When it comes to mother-child bonding, embrace what comes naturally.
Simple activities, such as a post-bath foot rub or playing where’s-your-bellybutton, not only establish a lifelong foundation of love and trust, they also help your child’s brain develop. Here are five activities for you and your baby to do together:
Choose a time when the baby is calm but alert. A light yet firm touch is best, says Martine Groeneveld, R.N., a Los Angeles-based certified infant massage instructor and author of 2009’s Mommy Draw Stars on My Belly: Rhymes, Songs and Touch-Play Activities to Stay Connected. (Press gently on your closed eyelid to gauge how much pressure to use.) Feet and legs are a great place to start, keeping in mind that the tummy should be massaged in clockwise strokes to help digestion and the head shouldn’t be massaged until the fontanel (soft spot) has closed, at around 12 months.
Being able to warble “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” may stave off fussiness in the car or soothe bedtime from birth onward. Around 9 months old, your baby can join in—quacking to “Old MacDonald” or clap ping along with “Wheels on the Bus.”
Narrate the activities you do together (“Now we’ll change your diaper”) to attune your baby to language. Once your baby begins to crawl, use words that describe new experiences. (“The grass feels cool.”) Studies have shown that simple questions (“Where’s your ball?”) increase brain activity and cognition, says Natalie Robinson Garfield, a New York City- based psychotherapist who holds a degree in infant/toddler development. Don’t, however, ask rapid-fire questions or overload your child with choices.
Those first flirty coos morph into games like peekaboo by 6 months old. For babies around a year, Karyn Siegel-Maier, author of 2009’s Happy Baby, Happy You: 500 Ways to Nurture the Bond with Your Baby, recommends setting up couch cushions and draped blankets as an obstacle course, with mom waiting at the end as a reward.
Few activities provide such enduring benefits. You can start from birth, but babies will really engage once they can sit upright in your lap and study the pictures. Choose board books with bright, simple pictures, for starters, and make it interactive (“woof” for the dog). As your child grows (9 months and older), choose stories connected to new experiences; a story about winter, for example, after seeing snow fall.