Guest written by Tracy Cutchlow, author “Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.”
“Umm … now what do we do?” I distinctly remember having this thought a couple weeks after my baby was born. Her first days home were a flurry of us trying to figure out how, basically, to keep her alive. How to sleep. Where to sleep. How the heck to feed her. Trips to the doctor to check her low weight. Getting the diaper routine down. What her cries could possibly mean. What song or position or pattern of patting comforted her. Making sure she felt safe and loved. These things took up 24 hours of our day.
Eventually we felt like, “OK, we’ve got the basics.” And then at some point during the day, I realized that our baby was fed and clean and awake and happy – and just looking at me, expectantly. I looked back.
Umm . . . now what do we do? A song! Fun. That lasted only a minute. A gentle game of moving her tiny limbs: “Ooooh, stretch!” Aww, that was sweet. All right, two minutes have passed.
Research tells us that, beyond the basics, what babies need most is face-to-face interaction with other people, the intellectual stimulation of a changing environment, and a ton of talk. (Common sense probably tells us this, too, but we may not have any left at the time.)
Still, coming up with engaging activities can seem elusive. What will meet baby’s needs – and take up more than a minute or two? Simply including baby in our day.
Here are a few ideas for those early weeks, easily adapted as baby gets older.
- Tell baby what you’re about to do with her. “Let’s change your diaper, baby.” Describe what’s happening as you do it. “Do you hear that sound? I’m unfastening the tabs that hold your diaper on. I’m lifting up your legs . . . up we go.”
- Take a shower. Make a little nest for baby on the floor, or prop her in a portable seat, in your view. Occasionally make eye contact and smile or sing baby a song.
- Read out loud a magazine or book you’d like to read. Have baby on your chest, in your lap, or chilling near you on the couch.
- As you prep food (meaning, open the takeout containers), talk about the each of the ingredients. Talk about color, texture, taste, temperature. Pass baby pieces to feel or smell.
- Go for walks. You see all sorts of interesting things — people, objects, movement, color. Point things out and describe them to baby. Help her touch leaves and smell petals. It’s much easier to talk with baby if she’s in a carrier, I’ve found, instead of in a stroller. Bonus: If baby is at eye level, other people are much more likely to stop and chat with you both.
- Fix something around the house. Explain everything you’re doing, including the tools you’re using.
- Play peekaboo while folding laundry. Make the bed with baby in it. Whip the sheet into the air and let it float down over baby and watch for a happy baby face.
- Find a place near your home where you can just wander aimlessly. This is for when you feel like getting out of the house and seeing other human beings — but you don’t feel like going far, looking more than halfway decent, or otherwise making much effort. For me, on rainy days, it was the grocery store.
- Choose one errand and make a day of it by taking the bus or walking. For example, I once walked to a store five miles away. Baby and I had plenty to look at along the way, we ran into a friend, we stopped for lunch, and we took the bus home. The errand took hours, technically, but it made for a nice little adventure.
- Songs and games, of course. Flip through a book of baby activities for some very simple games you can do around the house. Learn new songs by turning Pandora to the Toddler Radio station.
Tracy Cutchlow is the author of “Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.” She is a journalist and the editor of the bestselling books “Brain Rules” and “Brain Rules for Baby.” Her writing on parenting has appeared in publications from the Huffington Post to the Washington Post. She speaks to parents and teachers on fostering a growth mindset and, for parents-to-be, on 10 myths about motherhood. You’re likely to find her bicycling around Seattle with her husband and their preschool-age daughter. Get her weekly parenting tips at zerotofive.net.