Healthy infants, toddlers benefit from 4 parent powers

Health Watch

New parents can become overwhelmed with information. Who do you listen to? What type of parenting style do you try? What baby items do you need? Everybody has an opinion on what you should or should not do in a child’s first three years of life.

The good news is you don’t need fancy toys or to spend lots of money to give your child a healthy start. You are the most important thing in your child’s life and already have four powerful things that you can use every day to help you build and support your relationship with your child.

1. Power of Touch

Dr. Tiffany Field found big improvements from preemies who had skin-to-skin contact with parents. Dr. Harry Harlow’s research with monkeys showed babies prefer closeness and affection from a cloth-covered wire “mom” without food over a wire “mom” with food.

Hold your baby. Cuddle with them. Rub in lotion or baby oil after a bath. Make eye contact and smile. Do finger plays.

2. Power of Words

Betty Hart and Todd Risley researched ways parents talked to their babies. The more words a baby hears before age 3, the more likely they are to do well in school and to have higher IQ. TV does not count. Young children learn from interactions. Describe what you are doing. Tell them about your day. Name your feelings. Point to things outside of your window. Sing songs. Use longer sentences with a variety of words. Read to them. It will help build their vocabulary and model the use of language as they learn to say their first words and phrases.

3. Power of Routine

Children fear the unknown. Between age 0-3, routines help families develop social and safety skills and also support parental happiness. Stable routines help young children predict what will come next. Take advantage of these common, repetitive pieces of your day to strengthen your relationship.

Establish common routines like bath time, bedtime, family meal times, hairstyling, grocery shopping, riding in the car. Each activity has multiple steps, some of which might be unique to your family. Do more than go through the motions of these regular and repetitive events. Build on them.

4. Power of Ritual

Family tradition can be passed down through generations or you can create your own family traditions. Children want to know their family. As they learn about your family values they develop a sense of belonging.

Make up a special nickname for your child. Tell them their birth story. Read the same book at night — maybe one that was special to you when you were a child. Have grandparent time. Make a special night for pizza, dancing, mommy dates, or daddy dates. Create your own song about your child. Make special one-on-one time with your child at a predictable time each day that your child decides what to do. Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” has more ideas.

Remember the power to give your child a healthy start is in you already.

Leslie Griffith, LMSW, ACSW, IMH-E (IV-C) is a social worker who specializes in infant and toddler mental health at Copper Country Mental Health Services.