How To Help Your Baby Flourish
Article printed in the West Australian Wednesday March 20 2019.
Want to give your baby the best chance of breezing through their milestones?
The answer is not to cram their playtime with digital learning apps or hothouse them in a room full of educational toys.
“What that really reflects is parents are anxious about their child’s behaviour and progress and they have a great desire for the child to be successful,” explains Wembley GP Dr Leon Levitt.
“But when parents are putting their desires, their needs and their anxieties on to their child it is a very selfish way to parent.
“We have to learn to parent for the sake of the child and this trend of trying to enhance every aspect of their development for things that we think are important means it’s not about the child, it’s about us.”
He says babies are most likely to flourish when they are nourished, safe and the emotional connection with their caregiver is strong.
He cautions against focusing too much on milestones.
This is because most parents will instinctively know if their child is trailing too far behind, particularly if they are socialising with similar-aged babies through interactions such as playgroup or mother’s group.
If worried, parents should head for their GP or health nurse for advice. “Just don’t use Google,” he warns, “because it’s so unreliable and ... allows for excessive anxiety to play out.”
Milestones are the developmental steps your child should be reaching which are validated by experts in the field of child development. They relate to your baby’s ability to move, see, hear, communicate and interact with others.
It’s natural to fret a little when your baby can’t find their tummy and nose but others of the same age can, however, it’s worth remembering that most babies reach their milestones eventually.
Basically there is a big range for “normal” and babies develop at their own pace depending on a number of factors, including their environment.
“There are children from bilingual homes who are not speaking like a ‘normal’ two-year-old just because there are two languages to learn, so one must be flexible in their thinking and realise there are lots of reasons why a child may not fulfil the clear guidelines,” explains Dr Levitt.
He adds: “My feeling is we have four main goals for parenting.
“The first is to keep them safe.
“The second is to nourish them and love them.
“That means they are fed well and they are loved in the way the child needs to be loved because different ages will need love in different forms and we forget that.
“The third factor is to have the child leave home feeling good about themselves because if they have good self-esteem, they will just make, mostly, good choices.
“The fourth thing is to keep sane yourself because you need to be there to help them through the journey. All the rest is rubbish in my view.”
Trust your instincts
Penny Walls, acting director of nursing at Ngala, agrees milestones are not something new parents should obsess about.
She says parents are the experts of their own babies and will get an inkling when something is genuinely not right.
On the subject of differences between babies of similar ages, she says: “A little one’s environment can really make a difference to how they grow and change.
“Readiness for change is also a key factor with milestones because little people are all different and some are readier earlier than others.
“But if you get to the point where you realise ‘OK, my baby is 71/2 months old now and is still not sitting’ then go and see your child health nurse.”
Parents who want the best for their baby make the time they spend with their little one really count, Ms Walls adds.
She echoes Dr Levitt’s view when she says what babies really need is nurturing, experiences in the world around them and the reliable presence of supportive relationships.
“The relationship between a child and their parent is so precious and it’s so important to keep that connection going because when a child feels safe they can then cope with the experiences that come next,” she says.
Her tips for parents who want their baby to flourish include talking to baby from birth, telling them stories, playing together, socialising them with other families and babies, spending regular time outdoors together and involving dad or their other significant carer as much as possible.
“It’s powerful for little ones to know ‘both of my parents are there for me’,” she adds.
What you can do to help your baby’s language and brain development:
Play games with your baby e.g. peek-a-boo. This will help your baby to learn about give and take. This is an important skill for engaging in conversation and learning language.
Sing songs and nursery rhymes.
Enjoy picture books together.
Leave books where your baby can reach them and allow your baby to explore books in any way they like, even if it is for only a few seconds.
Talk about everyday things, hold conversations with your baby and follow their lead. Responding to your baby’s sounds is also important, since these are your baby’s first attempts at using language. Your response motivates them to keep trying.
Introduce new words. It is important for children to be continually exposed to lots of different words in lots of different contexts. This helps them learn the meaning and function of words in their world.
Signs to watch out for
Seek help from your doctor or child health nurse if your baby by 12 months is not:
Pulling himself up to stand and moving around somehow
Changing objects from one hand to another
Looking up when you call his name
Copying simple sounds like “mummum”
Showing signs of being especially attached to his parent
Smiling, laughing, squealing and trying to attract your attention.