Baby Einstein
April 6, 2009 6:01 AM   Subscribe

What should I be doing to help my baby's development? Baby Ava is now 6 months old and she is starting to really become a little person. Mommy and daddy talk to her, read to her, sing to her, play various style of music for her. She plays with blocks, rattles, and spends a little time in an exersaucer. What else can we do to help her mind grow and her body develop?
posted by jasondigitized to Human Relations (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

They require love, stimulation, and basically raise themselves from there.
posted by zachawry at 6:12 AM on April 6, 2009

Sounds like you are doing really well at this parenting thing. Continue to have a mindful and compassionate relationship with your daughter and she'll turn out fine. Let her be who she is and she'll do better than burdening her with expectations.
posted by RajahKing at 6:14 AM on April 6, 2009

Continue to have a great relationship with your wife, too.
posted by belau at 6:15 AM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seconding the above. Relax. You're doing great. Play with her, show her the things you're looking at, dance around the room just to be silly. Enjoy this time - don't make it stressful. That comes later of its own accord.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:17 AM on April 6, 2009

Sounds like things are going just fine. Honestly, I'm not aware of any concrete evidence that suggests that doing extra "intellectual" things with your baby over and above normal, healthy interaction makes any difference in the long term. Ignoring your baby is clearly bad for it, but once you reach the level of normal attentiveness, diminishing returns kick in really quickly.

One thing you might consider is something like Baby Signing Time. Will it mean the difference between a GED and Ph.D.? Almost certainly not. But what it does do is give children who are too young to speak the ability to communicate with you. By getting them started on the whole two-way communication thing earlier, you can potentially reduce the frequency at which you child gets frustrated. A lot of times when a toddler fusses it's because they want something and don't have any way of telling you about it except crying. By teaching them signs like "ball," "bear," "more," "please," and "thank you," you give them the ability to actually ask for things instead of playing twenty questions with your pre-verbal bundle of joy. This can be good for everyone's sanity. Again, the long-term effects are probably marginal, but the short-term benefits can be pretty sweet.*

Other than that though, don't push it. Kids develop at their own pace, especially this young. A family I know with six children has had them start talking as early as nine months and as late as two years. They all get it eventually, and they're all perfectly normal kids, you just can't rush these things. Similarly, another family I know with several children had one that was consistently in the lowest quartile for height and weight for years, and is now the tallest in his class. Setting artificial expectations for your baby is going to be a lot harder on both of you than just enjoying your child for who she is. Everyone will be better off if you put more effort into learning about your daughter from your daughter.

*Also, watching toddlers sign for things is ridiculously cute, as they usually wind up adopting their own versions of "official" signs.
posted by valkyryn at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you're doing just fine. Keep in close touch with your pediatrician about specific developmental milestones (the AAP'sCaring for Your Baby and Young Child is a handy reference on this and a good many other topics). Just keep loving and interacting with your kiddo.
posted by wheat at 6:24 AM on April 6, 2009

Don't let her watch much TV until she's older.
posted by delmoi at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2009

Keep talking. This Hart and Risley study gets argued over all the time, but I have heard lots of compelling arguments for talking to kids alllllllll the time. I attended a talk I given by James Paul Gee where he talked about technical language and kids-- complex explanations given to even very young children prepared them to later understand complex cognitive problems.

So just keep blabbing away at her.
posted by oflinkey at 6:26 AM on April 6, 2009

Touch and hold her. You're probably doing that already, but I hear it's extremely important.

And: be patient with her.
posted by amtho at 6:27 AM on April 6, 2009

Best answer: I really, really don't mean this in a snotty way, either in response to what you're doing ro to zachawry's good answer about love and stimulation - but also, for now and for ever, give her time and space to just be too. Partly in a "benign neglect" way - if she's happily doing something, sometimes let her do it without interacting so she can take whatever she's doing to a natural conclusion all by herself. But also, give her time to just hang out on a blanket or wherever, and to just look around and figure out things for herself. As the mom of a now five year old, I'm looking back on all the times when she was just fine, but I thought I had to do more and maybe interrupted something. Sure she was happy for the attention, but I didn't always think about her train of thought being any worse off for doing so. But, now when I see her happily crawling on and exploring a fallen log for forty minutes (an eon in kid time) or poking a stick in the dirt for ages, I realize that learning to be alone but not lonely; to be able to amuse oneself, and to have simple peace of mind is a huge gift to a child too. So, now we know, for example, that every walk in the woods is just as developmental as much for what she discovers on her own, not mainly for what we show her.
posted by peagood at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2009 [24 favorites]

Oh my goodness, seconding peagood as loudly as I can. The best gift you can give your kid is the ability to entertain herself. Other parents will love you for it, too. I can't tell you how annoying it is when certain friends of my children come over and expect me to fawn over everything they've done or tell them what to do or help them get snacks (my youngest is almost nine, for crying out loud! Nine-year-olds can get their own snacks!!). It's seriously annoying. My children have never once, not even one single time, said they were bored.

