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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Playing with Babies

Playing…with a tiny baby?!  How do you do that with a baby as young as two months old?

Actually, as babies enter the second month of life, they become noticeably more interested in the world around them.  While they don’t “play” in the way that we often think of—pushing trains around a track or feeding a baby doll—they are eager to explore the objects and interact with the people they see everyday.  At this age, play is not just about toys, it’s about back-and-forth interactions—anything from singing a song to your baby as you change his diaper, to cooing and smiling back and forth with him.  Loving and playful experiences like these help your baby learn.

What are some fun ways to interact with your baby in the early months?

  • Offer interesting objects for your baby to look at. You will see that as you move an interesting object slowly from side to side, your baby will follow it with his eyes. This is called tracking and is one of the first ways that young babies explore the world while building their visual skills.  

  • Place your baby so that she can kick or hit at a mobile or rattle. Over the next couple of weeks, she will connect the act of kicking with the sounds the mobile makes when struck.  This helps her understand cause-and-effect. And your child will also discover that making noise is just plain fun. 

  • Make everyday routines playful. For example, you can add a massage for your baby after baths or before bedtime, which helps her feel bonded to you and also helps her understand that her body belongs to her (body awareness). 
     
  • Share books together, either by reading them to your baby or just letting her gaze at the pictures.  When your baby gets just a little older, she will probably take the lead—grabbing the book and gumming it—while you ask her how it tastes!

Offer interesting objects to touch. You can bring the objects close so your baby can touch them and begin to learn about how different objects feel.  This helps him learn through his senses. Exploring objects with eyes, and later hands and mouth, also helps babies discover how different objects work and what they do. This makes your baby a good thinker and problem-solver.  

Even Babies Need a Break

Parents may find themselves confused about their babies’ responses as they play.  It’s not uncommon to wonder:  We were having so much fun a minute ago, and now he’s crying.  What happened?  It may be that your baby reached his limit for stimulation and was telling you he needed a break. Babies have their own individual ways of responding to stimulation—light, sound, touch, activity.  Some can take in a lot of stimulation before they top out and become distressed.  Other babies get overwhelmed very quickly by what may seem to be just a small amount of stimulation (like brightening the lights in the room.)  There’s no right or wrong way to be. A baby’s ability to manage stimulation is based on his unique wiring.    

Some common “I need a break” signals include: 

  • turning his head away

  • arching his back

  • closing his eyes or falling asleep

  • crying

  • fussing or making “fussy” sounds

  • hiccupping 


When you see these kinds of signals, try giving your baby a rest for a little bit.  Put aside his toys and perhaps rock and sing quietly to him.  If that’s still too much, just hold him. And keep in mind that even eye contact can be very stimulating for young babies, so just snuggling him against your chest may feel best to him. It’s all about trial and error.    

If your baby is falling asleep in order to rest from playing, let him snooze. You can also swaddle your baby to give him a break. The idea is to reduce the amount of stimulation—sights, sounds, touches, and movements—that he is experiencing. This gives him time to calm down, “re-group”, and pull himself together. 

You’ll know your baby is ready to play again when his expression is calm and clear-eyed, when he meets your gaze, moves his arms or legs, turns toward you, or makes sounds.  Watching your baby to see how she reacts to, manages, and responds to stimulation gives you very useful information. You can begin to understand what and how much play your baby enjoys, how to recognize when she needs a break, and how to comfort her when she is distressed. 

Don’t worry if you don’t get it right immediately. Learning about your baby’s individual needs and temperament takes time. Eventually the two of you will get more “in sync.”
 

 

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