As a parent or nanny, it often seems like you have to be a mind reader. Is your little one hungry? Are those cries from teething or do they signify general fussiness from a sleepy baby? As your newborn develops, you may also be wondering what he is thinking or what he needs to develop into a healthy child.
The guessing game is common for new parents and nannies; however, learning what to expect from a baby and learning how babies think can help you uncover how to meet his needs.
How Do Babies Learn?
Just as adults learn from trial and error through daily interactions, babies also learn by experience. “Since they are not yet verbal or do not have the mental capacities early on for language meaning, babies learn by using their primary senses and taking everything in,” says Alicia Clark, licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“The best thing new parents can do is to keep a baby stimulated to the point where they stay interested without being overwhelmed or bored,” says Clark. “The trick is to follow a baby’s lead so as to titrate stimulation to the amount that seems to keep a baby interested without being overwhelmed.”
This process requires empathy, says Clark. “Babies loves faces and love to interact with them in addition to contrast,” she says. “Before they can grab things, they love gazing at the world around them and often appear to be studying the world. That’s because they are.”
One of the best things you can do to help your baby learn is to interact with him on a regular basis.
What Do Babies See?
Ever wonder why your baby ‘coos’ or smiles when your face is near hers? It’s because she can sense you are near and has become familiar with you, even if she can’t see you clearly.
According to Clark, a baby’s sight is well formed, although not perfect, at six weeks. She can see contrast and intensity and even without perfect sight, will still benefit from visual stimulation. “This means babies like strong color and contrast of light and benefit from visual stimulation, especially when it mounts gently,” she says. “They also love faces and seldom seem to get enough interaction with the faces around them.”
Your face can help your child learn and also form a bond with you early on. “Interacting with faces forms the beginning of social development and the child learns about connections in the world,” says Clark.
What Do Babies Need?
While adjusting to sights and learning through experiences, your baby is also attempting to communicate his needs to parents and nannies. “Since all of a baby’s world is known through senses, babies are extremely sensitive, especially to internal experiences of hunger and digestion,” says Clark. “Responding to a baby’s need for food and digestion help aren’t just meeting a child’s basic needs, but are also teaching a child what it feels like to be taken care of emotionally.”
Since your little one is still adjusting to a sleep schedule, he also looks to you for cues and nurturing when it’s time for peaceful slumber. “A baby’s need for sleep is central to its brain development and growth in general,” says Clark. “Sleeping is what babies do most of their day, so its purpose must be critical to development.”
While your baby is sleeping, it is also likely he is dreaming, too. “While we don’t know much about dreaming in babies, we assume babies dream as they spend much of their sleep time in REM sleep – the stage associated with dreaming,” says Clark. “So, make sure to allow your baby plenty of time to sleep – they need it and are likely pretty busy while they snooze.”
Sleep is also an essential component of your child’s ability to lead a healthy lifestyle – both mentally and physically. “Like with adults, sleep appears to be needed in babies to assimilate learning, allow for mental and physical growth and of course, refresh them for their next bout of awake time,” says Clark.