Back-and-forth interactions with your baby – even before they seem to be obviously reciprocating – can aid brain development, but not enough parents are aware of that.
A survey of more than 2,000 parents and expectant parents by the NSPCC found that 62% were unaware moments such as playing, singing or storytime can be brain-building ones.
In response, the charity is launching a campaign, ‘Look, Say, Sing, Play’, to encourage new parents to use everyday scenarios to have more two-way interactions with their babies. Going to the shops, having a bath, going to bed – whatever you and your baby are doing can be turned into a back-and-forth.
Are they fiddling with a bit of their cot? Cool, talk to them about it! Is it raining outside the window? That’s a topic for conversation! Is nothing happening at all? Well, you can always talk about that, or fill the silence with a half-remembered rendition of Angels.
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Look, say, sing, play – it doesn’t need to be complicated. Are you cooking? Show your baby some of the foods and talk about them – play “hold onto this sprout for a bit”. Are you folding laundry? Have a massive laugh with some rolled-up socks. Are you working on a report that’s stressing you out? Sing a song to your baby about how much you dislike your boss. You might both benefit.
It can feel a bit silly if you’re not used to it, live-narrating your life in front of your baby like you’re Sir David Attenborough doing a voiceover on footage of yourself. “I’m going to eat this banana”, you say to a room that only contains you and a five-day-old baby who doesn’t know any of the words you’re saying. If the child wasn’t there, this would be the behaviour of a very strange person, you think.
The NSPCC found a lot of new parents struggle to know what to do beyond cuddling and making eye contact, but the idea seems to be: whatever’s around. Before long, it’ll be second nature and you’ll happily trot down the road with your tiny child pointing out everything you see in real-time. You might even find yourself doing it when your child isn’t with you, declaring things like, “I think I’ll buy this washing powder!” to an unimpressed Tesco shelf – your child safely at home with your partner.
It’s not just a one-way thing, of course. You’re not just bellowing about yourself like someone off a particularly excruciating episode of ‘First Dates’. Pay attention to what your little one is looking at, what they seem interested in, and what encourages them to make noises.
Jane Barlow, president of The Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH UK), said the campaign builds on current evidence about the importance of interactions between parents/carers and their babies. “These are key aspects of development that promote children’s social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive functioning thereby giving them the best start in life,” she said.
Just think, in a few years you’ll look back fondly on the times when they couldn’t answer back...