Most brain growth happens before age three, making infancy a crucial stage for growth and development
Babies are blank slates of hope and opportunity, ready to be filled with the wisdom, values, and experiences that will contribute to the stories of their lives. As a parent, you’re coauthoring your baby’s future. The responsibility is awe inspiring, and, paired with the day-to-day tasks of keeping them alive, often overwhelming.
An astounding 80 percent of your baby’s brain development happens in the first three years of their life, making infancy and toddlerhood vital for quality learning and growth. That statistic may seem intimidating, but the reality is your baby will need only five basic things to cover most of the essential aspects of their development.
Five baby basics
1. Give a whole lot of love
The most important thing to give your baby is also the easiest – love. Babies thrive when they know they’re loved, safe, and being cared for in a stable and nurturing environment. At this stage of life, you’re the one thing baby knows and can count on. Their natural instinct is to trust and rely on you to meet their needs.
Responding positively to your infant contributes to their social and emotional development and helps them learn to communicate and manage their feelings. The best way to take care of baby involves taking care of yourself. Your stress and negativity affect your baby, and while taking care of an infant can be difficult, self-care is essential.
2. Start conversations
Although babies aren’t the best conversational partners, they benefit from conversation that starts early in life. Babies begin learning language from day one; they listen to sounds and watch their caregivers communicate. Give your infant a stream of new words and tones by narrating your days and the world around them. Sing, talk, ask, point, and interact at every given opportunity.
As babies start babbling, respond using a variety of positive tones and facial expressions, and engage enthusiastically in back-and-forth conversation.
3. Keep count
Math is an important skill that develops earlier than you may realize – even infants can recognize simple patterns and amounts. Listen to music, move to the beat, count out objects, point out smaller versus bigger. And as your baby becomes a toddler, encourage sorting toys and comparing sizes and shapes. Building on baby’s natural interests and skills is a large part of their growth and development.
4. Explore your world
Babies and young children learn the most from what comes naturally to them: play. When they use their imaginations to create things and engage with objects, they do more than just fill time; they benefit their bodies and brains. They learn about problem-solving, spatial awareness, coordination, creativity, and persistence while building strength.
Give your baby regular play opportunities, including tummy time, reaching for toys, engaging in sensory activities, and allowing them to make the simple discoveries available in everyday life, such as dropping and rolling things, dumping cups of water, or knocking over blocks.
5. Be a storyteller
Read to your baby early and often. It will help them develop not only language skills but also literacy skills. Children whose parents read to them in early childhood perform better in school, and reading and talking about books help inspire creativity and imagination.
Make reading a regular part of your routine, and view it as an opportunity to share quiet closeness each day. Snuggle up, describe pictures, use an animated voice, and engage them by letting them turn the pages or hold the book.
When it comes to babies, all you need is love, language, exploration, and stories to start assembling the foundations of their futures. These baby basics are fun and simple ways to interact with your little one. So make a point of creating connections that will give your baby the best opportunities in life.
The VA Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.