You don't have to be a child development expert to give your baby a great start in life. Recent research confirms what we've known all along: love, attention and basic care are all your baby really needs and wants. To help your baby reach their full potential, follow these eight simple steps.
Show your love
Hard scientific evidence shows that love, attention and affection in the first years of life have a direct and measurable impact on a child's physical, mental and emotional growth. How do you show your love? Hug, touch, smile, encourage, listen to and play with your little one whenever you can. It's also important to answer their cries immediately, especially in the first year, when experts say it's impossible to spoil a child.
Care for your child's basic needs
Your baby needs all the good health and energy they can muster for learning and growing. Take them in for regular well-baby checkups and keep their immunizations up to date.
Help your baby get plenty of shut-eye. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your baby's brain cells are making important connections that enable all learning, movement and thought. They are the keys to your baby understanding all they are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling as he explores the world.
For proper physical and mental development, make sure their diet is adequate in protein, vitamins and minerals, and neither too low nor too high in calories.
Tend to your baby's physical comfort promptly. Be sensitive to the fact that they're too warm or that their diaper is wet.
Talk to your child
Research shows that children whose parents spoke to them extensively as babies have significantly higher IQs and richer vocabularies than kids who didn't receive much verbal stimulation. You can start as early as during your pregnancy, so your baby gets used to the sound of your voice. Once your child is born, talk to them as you diaper, feed or bathe them. They'll respond better if they know the words are directed at them, so try to look at your baby while you're speaking. Try to avoid baby talk, though. Once in a while it's okay, but your baby can develop good language skills only if you speak to them correctly.
Read to your child
Next to talking, reading out loud is one of the most important things you can do to help build your child's vocabulary, stimulate their imagination and improve their language skills. It also gives you an opportunity to cuddle and socialize. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud daily to your child, starting at age six months, about the time when they'll really begin to enjoy looking at books with you.