The power of peek-a-boo

By Sue Doogan, Jean Hailes

Baby gym. Baby swim. Baby sing! Unlike ever before, new parents are inundated with formal ways to ‘play’ with their babies. But to Sue Doogan, maternal nurse and What Were We Thinking! blog expert, sometimes the best toy for your new baby is simply you.

Apart from questions regarding general care and wellbeing, of both themselves and their babies, another frequently asked question I hear from parents is, “should I enrol my baby in music groups or baby gyms or ...”

The short answer is, “no!”

A poster comes to mind that’s displayed in my Maternal & Child Health waiting room which says, “You’re the architect of your baby’s brain.” You therefore don’t need the expensive toys or gadgets. The sign of a good parent is not that you have enrolled your baby in every activity that is available in your local area. It’s about spending time with your baby.

For babies, the best ‘toy’ is you. Hearing your voice (whether it’s in song, reading or chatting about what you’re doing when nappy changing), looking at your face and learning how to read your expressions or blowing raspberries on their tummy are all considered play in the eyes of a baby. As they get older, and their development increases, your baby will find enjoyment in simple things like climbing, banging objects, rolling and reading (it goes without saying!). Moving forward some years, children associate play with things like riding a bike, playing dress ups or learning how to catch and throw.

To begin with you will initiate play but as your baby gets older you will notice them trying to get your attention to interact with them in a play activity. Whose baby hasn’t dropped something off the highchair for you to pick up, over and over and over again? They are very clever – because we do it, again and again and again! Play activities help them to problem solve, teach them perseverance, test their strength and overcome fear.

Through play, your baby will look at you to model accepted behaviours along with the morals and ethics that constitute your family’s values. Learning to read their temperament and personality also helps to develop strong lifelong attachments with your baby. This attachment is vital to your baby’s development. It’s this attachment that will create a strong, healthy, well-adjusted adult (emotionally, physically and cognitively).

As has been stated in a previous blog post, the newborn period can be boring for some. You don’t appear to get much ‘reward’ from your baby, despite all the hard work you are putting in. Be reassured that even though it may take some time to see the fruits of your labour, you are contributing an awful lot of foundation to your baby’s brain.

I’m not saying you can’t enrol your baby in different community activities or that you can’t purchase them a whizz-bang toy, what I’m saying is that ultimately your baby just wants you! How many of you have heard family members say that on their baby’s first birthday, or Christmas, they didn’t play with the gift but instead played with the packaging? And how many friends have told you that their baby won’t play in ‘the play area’ and instead, wants to play in the kitchen with pots and pans?

There is plenty of time for structured play in the form of learning to swim or playing a team sport but when they are young, a simple game of peek-a-boo, pointing out birds in your garden, rolling on the floor laughing or having a picnic in the backyard are all your baby needs. More importantly, they don’t cost anything in monetary value – just you and your time.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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