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What Every Child Needs to Thrive

 
 

You don't have to be a child development expert to give your baby a great start in life. Recent research confirms what we've known all along: love, attention and basic care are all your baby really needs and wants. To help your baby reach their full potential, follow these eight simple steps.

Show your love
Hard scientific evidence shows that love, attention and affection in the first years of life have a direct and measurable impact on a child's physical, mental and emotional growth. How do you show your love? Hug, touch, smile, encourage, listen to and play with your little one whenever you can. It's also important to answer their cries immediately, especially in the first year, when experts say it's impossible to spoil a child.

Care for your child's basic needs
Your baby needs all the good health and energy they can muster for learning and growing. Take them in for regular well-baby checkups and keep their immunizations up to date.

Help your baby get plenty of shut-eye. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your baby's brain cells are making important connections that enable all learning, movement and thought. They are the keys to your baby understanding all they are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling as he explores the world.

For proper physical and mental development, make sure their diet is adequate in protein, vitamins and minerals, and neither too low nor too high in calories.

Tend to your baby's physical comfort promptly. Be sensitive to the fact that they're too warm or that their diaper is wet.

Talk to your child
Research shows that children whose parents spoke to them extensively as babies have significantly higher IQs and richer vocabularies than kids who didn't receive much verbal stimulation. You can start as early as during your pregnancy, so your baby gets used to the sound of your voice. Once your child is born, talk to them as you diaper, feed or bathe them. They'll respond better if they know the words are directed at them, so try to look at your baby while you're speaking. Try to avoid baby talk, though. Once in a while it's okay, but your baby can develop good language skills only if you speak to them correctly.

Read to your child
Next to talking, reading out loud is one of the most important things you can do to help build your child's vocabulary, stimulate their imagination and improve their language skills. It also gives you an opportunity to cuddle and socialize. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud daily to your child, starting at age six months, about the time when they'll really begin to enjoy looking at books with you.

What Every Child Needs to Thrive

 
Stimulate all his senses
Studies show that children who grow up in an enriched environment—where they are presented with new experiences that engage their senses—have larger, more active brains than those who grow up without adequate sensory stimulation.
*Provide a variety of toys and other objects.
*Sing the lyrics to your favorite lullabies.
*Play interactive games such as peek-a-boo and pattycake.
*Go on walks and shopping trips together.
*Let your baby meet new people.
Even your simplest daily activities will stimulate your baby's brain development.

It's also important to give your child room to roam. To develop strong muscles, good balance and coordination, babies need plenty of space to crawl, cruise and eventually walk. They'll also benefit from safe spaces where they can explore their surroundings without hearing "no" or "don't touch."

Encourage new challenges
It's important not to frustrate your child with toys and activities that are way beyond his abilities, but a little struggling goes a long way toward self-improvement. When an activity doesn't come easily to your baby, they have to figure out a new way to accomplish the task. That type of problem-solving is the stuff better brains are made of.

Take care of yourself
Parents who are depressed or upset are often unable to respond swiftly and sensitively to their child's needs. One study found that children whose mothers were chronically and clinically depressed had abnormal patterns of brain activity, suggesting that the children also suffered from depression. Seek advice about coping with postpartum depression, and talk with your caregiver any time you think you may be struggling with depression. If you're feeling drained, find ways to divide the household and parenting responsibilities with your partner. If you're a single parent, surround yourself with people who can offer you help and support. And don't forget to treat yourself to some time alone once in a while.

Find good childcare
If you work, a quality childcare provider is essential to your baby's healthy development. You'll want to find someone who can do all the things mentioned above when you're not around. Whether your childcare provider is a nanny, a relative or a daycare worker, she should be experienced, caring and reputable, with love and energy to help your baby thrive.
 

Why Is My Baby Crying??

 
 

Babies cry—it's one way they communicate. Since your baby can't talk, you may worry, "How will I know what she wants?" At first, it can be difficult, but a large part of parenting is trial and error, and you'll soon learn to anticipate her needs and wipe away her tears. If your little one is wailing, work your way down the list and chances are you'll find the cure.

"I'm hungry"
Once you learn to recognize the signs that your baby wants to eat—she'll fuss, make noises and root around for your breast if you pick them up—you'll get pretty good at feeding them before they start to really cry. Sometimes a baby will continue to cry even after you start feeding them; keep going, they'll stop once their stomach is full.

"Change my diaper"
Some babies will let you know right away when they need to be changed; others don't mind when their diapers are soiled—it's warm and comfortable to them. Parents are often surprised when they pick up their infant and find they've been sitting around in a dirty diaper and never made a sound.

"I'm too cold or hot"
Newborns like to be bundled up and kept warm. (As a rule, they need to be wearing one more layer than you need to be comfortable.) Watch out that you don't overdress them, since they are less likely to complain about being too warm than about being too cold and won't cry about it as vigorously.

"I want to be held"
Babies need a lot of cuddling. They like to see their parents' faces, hear their voices, listen to their hearts, and can even detect their unique smell (especially Mom's milk). After being fed, burped and changed, many babies simply want to be held. You may wonder if you'll "spoil" your child by holding them so much, but during the first few months of life there's no such thing.

"I can't take it anymore"
While newborns seem to thrive on a lot of attention, they can easily become overstimulated and have a "meltdown." Newborns have difficulty filtering out the lights, the noise, being passed from hand to hand, and can become overwhelmed and tired by too much activity. Take them somewhere calm and quiet and let them vent for a while, and then see if you can get the baby to sleep.

Why Is My Baby Crying??

 
"I don't feel good"
Consider checking their temperature to make sure they're not ill. The cry of a sick baby tends to be distinct from the hunger or frustration cry, and you'll soon learn when your baby "just doesn't sound right" and needs to be taken to the doctor.

None of the above
Many newborns develop periods of fussiness when they're not easily soothed. These periods of fussiness can range from a few minutes of hard-to-console crying to full-blown colic. Colic is defined as inconsolable crying for at least three hours per day, at least three days per week. When all else fails, try the tips below.

Wrap your baby up and hold them close. Newborns like to feel as warm and secure as they did in the womb. But be aware that some babies find swaddling or cuddling too constrictive.

Let them hear the rhythm. Try playing soft music, singing a lullaby, or even just putting her close to hear the steady rhythm of an electric fan or the white noise of a vacuum cleaner.

Put her in motion. Rock her gently in a rocking chair or swing at the same rate as your heart (around 60 to 100 beats per minute), set her on top of the dryer while it's on, or take her for a car ride.

Rub her tummy, back or belly. It's one of the most soothing things you can do for her, especially if she's having gas pains, which may be the problem with some colicky babies.

Let her suck on something. Sucking can steady an infant's heart rate, relax her stomach, and calm her flailing limbs. Give her a pacifier or a finger to clamp onto and let her go to town.

If all else fails...
Take care of yourself. You're chronically sleep-deprived and may already be unsure about how to care for this baby. Mom's emotions are all over the place due to the hormonal changes she's going through. Dad may not be sure what role he should play in caring for the newborn or whether he'll ever get mom's attention again. Add a crying baby to this scenario and many parents can become overwhelmed with feelings of incompetence.

Put your baby down and let her cry for a while, or let someone else take over. Put on some quiet music to distract yourself and take deep breaths. Remind yourself that nothing is wrong with your baby and crying won't hurt her. Fortunately, babies (and their parents) are resilient and somehow manage to get through even the most difficult crying episodes. Take heart that by the time your baby is 8 to 12 weeks old, she'll be better able to soothe herself and much of the crying will stop.
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