Sunday, September 15, 2019

Playing with Baby Builds Strong Connections

How do you play with a tiny infant? Is it important?

Many people seem to think that all tiny babies do is eat, sleep and decorate their diapers! Though this is much of what we observe, another important milestone forms in early infancy:


Healthy attachment between parents, caregivers and baby directly correlates to the child's social and emotional development later in life--according to many experts in the Infant Mental Health (IMH) field.*

But how does attachment happen? Fortunately, most of it comes naturally with parental instinct! Our nurture instincts lead us to create a place of safety, warmth and comfort for baby. We're naturally wired to respond to baby's signals when she needs feeding, changing, or rest. Yet many new parents wonder how to connect with baby, especially when baby doesn't yet maintain good eye contact, smile or return facial expressions. So, here we will mention again--


Here are a couple of suggestions for playful interactions and strategies that help build attachment (and thereby, good learning and development) for infants.

Look, Look Away

This game is a pre-cursor to Peek-a-boo. Here's how to play:

  1. Before baby can maintain eye gaze or track you around the room, watch for times when she seems to be in a quiet-alert state
  2. Bring your face closer to hers until she seems to gaze at you. She may not discern your eyes for eye-to-eye contact, but that's okay. 
  3. Smile and speak comfortingly about anything that comes to mind (hopefully positive things like, "Hi Sweetheart, I'm so glad to see you!" or "Here's Mama (Dada, Nana, whichever), I'm right here. . . I'm here for you."). 
  4. Then move your head from baby's midline slightly off to one side, then to the other. This slight movement helps baby begin to recognize that she can track you in her visual field by moving her head to maintain contact. 
  5. Watch all along for baby diverting her gaze. When she looks away, you look away. Pull your face back a bit to give her a rest. 
  6. When she looks back toward you, move in again to play the game again.
  7. Play this game with her in short spurts throughout each day. As she improves her focus and tracking skills, you'll notice she also improves her tracking skills and begins to imitate some of your facial gestures!
Heads Up!

This game helps strengthen attachment between you and baby, as well as strengthen baby's head control. Here's how to play:

  1. Before baby can hold his head up, provide him with head support in all positions and transitions. 
  2. When baby is in that calm-alert state, hold baby with his head on your shoulder but fully able to rest against your shoulder in an upright or slightly reclined position.
  3. Sit or stand up so that you're not resting back against the chair, and gently bounce baby up and down (while still secure in your arms against you) about 3-10 times (depending on baby's response). You want the bounces to be small and quick. This movement stimulates baby's muscles to activate.
  4. Observe for baby's response of starting to hold his own head more erect for a second or so. You may say, "Heads Up!" or "Time for Head Up!"
  5. Rest and praise baby for being so strong. 
  6. Repeat a few times throughout each day.
  7. As baby strengthens head control, be sure to only very gradually reduce your support for his head. Respecting his gradual changes and adjusting your level of stimulation, challenge and rest times builds both strength and attachment.

As baby grows he'll be ready to lift his head to turn it from side to side while on his belly, and then eventually to raise his head, propped on his forearms while laying on his belly. To promote this, you can play the same game but with baby laying on his belly on the bed, crosswise, and you kneeling on the floor right next to him, so your faces are level when he lifts his head to look at you!

Have you found a way to interact in a playful, fun manner with your newborn? Please share!


*Links to sources for this assumption follow:<428::AID-IMHJ2>3.0.CO;2-B


All photos today are courtesy of creative commons!

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