What Every Child Needs to Thrive
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.
Studies show that children who grow up in an enriched environment—where they are presented with new experiences that engage their senses—have larger, more active brains than those who grow up without adequate sensory stimulation.
*Provide a variety of toys and other objects.
*Sing the lyrics to your favorite lullabies.
*Play interactive games such as peek-a-boo and pattycake.
*Go on walks and shopping trips together.
*Let your baby meet new people.
Even your simplest daily activities will stimulate your baby's brain development.
It's also important to give your child room to roam. To develop strong muscles, good balance and coordination, babies need plenty of space to crawl, cruise and eventually walk. They'll also benefit from safe spaces where they can explore their surroundings without hearing "no" or "don't touch."
Encourage new challenges
It's important not to frustrate your child with toys and activities that are way beyond his abilities, but a little struggling goes a long way toward self-improvement. When an activity doesn't come easily to your baby, they have to figure out a new way to accomplish the task. That type of problem-solving is the stuff better brains are made of.
Take care of yourself
Parents who are depressed or upset are often unable to respond swiftly and sensitively to their child's needs. One study found that children whose mothers were chronically and clinically depressed had abnormal patterns of brain activity, suggesting that the children also suffered from depression. Seek advice about coping with postpartum depression, and talk with your caregiver any time you think you may be struggling with depression. If you're feeling drained, find ways to divide the household and parenting responsibilities with your partner. If you're a single parent, surround yourself with people who can offer you help and support. And don't forget to treat yourself to some time alone once in a while.
Find good childcare
If you work, a quality childcare provider is essential to your baby's healthy development. You'll want to find someone who can do all the things mentioned above when you're not around. Whether your childcare provider is a nanny, a relative or a daycare worker, she should be experienced, caring and reputable, with love and energy to help your baby thrive.