By Danielle Boog, MS, OTR/L and Courtney Joesel, MA, CCC-SLP
Bringing home a new baby from the hospital is a scary thing. Especially as first time parents, it is overwhelming to make sure that all of baby’s needs are met. It takes hours of your time to make sure your new child is fed, changed, and sleeping at least okay. At some point, things become a little more routine, and you may find yourself wondering “what’s next? I have their basic needs met, but how do I interact with this new little being?”
It is never too early to start interacting and playing with your child, even if you don’t feel like you are in a routine yet. By interacting with your child in different ways than meeting their basic needs, it may help to relieve some of your stress. The most daunting question when thinking about interacting with your baby is “how? My child doesn’t speak yet or seem to interact with me at all, how can I interact with them?” The following are a few ideas as to how to get started with interacting with your new bundle of joy and promoting their development in the process!
Engage Their Senses
Even if your baby seems like they are not aware of the world around them, their senses are ready to take it all in! Show your baby the things that you are interacting with, and tell your baby about them as you do them. Show them different textures, and let them feel them on their skin. You might not see any reaction from baby, but know that they are taking it all in and it takes them longer to process information. Repetition is key, and they will respond the more they are exposed to sensory experiences.
The fluctuation in your voice as you sing (no matter how off key) is calming and rhythmic for baby. Repetition happens so much in songs, and this is a great way to expose your baby to language over and over. Making silly faces along with the songs will help engage your child and keep them interested in the song. Movements to songs such and rocking them bouncing them (gently!) help to engage their motor system as well.
Let Them Move
Baby’s motor system is ready to explore their world around them too! By placing them on the floor either on their back or stomach (tummy time), it will help them start to explore their new world. Baby’s reflexes will help them explore their world, with mom or dad really close to facilitate the interactions and keep them safe. It’s recommended and necessary that baby experiences different positions instead of just on their back. Don’t prop your baby in sitting, for example, if they can’t get there on their own yet. Give them time to learn to enjoy new positions, and be there for support and encouragement as they figure out how they engage with their new environment around them.
Narrate Your Day
It is important for language development to expose your child to language as soon as possible. As you go around your daily routine with baby, narrate what you are doing, “I have one sock, now I have two socks!” Point out objects in a room or while in the car. This is another great way to develop vocabulary. By hearing language on a daily basis and a variety of vocabulary, it will aid in language comprehension as well as language production later in development.
Read Out Loud
It is never too early to start reading books to your little one. Keep the books in the beginning simple, with more bold pictures and contrasting colors and less words. When you read, it changes your intonation and prosody, leading to increased word recognition. Point out pictures of details of the pictures, such as colors, shapes, and parts of the object. It’s also another great way to get baby snuggles!
Enjoy the time spent interacting with your new baby. Make it fun for both you and them, and know that there is no wrong way to play with your child. Any interaction is great for developing skills, and bonding with you. The more fun and sillier the games, the better it is for baby’s brain!
If, after trying these activities multiple times with your baby, you feel like they are not changing how they are responding to you or making eye contact, do not hesitate to ask questions to your pediatrician or see out occupational or speech therapy services. It never hurts to ask! You know your baby better than anyone else, and gut feelings should not be ignored.
*Danielle Boog is an occupational therapist practicing in pediatric services for 3 years. She enjoys promoting development in infants and supporting their parents by giving them the necessary education to feel confident in promoting these skills. She has three children of her own, and has learned so much about interacting with children from them.
*Courtney Joesel is a speech and language pathologist who has been providing pediatric speech and language therapy for 5 years. She loves watching children explore their world and assist in developing the language necessary for development.
Both Danielle and Courtney work at BRAINS located at 3292 North Evergreen Dr. NE in Grand Rapids. More information about services offered there can be found at brainspotential.com.