I've practiced benign neglect since my first was born 12 years ago. That doesn't mean I never play with them. My oldest and I currently have a spirited game of Settlers of Cataan going right now, and my daughter and I are going to the craft store later to pick something to do during spring break. But they can entertain themselves, and they do, most of the time now. I don't have worries of them being at a loss for things to do. You start out small, leaving her "alone" (and by that I mean you're still there, just out of sight but able to get to her quickly) in a safe spot (her crib, the playpen, in a gated babyproofed area, etc.) to play on her own. Let her find her feet, let her discover what happens when she turns that block this way and that. If she starts to fuss, wait just a second to see if she can work it out on her own. If not, go to her and see what she needs. Play with her, of course. Just not all day, every day.

And: do relax. You sound like great parents.
posted by cooker girl at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2009

peagood nails it.

And avoid anything that involves software or batteries.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:44 AM on April 6, 2009

Echoing Peagood. There's a lot of child development that isn't understood, so implementing too many developmental efforts may interfere with natural brain development. A child care professional (Masters in Early Childhood Ed.) who took care of my son felt strongly that children should spend some time outdoors every day, and have a lot of interaction with nature. I know my son always loved the outdoors, and still does, and he's physically really healthy and active.

Keep the tv off as much as possible, with the exception of small amounts of Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers. Most tv is horrible and teaches kids to be consumers, not thinkers.

If you add anything, add a variety of music. Classical, jazz, African drumming, French-Canadian fiddling; the best and most interesting music you and your child enjoy. Music is complex and may help parts of the mind develop, as well as the cultural component. Get up and dance with her and sing to her. (I do see that you already play music for her.)

Talk to her about your day, about what's going on in the world. She's learning your values. (Another reason to turn off the tv.) And give her sufficient unscheduled time to daydream, think, etc.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was raised in another time. We played in a truck yard, chewed on lead paint, played with toy guns, and actually went OUTSIDE! OMG KIDZ OUTSIDE!!!!!

Basically I'm saying play outside in the sun, in nature, on grass and sand and water. Sure, she's only 6 months now, but learning to swim, cope with bugs, and deal with dirt will make her more aware of her environment. Who knows where that will lead.
posted by Gungho at 6:48 AM on April 6, 2009

The CBC did an excellent 2-part series called The Hurried Infant about the Baby Einstein types of products that are designed to jump-start your baby's development, and how they don't really work. You can listen to it online; it's a very interesting series. They give more of the background on what research is showing about child development, and what makes for a healthy, well-adjusted child.

Touch your child. Hold her. Sing to her. Speak to her often. Look her in the eye. Let her explore textures, sounds, temperatures, tastes. Quiet. Limit the amount of time she spends watching a screen. Give her a set of people she can rely on to come around fairly often and play with her and not to disappear. Give her predictable routines, such as music that you play at bedtime every night.

Give her parents who are not stressed out by the pressure to have the Best and Brightest Child.

And teach her to sign. It's so great when a pre-verbal child can ask you specifically for a banana instead of growing increasingly frustrated as you check if she needs a change, wants water, wants cereal, wants to be held, etc.
posted by heatherann at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I don't have kids. But one thing I am grateful for is the fact that my parents started reading to me pretty much as soon as I was born, and never stopped.

I know you already said you read to her. I just wanted to say how great that it is that you do, and please keep doing it! I've done very well in school and I've always loved reading, and I'm sure this had a lot to do with it. Thanks to my parents, I think I started reading on my own around age 3 or 4 and never stopped. (My sister, too.) They always took us to the library and I always had a little stack of books next to my bed that I couldn't wait to get through. I was like this all through school. It's especially easy for girls because there are so many books in series- in elementary school I was addicted to Sweet Valley and Babysitters Club books. I never stopped reading! There are hundreds of them!

