Baby K has cracked her first real smile and is starting to dole out those gummy grins on will. Of course, that will of hers is very selective and never when the camera is out, but it's pretty exciting when she looks deep in our eyes and flashes us a beaming smile without any gas escaping her tiny body. It makes us feel like we're doing something right and she, in fact, thinks we're just awesome.
However, the smile comes with a whole new thing to consider. Up until now, I've been utterly focused on attending to her immediate needs such as food, a clean diaper or cuddles. Of course we play, sing and I chatter away to her incessantly, but I've never given it too much thought other than it's how she learns. With a smile being a developmental milestone that happens at 6-8 weeks, she's right on track. Great! Now, how do I keep her on track?
With her nailing this developmental milestone, I've been whacked with the realization that I'm not just responsible for keeping her tummy full and her butt rash-free. I'm the one who is going to shape her future; what my husband and I do with her now can fast-track her mental development and help her language, fine motor and social skills hit the milestones that they should. Consider the stakes raised.
Consequently, I hit the books. Okay- I hit Google. Either way, I spent a good portion of a lazy Sunday researching the best things to do with a six-week old to engage and socialize them without toys, because frankly, Baby K has very little interest in them yet. As it turns out, the very mild interest in toys is normal because babies at this age are much more fascinated by people. Specifically, their people. I have been playing many of these games with her inadvertently, but here are a few of my favorites…
Mirror Image – I have a budding narcissist on my hands! Child development experts suggest plopping a baby in front of a mirror and letting magic ensue. Turns out, magic really does happen there. Baby K is absolutely fascinated by her mirror image. She coos at it, squeals in delight when it smiles at her and looks confused when it gets very still. It entertains her so much that I can take her in to the bathroom in the middle of a crying fit and it will end through the sheer power of distraction. The reason this is such an effective "game" for babies is the same reason they're not super interested in toys at this age; they'd much prefer to stare at people. And they have no idea they're staring at themselves- they just think they're staring at another super stylish baby. While they're at it, they're learning to focus, track images and explore the wonderful things a face can do… like smile.
Mimic Me – Baby K is a cuddler and, as such, spends a lot of time in our arms and on our laps. So I get a lot of face time with her. This game is perfect for that as it takes the funny faces I make at her and turns them in to a game. The concept is simple- do simple face gestures slowly when the baby is focused on your face and try to get the baby to mimic them. My favorite is to stick my tongue out at her. When I would first do it, she would focus really hard on it and look baffled. With a little persistence, she started to do it back. With her little tongue-tie, I find it super cute and hilarious as she cannot actually get her tongue out of her mouth. But, she tries! The best part? She now starts the game on her own. When we've got her on her change table and we're focused on her, she will stick her tongue out. If we do it back, she get super excited and smiles and flails her arms about before doing it again. This one is a social exercise that lets them experiment with facial expressions and teaches the all-important turn-taking.
Though these are some of my favorites, there are so many games out there you can play with a little one to give them a leg up in life. The truth of the matter is that if you take the time to really enjoy your little one and just let yourself be silly, you're going to give them all the play, talk and love they need to grow in to a very smart and functioning individual.