Infant and Child Development is not about ‘stuff’

Infant and Child Development is not about ‘stuff’

By Shana L. Nielsen, OTR/L
Supervisor, Pediatric Therapy Services, Swedish/First Hill

When we are bombarded by information and products, how are we as new parents supposed to decipher what is in the best interest of our child when it comes to their development? 

Parents can quickly become bombarded with information about everything they need to do to optimize the first months of their child’s very impressionable life. A new, overwhelmed, sleep deprived parent can find everything from music for math skills, swaddling positioners for longer sleep, bottles for better speech development, and even multiple equipment options to speed up a child’s progression for walking.  Today there are so many items available for purchase that if a person wanted to, they could  go through an entire day never having to hold, cuddle, snuggle, whisper, sing, gaze, laugh, or touch their baby…..and that is exactly the point.  When it comes right down to it, the best things that we can provide for our babies development has nothing to do with the “stuff”!

Here’s what advertisements for most baby products don’t tell you: the loving, safe environment and day to day interactions with your infant provides the greatest sensory and motor opportunities! What we often forget is that children develop and thrive when exposed to the basic sensory experiences - this is what makes us feeling, thinking, sensitive beings.  There are no electronic devices that can ever, or will ever, replace being talked to, being held, or being played with.

Young children, like adults thrive from sensory experiences that stimulate all of the senses.  Being in a parent’s arms and touching and exploring faces, making eye contact, being on one’s tummy and feeling the ground below (yes, tummy time during play is extremely important and helpful for development!), and being held and walking around, all provide the necessary input that helps an infant understand where their body is in relation to the space around it.  Hearing the voices of loved ones and being talked back to when making funny sounds with their voices facilitates speech development.  Allowing a baby to gaze and look all around at people and things both close and far away supports eye muscle development. 

The next time you find yourself questioning if you are doing everything right or whether or not you “have the right stuff,” reflect on what your infant seems to enjoy the most.  Take your child for a walk. Sit your child on your lap and swing gently back and forth at the park and feel the wind on your faces.  Lay down on the floor on your tummy opposite your baby and play.  Talk. Sing. Laugh. Hug. Dance.  The simple fundamental everyday sights and sounds that we rely on each day to communicate, regulate, and organize ourselves as adults, are the same things our infants need to grow, thrive, develop, and learn.  The things our children need most are what we can give of ourselves – and it is all free.

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