Encouraging your baby to be a social baby is important - even after just 4 weeks of life babies are learning their first skills in communication. They are hearing conversations, watching people move about, listening to noises and music, feeling vibrations as you talk.
Babies watch adults eyes and faces for cues and can hear different tones of voice when they speak. If you babble with a baby, they will often pause for a reply even though they are not speaking actual words or having a conversation, they have picked up the idea of pauses in conversation and that we take turns to speak.
Smiling is a vital form of communication. If you smile at a baby more often than not they will smile back. If you frown at a baby they are likely to frown back or cry. So, before they even utter their first word they are learning the vital skills of communication through observing and listening to the parents or siblings behaviour.
Personal, Social and Emotional Development
As babies get older, tactile and textured toys are a great form of entertainment. Once they can hold and touch things they can learn cause and effect. If they shake a rattle it makes a noise etc. They also get to learn about textures of things and beginning to understand that items feel different. Similarly we can feel different: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes frightened etc.
When they get older and can use words, they can then begin to notice and describe how items feel. A wooden spoon is hard, a cotton wool ball is soft etc. Once they have mastered this, they are more able to explain how they feel inside. They might feel scared or joyful etc and with this confidence they can go on to share that information and communicate how they feel.
It is very important to try and give children the chance to develop their emotional well-being and to have the confidence to share their feelings with others. So, get all sorts of toys and items that feel and look different. Talk about the texture: are they rough, smooth, fluffy, shiny. Then talk about how we all look different and can feel different when we are afraid, excited, happy, sad, worried etc.
Mirrors are a great resource to use in any childcare setting and can be used in all sorts of different ways. When little ones can see themselves and what they are doing, its a great way of encouraging play and exploration and help develop a sense of identity. Choose round-edged mirrors that are large, scratch and shatter-proof. Encourage the children to be gentle before play begins.
Some ideas for mirror-based activities:
- Set up a mirror near the front door, and get each child to take a look in there each morning. Is it an excited face, a sleepy face or a shy face this morning?
- Children love to see themselves in mirrors. Get them to make funny faces and see how scary or strange they look.
- Get the children to look at each other in the mirrors. Try out some expressions in the mirror and get the children to guess how each of them feel. Suggest a sad face, and a laughing face, a moody face and see if everyone can guess.
- Encourage them to touch the mirrors: are they real people or just a reflection? See if they will have a chat with the mirror image? Make it into a funny one sided conversation... show them how to do it if they aren't sure.
- Build up a tower or a construction and watch it fall down in the mirror.
- Try placing some mirrors at angles to each other so you create a whole little reflection world!
- Get some little characters to play with in front of the mirror. How many are there?
- Set up some blocks and try to move them about in from of a mirror. Is it hard to see which is real and which is a reflection?
- Act out some animal faces in front of the mirror and guess what they are!!
- Wash face, brush teeth and comb hair whilst looking in the mirror. Does it make it harder or easier?
Babies don't recognise that a mirror is reflecting their own image until they are between 12 and 18 months. The classic test to see if a baby recognises the reflection as themselves is to use lipstick to place a bold mark on their face. If they know that that are looking at themselves, they will reach up to touch the mark. Mirrors are still fun for babies, however, because they help babies to focus on objects and track moving objects with their eyes. They will also think they are looking at another baby and will try to interact with him or her.
It's so easy to say "I'm fine" when someone asks how you are and the same applies to children, but such a response often masks true feelings. Are young children really fine or are they actually a bit under the weather or even unhappy? What are their likes and dislikes? For little children it's hard to know if they are really happy or not - they may not know how to express themselves even if you ask them. However there are ways of exposing whether children are happy and one very good way is through drawing.
Children find drawing a good way of expressing themselves and for many children it's an easier way of communicating especially if they don't have the words to tell you exactly how they feel. You can also use a child's drawing as a way to start a conversation about feelings and whether they are happy or not. Here is a simple way to investigate how a little one may be feeling.
- Clear a table and give your child some paper, a pencil and some crayons
- Ask them to draw a picture about how they feel today; give them some pointers if they need, but try not to tell them what to draw
- Chat about the drawing and ask questions about it
- If they are still in the mood for doing a bit more, ask them to draw their happiest day ever; again, try to get them to use their own ideas
Compare the two drawings and look especially at:
- The size of the people and their expressions
- The size of the things they have drawn ie tiny house or large bold house?
- What colours have they used?
- What are the people doing?
- What's the weather?
There is no hard and fast explanation, but research tends to suggest that the figures will be boldly drawn and have happy faces if the child is feeling happy. Things or people that the child likes will be larger than those things they do not like. Activities the child likes will be larger and more detailed than those they don't like. They may choose their favourite colour for things and people they like and a less favourite colour for things or people they don't like. People drawn closely together tend to be the child's favourite people and less favoured people will be drawn further away.
Compare the pictures on different days and see if there are any dramatic differences. Keep the pictures and over time build up a real picture of your child's thoughts...
A spokesperson for the UN has said that the earthquake in Haiti is like no other disaster in history; as we watch scenes on television and see the devastation unfold, how much do our children need to know about such human tragedy, if anything?
Disasters such as this can leave children feeling confused and scared if they see things they don't understand or don't like. They may not know what an earthquake is, but they can still be very perceptive and have vivid imaginations.
On the one hand you want to be honest with them and tell them the truth. On the other hand, we want to protect them from such awful events. Young children at nursery or preschool may not hear about the news from you - they may hear about it from school. So even if you are thinking of protecting them by not telling them, have a think about how you would answer questions if they arose.
Toddlers really won't understand the words or images they see. Try to avoid them seeing the news with you in case they see the anguish of people and are effected by the images of devastation. Preschool children may react by asking lots of questions. If they are uncomfortable with what they have heard or seen, they may regress a little: thumb-sucking, being sulky, or reacting to the dark or 'monsters'.
Tips for dealing with questions:
- Try to discuss any questions in an honest way, but gauge how much information your little one needs to know.
- Keep an eye on their behaviour and watch for any signs of disturbed behaviour in case it has effected your child deeply.
- Give your child the chance to ask questions. Don't ignore them or they may go off and ask someone else who may not be so sensitive when answering.
- Answer any questions pitched at your child's level of understanding, but try not to dwell too much on it - move on.
- Avoid looking at too many images on television especially graphic ones. Keep TV viewing to a minimum.
- Share some of your thoughts or reactions with your child.
- Look at the positive things too: the heroes who have gone to help, the lucky people who are being rescued, the help being offered all round the world.
You may wish to donate some money to the disaster fund and your child could be involved in this. Get them to pick some money and put it in a collection box or envelope. They may wish to write a letter or draw a picture to send to the children in Haiti. This will encourage them to feel that they have helped in a little way.