By Raising Children Network
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What happens in a baby’s everyday life has enormous bearing on how the brain develops. Parents who provide lots of love, attention and interesting experiences create the best conditions for their baby’s brain growth, learning and development.
Mother showing toy to smiling baby
 

Babyhood – it’s a time of face-pulling, baby talk (or parentese) and smiling. Babies spend their days looking at faces, watching parents and siblings, and refining emotional skills. This is the way they get the love, attention and stimulation they need to develop and feel safe in the world. 

2-6 months

During this time, your baby begins to learn what emotions are and what they’re for. By watching how you react when they express emotions, and by seeing you express your own feelings, babies start to know when they feel specific things, such as happiness, sadness, excitement or fearfulness.

After about three months, babies also begin to learn that certain actions – such as smiling, cooing, crying or suddenly yelling louder than the television – can bring about emotional responses from grown-ups.

Tips to help you connect with baby

  • When your baby first starts to deliberately catch your eye, look back into baby’s eyes.
  • When baby makes noises, show you’re listening. Try smiling, nodding, widening your eyes, lifting your brows and touching. You can also say things like, ‘What did you say?’ or ‘Aren’t you talking well!’. This all encourages your baby to keep communicating.
  • Help your baby to calm down after any emotional excitement. You can do this by stroking baby, saying gentle words and playing soothing music. This all helps baby to develop emotional control.
  • Maintain a regular routine. This helps your baby to feel comfortable and make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes around.
Researchers believe that seeing the way your face reacts when your baby does or says something helps baby to understand the world and form relationships.

6-9 months

This is a period of rapid development and brain growth. By nine months, your baby’s brain has undergone a growth spurt that helps form connections between what baby sees, hears, tastes and feels.

Increasingly independent and with improved motor skills, babies at this age can sit by themselves for short periods and might start crawling. As they begin to understand who they are, memory improves too. You’ll find your baby begins to get attached to people and objects. 

Separation anxiety often comes with attachment. To cope with this, your baby needs to learn that when things disappear, they also reappear. You can help baby by:

  • giving lots of physical affection, cuddly toys, and verbal reminders of where you are as you move around a room
  • playing fun games, such as peekaboo – these also give baby the experience of taking turns
  • encouraging time with other carers – this might also give you the chance to go out occasionally and leave baby in somebody else’s care.

As your baby moves closer to 12 months, baby will become increasingly vocal. When baby begins to make sounds – ‘ba ba ba’, ‘da da da’ – repeat them back. Repetition in speech – ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘You’re hungry aren’t you?’ ‘Ohhh, I’m hungry’ – teaches babies the meaning of words and leads to the development of speech and language.

It is never too early to start talking to your baby. Hearing lots of words helps your child’s intellectual development later on.

9-12 months

By this age, your baby’s ability to experience different emotions and moods has developed considerably. Baby is also learning how to recognise when other people have emotions.

Respond to emotional expressions – ‘Yes, I know you’re cranky, I’m coming back soon’. This helps your baby to identify emotions and understand the process of feeling better and worse.

As the front part of the brain develops, babies at this age are better able to entertain and reassure themselves with familiar objects and people. They can move more and better, which means they can get away from things that upset or annoy them. You might find that your baby is also starting to want more independence!

Keep baby involved and alert by:

  • doing things that make baby happy
  • changing activities when boredom or stress sets in
  • trying play ideas like reading books, playing with toys and walking around the park pointing at things. 
Research tells us that parents who talk about emotions with their babies help their children to understand and respond to other people’s emotions.
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  • Last Updated 19-05-2010
  • Last Reviewed 27-07-2012
  • Bornstein, M.H. (2002). Parenting infants. In M.H. Bornstein (Ed.), The parenting handbook (Vol 1, pp. 3-44). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.