Babies observe, learn, and grow every time they interact with others. Their brains have more potential for development now than at any other time in their lives. Caregivers can nurture that development by connecting with their child in little ways, every day. By building your relationship with your child, you are building their brain’s foundation.
There are thousands of ways we can connect with babies every day. Whether it’s taking turns cooing, playing peek-a-boo or touching her toes, every interaction makes a difference.
Usually we focus on the physical needs of a baby – feeding them, changing them, making sure they are warm enough, for example – but we might not all be aware of how much little connections mean for a baby’s development. Nurturing, consistent and safe relationships with parents give babies opportunities to learn about their world. These relationships and interactions build a baby’s brain.
A baby’s brain is more active and full of possibility now than at any other point in their life. When you talk, play, smile, touch, care for, cuddle and read to your baby, you are helping to make little connections that make a big difference in how your baby’s brain develops.
See a few of the 1,000 ways to care
- Talk to your baby about everything; describe what you are doing and how you feel.
- Tell your baby what will happen next. Say things like, "Now I'm going to take off that wet diaper," "Dad is starving" and "What should I eat?"
- When your baby babbles, talk to him back as though he understands every word you say.
- Show your baby things around her. Hold your baby's toys 10-12 inches from her face so that she can see them and describe what it is.
- Let her hold and grab things that feel different.
- Cheer her on as she reaches for things and starts to hold onto them by herself.
- Smile back when she smiles at you.
- Play peek-a-boo.
- When she makes a sound, make the same sound back to her.
- Encourage your baby to reach out and grab things.
- Describe the differences between his toys as he looks and touches them. Say things like, "This one is soft," "This one is smooth" or "This is a square."
- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably, minimize distractions and hold your baby while she eats. Look at her and smile, or speak softly to her.
- Play peek-a-boo.
- Bang toys together.
- Show him how to build a tower.
- Imitate her sounds and she will soon imitate your sounds.
- Read together whenever you can.
- Play with bath toys and blow bubbles while she's in the tub.
- Hand him something and wait for him to hand it back to you. Say, "Now it's your turn" and "Now it's my turn."
- Play appear/disappear with toys (hide them behind your back or under a blanket).
- Play peek-a-boo.
- Narrate what he might be thinking and feeling and soon enough, he'll have the words to tell you himself. If he points to his bottle, ask, "Do you want your bottle?"
- Read together whenever you can. Ask her if she wants to turn the pages herself, or if she sees different images on the page.
- Play appearing/disappearing games by hiding toys and asking your child, for example, "Where's the ball? Where did it go?"
- Talk to him as you move out of his sight so he knows you are near.
- Help her show you what she wants and practice making choices. Present two toys and ask, "Do you want the block or the ball?" Pay attention to where she's looking and what she's reaching for.
- Roll a ball to your baby and encourage him to roll it back to you.
- Clap once and encourage him to clap; clap twice and do the same.
- Read together whenever you can. Point to pictures and name what you see. Name what she's pointing at. Say something like, "The kitty is sleeping on a chair."
- Blow bubbles outside or at bath time and let him chase, poke and pop them.
- Make noise with him with his blocks, toys and pots and pans and a wooden spoon.
- Join him in pretend play. Use household objects and imagine they are something else.
- Include your child in everyday activities. She will feel proud when she starts doing things all by herself – she can hold a cup, put her napkin in the trash, and bring you her coat.
- Play hide-and-seek.
- Read together whenever you can. Help him find things in the book. Ask what happens next.
- Once he's mastered something, teach him something new – instead of rolling the ball, bounce it to him.
- Give your toddler choices between two things that you've already pre-approved – which color shirt do you want to wear today, the red one or the blue one?
- Keep talking and describing what's happening in the world around her – from every day routes to new things.
- Encourage him to do things on his own and help with things that he can do on his own like brining his cup to the table or cleaning up his toys.
- Read together whenever you can. Listen to him tell the story and name things in the pictures. Ask questions like "What happens next?"
- Listen to music, sing and dance together.
- Play freeze-dance, duck-duck-goose or dance "The Hokey-Pokey" together.
- Color together with age-appropriate crayons.
- Cook and have fun in the kitchen: finger paint with colored pudding on a baking sheet, give him a bowl with water and a wooden spoon to mix, or make cookie dough in to fun shapes.
- When you see she's getting frustrated, overwhelmed or too tired, bring her close to you and help her feel safe and calm. Help your child identify her emotions and help her talk through it.
- Go to the library to get new books together. When you read together, take turns telling what happens on each page. Make story time a part of each day.
Serve and return
Even if a baby doesn’t say words to you, they are reaching out to communicate when they make noise, when they look at you, when they move their bodies, when they get upset. Babies are born ready to engage when adults interact with them and respond to their needs. We call this “serve and return.”
Think about it like a tennis game: your child “serves” you the ball by cooing or smiling at you, for example, and you “return” their “serve” by cooing or smiling back at them. Every time this serve-and-return interaction happens, it builds and strengthens connections in your child’s brain.
When you make these connections each day, over and over again, your baby’s brain changes for life. Little connections make a big difference in how your baby’s brain grows and develops.
No matter what advertisements and your child’s pleading tells you, kids don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy and healthy. Harley Rotbart, M.D., author of No Regrets Parenting, explains what children really need and how parents can provide it to them.
Discipline and rewards
From handling temper tantrums to doling out praise, Ayelet Talmi, M.D., explains what’s going on with a toddler’s mind and emotions, and how you can remain positive and confident throughout.
New parents may feel overwhelmed by wanting to keep their baby safe and happy during a time that is often fraught with the unpredictable and the unknown. Learn some baby basics to build your confidence.
It can be a joy to watch a baby grow into a toddler, and they learn to walk, reach, eat and talk on their own, but having a moving, growing child can bring a whole new set of questions for parents. Learn some tips on how to tame your toddler.
Keeping kids safe is our mission at Children’s Hospital Colorado; we extend that reason-for-being by empowering parents, caregivers and the community to create a safe environment for kids, help prevent issues before they happen, and take swift action if a problem arises. From how to calm a crying baby and prevent shaken baby syndrome to seasonal sun care tips, learn what you can do about safety.