Child Development - The First Year
Child Development: Most Important Advice for Baby's First Year
Tips from a leading neuroscientist on the most important aspects of infancy and how best to
nurture your baby boy or girl.
Lise Eliot, the author of the book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, provides insight into subtle differences in the infant
male and female brain and how to deal with those differences without stereotyping your child. She also
provides some general advice that applies to babies of both sexes in the first year of life.
Communicating with Your Baby
Talking to your baby is critical. Your body language, your eyes, your mouth, your entire being needs to
communicate closely with your baby to develop language and social skills.
• Television and DVD’s are not a substitute for language development. Eliot cites studies that show a correlation
between the amounts of TV viewed in infancy with markedly decreased language skills later in childhood (p.95)
• Listen to your baby. When your baby makes a sound, the child is trying to communicate. When baby
"coos" – "coo" back. Show that you heard what the infant “said.” This is the very beginning of speech. Your
response encourages the baby to communicate and teaches the infant what his or her “words” sound like.
• Infants begin with vowels very early and then progress to consonants. By the end of the first year, Eliot states that if you have been listening very closely, you can actually discern words hidden underneath long babbling sounds.
Read Aloud to Your Baby
According to Eliot, reading aloud to babies is one of the most effective ways to “talk” to a baby and to build your baby’s vocabulary. As you read, repeat words and point to pictures. Reading will encourage you to engage in conversation with your baby. It exposes the infant to many sights and sounds that the child would not normally experience in one year of life. Unlike TV or videos, reading requires the parent to be up "close and personal." You have to hold an infant to read aloud to the child. This contributes to bonding and intimacy as well as learning.
Watch Closely for Ear Infections
Ear infections can diminish a child’s hearing for days or weeks. Even these small amounts of time are extremely important to the infant’s development and are forever lost. Eliot urges parents to monitor males in particular, because they are especially prone to ear infections.
Do Not “Park” Your Baby
The myriad devices now available for carrying a baby encourage parents to “park” their child in the infant seat during visits, while cooking, and during family time. This may protect the child from accidents and let parents relax, but it does not allow the child to exercise and develop muscles, balance and posture. Elliot compares “parked babies” to adult "couch potatoes." Spread a clean blanket on a soft floor and let the infant exercise freely. Whenever the baby is in the infant carrier, the child is not being held and bonding time is diminished. Eliot advises to limit baby devices to car seats, high chairs and strollers. An exercise device, such as a “jumper” can be beneficial if it is not over-used.
Stay Near Your Infant
As often as possible, be physically close to your infant. Holding, carrying your infant in your arms and massaging the infant create a close bond that comforts babies. Eliot notes two important facts:
1. Due to sexual stereotyping, male infants are not cuddled as much as girls. In fact, Eliot explains that males tend to be more needy and fussier than female infants and actually require more bonding.
2. Female infants, on the other hand, are less prone to fussing. Because they are more passive, they may be cheated of their share of holding and cuddling simply because they are less demanding. Don’t deprive your infant girl of the closeness she needs.
Breastfeeding increases physical closeness and eye contact with your infant. Because of the immune protection it provides, it can prevent the ear infections that may interfere with development.
Importance of the Father
Dads make a unique contribution to child development that moms instinctively cannot – “horseplay.” Eliot confirms what we already know - dads like to clown around with babies. Eliot stresses the importance of the father’s role. Dads not only challenge babies physically, but also provide them with fun, surprise and excitement. Eliot reminds fathers to play with their daughters as much as their sons.
The First Year of Life
Few things are more precious than the first year of life, which passes with heartbreaking speed. Don’t miss a minute and use these general tips yourselves and urge caretakers to follow them. They can serve as a guideline for raising physically, socially and emotionally healthy kids.
Eliot, Lise, Pink Brain Blue Brain, New York, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing Company, © 2009.