Babies a New Life : Early Learning Giving my baby a good start (part 1) - Communicating with your child What about baby signing?

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Q: Sometimes my baby cries and turns away when I give him a toy. What does this mean?
A: Timing is everything when you introduce a new toy or game. If your baby is ready to sleep or has been playing for a while, a new activity is likely to be overstimulating, and he may cry and turn away rather than play. Don’t be disheartened; simply wait until he’s well rested and gently introduce the item again later.

Take it slowly when you bring a toy into view. If you move something noisy or colorful too quickly into his line of sight or place a bright mobile very abruptly overhead, your baby could be startled and upset. Just imagine if something half the size of your body was suddenly put within a few inches in front of your face, and you’ll understand how he feels!

Q: I have less time to spend with my baby because I work. Will this affect her development?
A: There is much debate about whether it is the quality or the quantity of parent–child time that is important to your baby’s development. The answer is simple: Your baby both needs intense periods of playtime with you, and will appreciate simply snuggling up doing very little, or watching you as you go about your chores. It is only if you find yourself at one extreme or the other—avoiding interacting with her, or being a slave to stimulating her every moment of the day—that you need to review the situation and adjust the balance.

You can make the most of your time together by concentrating on what your baby is doing. Research tells us that, during playtime with your baby, she will benefit most when you are focused on her rather than trying to do two things at once. For example, if you are joining in with her activity but watching TV over her shoulder or chatting on the phone, her play will be less complex and she’ll be aware that your attention is not wholly on her. One technique to keep you “in the moment” with your child is to give a running commentary of what she is doing. This simply involves describing, rather than making suggestions—for example, saying, “Oh, you’re putting the cars on the mat” but avoiding prompts like “Why don’t you line the cars up over there?” This way she is leading her own activity but is fully aware that you’re with her as she does so.

Q: My baby hates bathtime. How can I make it fun?
A: Often bathtime distress is related to the sensation of being undressed, feeling a little cold, or having a sense of falling or being out of contact with you as he is placed into the water. Increase his confidence by keeping him wrapped up until you’ve got everything ready for his bath and making sure the room is warm. Undress him quickly and calmly, and hold him firmly as you put him in the water. If he cries, hold him close and keep talking in a slow and soothing tone. You can also try getting in the bathtub yourself, with your baby on your lap. If bathtimes are very stressful, reduce them to once every two days and “top and tail” your baby in between. Don’t give up: As he develops more control over his body, he’ll feel safer in the bath and may grow to tolerate (if not enjoy) the experience. From the age of three months onward, you might bring a playful element into bathing by introducing some water toys. Start with simple plastic ducks and floating toys that are suitable and safe for his age. From six months old, add plastic cups for filling and pouring. Children tend to love containers with holes, such as those used for packing berries, because they empty out in an interesting fashion.

Remember: Never leave your infant alone in the bath for even a moment. A baby can drown in under a minute, and in less than an inch (2.5 cm) of water.

Q: Can I turn my baby into a genius through extra play?
A: You can certainly help your baby develop by providing him with plenty of age-appropriate toys and activities, and by speaking and singing to him. Remember that much of what he can achieve in his first year is dependent on the gradual acquisition of skills, such as physical coordination. For example, while you can stimulate reaching and grasping by supplying plenty of attractive toys, your infant must have gained voluntary control over his arms to make the most of this activity. Overstimulating your child—by presenting him with things to see and do when he is tired or needs comfort—can lead to distress. Wait for your baby’s signs that he wants to play, and then he’ll make the most of the toys and activities you offer. As your baby grows, he’ll be able to stay awake and concentrate for longer periods, so be realistic about what you can do with him at first. A newborn can only maintain the alert state that is ideal for learning for about 30 minutes at a time between sleeping and feeding. The range of educational material available for babies, such as training DVDs and baby flash cards may give you a sense that traditional play isn’t enough to give your child a head start. Research suggests otherwise. It has been found that infants presented with baby-training DVDs have ten percent fewer words in their vocabulary than those who don’t watch this material. Watching a screen is a very passive exercise: It is your time, attention, and a wide variety of play, speech, and stimulation, given without pressure to perform and achieve, that creates the best start for your infant.


You are your child’s favorite playmate—she delights in your attention

Communicating with your child What about “baby signing”?

Learning to communicate is a complex and exciting process which progresses at great speed throughout your baby’s first year. You’ll experience highs and lows, the elation as she offers her first smile and the frustration of trying to correctly interpret her cries. It’s no wonder, therefore, that baby signing, also known as symbolic gesturing, has been so popular in recent years as its proponents promise easier communication with your baby.

Q: What is baby signing?
A: Baby signs are based on a system of sign language developed originally to assist communication when people suffer deafness or, in some cases, learning difficulties. In baby signing, these have been adapted into a program of hand movements specifically for babies, each gesture representing a word or idea.

Baby-signing practitioners suggest starting to teach your baby at around six months of age. Classes, DVDs, and books are available to help you learn this method. Baby-signing practitioners report that the program allows babies to express themselves earlier than they otherwise would, and to experience less frustration. For example, she will be able to tell you she wants a drink by giving you the sign for “milk.”

Q: Is it really necessary?
A: There is great debate about the value of baby signing. Gestures, facial expressions, and speech are a crucial part of any parent–child interaction and occur naturally in the communication process. Replacing them or focusing a lot of attention on a system which concentrates closely on hand movements is of concern to a significant group of speech and language therapists. Many recommend that the frequent use of natural gestures and quality interaction is best for language development.

If your child is at risk for delayed speech and language development, for example as a result of hearing or other difficulties, then sign language can be a valuable addition to her care. Discuss this with your speech and language professional.

Q: What to do?
A: Your most important tool in the development of your baby’s communication skills is your own frequent interaction with her, using eye contact, gestures, touch, speech, and song to encourage and teach. It is up to you whether you choose to add baby signing to the range of skills you teach your baby. If you do try this system, include it as an additional area of learning.
Talking to your baby

Gestures, facial expressions, and verbal communication are all part of the two-way conversation with your infant. Baby signing can add to this, rather than replace it.

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