Raising Happy, Healthy Babies
By Aviril Sepulveda, Occupational Therapist
In tennis, being able to accurately serve and return the ball is critical to winning the game. Likewise, in child development, parents’ supportive and nurturing interactions are essential to raising happy and healthy children.
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, children’s interactions with their parents lay the foundation for brain development. Parent-child interactions create strong connections within the developing brain. When a child cries, gazes, gestures, talks and smiles, and a parent responds appropriately and in a meaningful way, the child learns to communicate, regulate emotions and, over the long-term, become a happy person.
Here are some simple ways that parents can encourage their children’s happy, healthy development:
- Pay attention. Watching your baby is one way to learn about his or her likes and dislikes. By observing what makes your child happy, excited, engaged or sad, you are learning about his or her interests, needs, preferences and abilities.
- Respond. When your child cries, smiles, makes eye contact, talks or babbles, respond positively. If your child points at something, start a conversation about it. If your baby smiles, smile back, and if she cries, comfort her. By being responsive to your children, you are reassuring them that their thoughts and feelings are being heard, understood and addressed.
- Name objects and feelings. Naming objects and emotions teaches your child how to make sense of the world around him. When your child looks at an apple say, “This is an apple.” You can take things one step further by also describing objects and identifying emotions. This will help your child learn new words and concepts and articulate feelings. When your child cries, you can say, “You are crying; you must be upset.” And when your child smiles, respond, “You have a big smile; you must be happy!”
- Play with your child. Children learn and develop their sense of reality through play. Playing peek-a-boo, exploring new toys and engaging in other playful activities also enhances their sense of imagination and teaches them new skills. For example, by taking turns, you teach your child to be patient, use self-control, gain confidence and get along with others.
- Give your child choices. Giving children choices allows them to have a sense of autonomy and identity. Whether the choice is to use the blue or green cup, or to eat an apple or banana, these are valuable opportunities to give your child a sense of control. However, be sure not to overwhelm your child with too many choices.
- Let your child take the lead. When children enjoy an activity, they usually ask to do it again or indicate that they want more. And when they have lost interest in an activity and are ready to do something else, they will let us know by either turning away or abandoning a toy. By letting your child take the lead, you are encouraging healthy exploration and discovery.
Always remember that the way you interact with your child during early development plays a very important role in his or her ability to bond, learn and ultimately be happy in the game of life.