (but not too much!), thinking about early childhood education may not be a priority.
Luckily, many of the things you naturally do with your child set the stage for her academic future—you may just not know it!
Below are some of the terms to know about your child’s early development.
When you hold your child lovingly in your arms, gently change his wet diaper, and respond to his coos and gurgles, you are helping him form an attachment with you. Being securely attached to one or more caregivers means that your child trusts the person or people taking care of him. That trust is the foundation for all of his future relationships and his understanding of the world. It is how he learns whether or not the world is a place he can confidently explore and grow in, or if it is a place where he needs to be fearful and always on alert.
Your child enters the world as a brand-new, unique individual. As she grows, her understanding of herself will develop and evolve as she learns what she is capable of. Responding to your child’s wants and needs with love, patience and respect teaches her that she is a valuable member of your family. Remembering that your child is a person with unique thoughts and feelings means allowing her to express herself as an individual who is separate from you.
Before your child was born, you likely had thoughts about the future—what your child might look like, what his interests might be and how he might interact with others. But in the first few days of your newborn’s life, new mothers often discover that they need to modify those expectations based on the unique needs of their child. Managing and setting developmentally appropriate expectations is a process that repeats itself at each age and milestone. Developmentally appropriate expectations are about making sure that what you expect of your child is reasonable at each stage of his growth and development—without expecting him to do more than he is capable of doing. As your child grows and develops, be prepared to reevaluate your expectations so that he can feel appropriately challenged and successful at each age and stage.
Each child is born with a basic way of responding to her environment. Some children approach new situations cautiously, without a fuss, and adapt slowly. Others have an immediate positive response to new situations, are generally cheerful and have regular patterns of behavior. Many withdraw or cry in new situations. When you are aware of your child’s temperament, you can sometimes interpret your child’s behavior, and predict how she will behave in certain settings. While temperament may be inborn, you can still provide the love and support to best help your child with her reactions and behaviors in all types of environments and experiences.
Your baby’s language development, beginning with communicating through facial expressions, crying, gestures and movements and progressing to verbal or sign language, is the foundation for all future language and literacy learning. As important as this is, many people feel unsure about how to support this development in their daily interactions with their baby. Self-talk, sometimes referred to as private speech, is an easy way to encourage language development and help your child understand the routine, flow and rhythm of the day. Self-talk means simply describing your actions as you carry them out, e.g., “Now I am warming up your bottle.” Talking to your baby and describing your actions builds his vocabulary, conversational skills and understanding of the world around him.
6. Emotional cues
As you become more connected with your baby—learning her temperament, forming an attachment, planning for your routines—you will quickly become familiar with her emotional cues. Smiling, crying, holding eye contact, looking away, all of these cues give you insight into how your baby is feeling in the moment. Reading her emotional cues and using self-talk as you respond to them reassures your baby that she is understood and cared for. As she grows, you can help her learn to recognize the emotional cues of others. As you exchange smiles, describe and label feelings, and notice the facial expressions of others in photos and books, you develop her understanding of her own emotions as well as foster her developing empathy for others.
7. Intentional engagement
Whether diapering, dressing, feeding or soothing your baby to sleep, you have an endless number of opportunities in your day to engage with your baby. Each interaction you have with him sends him a message, and making that message a positive one lets your baby know that he is loved. You can be intentional with your words and actions, by using self-talk during a diaper change or kissing his toes as you put on his socks, and in those moments you are strengthening your bond with him. This thoughtfulness does not require anything more than a smile, kinds words and gentle actions for your baby to feel the strong bond between the two of you.
By remaining conscious of these habits—many if which you are probably already doing—you are setting the stage for a lifetime of great learning habits. Way to go, mama!