I imagine it will be especially tough now for kids to hang on to an interest in reading once they discover the internet. So the more you can do to cultivate it when she's really young, the better.
posted by lblair at 6:55 AM on April 6, 2009

Take her places. Let her see and hear and touch things that she wouldn't see or hear at home. It doesn't have to be a Special Planned Outing. Just take her along occasionally when you run errands. Enroll in a park district baby gymnastics class. Go to the children's book readings at your library. Take her to an art museum. Visit someone with pets, or the children's zoo, and let her touch the animals. Take her with you to a concert (of course, using your common sense here!).

I used to take my baby daughter with me everywhere because I sure wasn't going to sit around the house all day until she was old enough to walk by herself or whatever. I can't say that taking her to the mall or Starbucks or to concerts made her any smarter necessarily (and I'm sure personality differences are at work too) but she sure is easygoing in new situations now (13 years later), unlike some of her cousins who didn't get around as much when little. They seem nervous and unsure when faced with something new and different, while my kid is confident and matter-of-fact.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:01 AM on April 6, 2009

Great advice above, especially belau and peagood. One perhaps oddball thing I've done with my boys is constantly change up genders for indeterminate characters in their books and movies. I want them to get as many messages as possible that both boys and girls, and men and women, can do most things and perform in most of society's roles. If I had a girl I'd probably be even more attentive to it.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:16 AM on April 6, 2009

A friend of mine did the sign-language thing with his daughter. It was amazing to see... She could request things, and answer questions sooner than she otherwise would have, and seemed to be more socially "engaged" as a result.

It also seemed to reduce frustration in the child – rather than learn to say "no more food, please" by grimacing, shaking her head, or knocking things away, she could simply do the sign.

There seems to be a pendulum swing happening: don't rush your kids! Don't obsess about cramming teaching opportunities! Well that's fine. Clearly we have to be mindful of our kids' need for solitude, and independent learning. There's obviously some common sense to apply here.

However, within the bounds of what an infant or child is naturally thirsting for, I think it'd be a shame if parents started to feel that we've somehow reached an unhealthy saturation-point of interaction, communication, and stimulation.

Simply put: our parents, with their equating a "good baby" with how well it stayed asleep in a quiet, dark room (a generalization, of course), got it wrong, and our generation is getting it right.
posted by huron at 7:25 AM on April 6, 2009

make sure you start arranging as much play time with other children as possible.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:32 AM on April 6, 2009

For what it's worth - we started teaching our daughter to sign from about five and a half months, and kept it up for a while, sticking only to two or three basic signs ('more', 'milk'). She eventually learnt the sign for milk at about nine months. We didn't think the effort really paid off, to be perfectly honest, though it sure was fun to see her use the sign.
posted by Dragonness at 9:41 AM on April 6, 2009

Best tip i can give, do NOT, NOT NOT NOT, over-sanitize their environment, wiping and sterilizing every surface they might even deign to LOOK at. They need to be exposed to things to have their immune system develop properly. let them go outside and play with frogs.
posted by CTORourke at 10:55 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't make them watch those baby Einstein movies, just talk to them.

I would add, to paraphrase Mr. Frank Zappa, keep 'em as far away from a church as you can.
posted by MattMangels at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2009

Following up on oflinkey's comment, This American Life had a story, act one of Episode 364: Going Big, which delves into this problem of language acquisition and a particular early-intervention program designed to redress it. It is a fascinating, inspiring, and terrifying episode. The advice, though, is simple: talk to your kids and read to your kids.
posted by wheat at 11:26 AM on April 6, 2009

I know it's only in your title, but don't buy into the Baby Einstein hype. It can delay language development. I've also read that kids under 2 should not watch TV at all.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2009

Lots of great answers.

Our daughter is about the same age and just loves experimenting with food. Learning about different tastes - yoghurt and mild curry for example. And textures, many a happy half hour has gone past as she eat/plays with a small piece of bread, a banana or a piece of lamb(!)
posted by Bigbrowncow at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2009

I bet this is unnecessary advice in your case, but may you and Mrs. J.D. always set a good example of what a real loving relationship is supposed to be like so she will be drawn into positive relationships for now and for ever. A profitable investment that will save your sanity and hers!
posted by Redhush at 2:43 PM on April 6, 2009

Baby Eisenstein?
posted by miriam at 7:15 PM on April 6, 2009

Play with them. Play is crucially important in human development. TV of any kind, including baby einstein, has negative effects on the developing brain. See this on the importance of play:
posted by andreinla at 6:09 PM on April 8, 2009

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