Question: I’ve heard I’m supposed to play with my baby – sing to her and talk to her while I’m getting her dressed or feeding her – but I feel really awkward and silly doing it. Also, she’s just a little baby, can she really understand me anyway?
Answer: It can feel silly at times, but playing is such a crucial part of what helps a baby grow! Children learn how the world works through play and are able to master many different skills like communication, gross motor (walking, jumping, throwing), fine motor (writing, feeding themselves), problem solving, self-control, and relationship skills through play with their caregivers.
The most important relationship
The first and most important relationship a child is going to have is with their parent. So, parents playing with their babies is very important!
From Day 1 babies are looking to their parents to see how they are going to react to the world. When you read, sing, and talk to your baby you are activating the neurons in their brains that will create the foundation for the others, which will follow and build upon. Your interactions with your baby now will help her to begin to babble, which will then guide her in creating her first few words. When you talk to your baby when you are dressing her or feeding her, you are helping her connect your words to the action you are doing.
Words are symbols
Helping her understand how your words translate into actions (symbols) will help her learn to read and do math in the future. So what may seem like a small gesture now can improve your child’s readiness for school.
Babies are able to recognize their parent’s voice. Although they may not be able to verbally tell you what they are thinking or feeling, they will remember how you made them feel during these times. When you consistently engage with your baby, your baby is able to develop a secure attachment (a strong, loving connection) with you. Their self-esteem grows through this secure attachment, as they know that their physical, emotional and social needs are being met. You are creating a safe and loving environment for them to be able to explore the world.
Strong bonds provide comfort
These strong bonds with your child will also comfort her when she is trying to tolerate healthy stress as she tries to master the new skills of talking, using her body, figuring situations out, and trying to control her emotions.
All this comes from taking the time to play and interact with your baby.
Stephanie De La Cruz is a licensed mental health counselor with Center for Child Counseling.