The cognitive development of the baby occurs at its own pace, and we all know it. Some babies reach the milestones faster while some take time. You do not have to worry about the baby’s pace of learning or reaching milestones as long as they are healthy otherwise.
Being healthy and growing healthy are what matter with a baby because it is too early to assess their intelligence levels or smartness yet. Your baby will grow smart at the rate decided by nature.
However, you can stimulate the little one’s brain through some healthy practices. These measures not only support their cognitive development but also increase the happiness quotient at home. In this post, MomJunction brings you 11 such simple ways to enhance your baby’s cognitive skills.
11 Simple ways to make your baby Smarter
1. Talk to your baby
You talk to your baby all the time, but did you know that talking is one of the best and easiest ways to encourage their cognitive development? Speaking to your baby makes them hear and process the language you speak. The infant may not understand and respond, but they can listen and learn. If the baby tries to respond to your questions in gibberish coos, then strike a conversation. Talk to your baby like you would speak to an older child.
Talking can happen anytime and anywhere. Some of the situations in which you can have a lively talk with your baby are (1):
- When you are changing their diaper, describe to your baby what you are doing.
- While playing games, like a peek-a-boo, ask questions, “Where’s dad?”, or “Oh, where did the teddy disappear?”
- Label items and say their names. For instance, before feeding, show their feeding bowl and say, “Look, mom’s got the bowl. Here is your spoon.”
- During playtime, ask questions like, “Would you like mummy to bring the teddy? Yes?”
Speaking to your baby is one of the many effective ways to boost brain development (2).
2. Sing a song
Experts say that listening to songs and singing them can provide an opportunity to use words (3). Music may come across as interesting to babies. It is nothing new to us, parents because every time we break into a song, the baby looks at us with intrigue. Singing has similar effects as talking and is thus a good way to make your baby smarter.
It is never too early to start singing for your baby, and you can do so the moment you sense that they are becoming aware of their surroundings (4). Remember to keep the singing happy and jovial since research has found that babies prefer happily sung songs and lullabies to those sung in a neutral tone (5).
3. Read a book
Just like talking and singing, reading also has a positive impact on the baby’s listening skills. Babies like listening to their parent’s voices, whether it is talking or reading a book (6). Young babies listen, but may not have an interest in looking at the book and its illustrations. But as your baby grows older, they will show interest in books and like to turn the pages themselves. It is then time to cuddle with your baby and read them a children’s book.
Babies may have a short attention span. You can keep them interested by placing the book in front of them so that they can view the text and the large bright illustrations. Letting the toddler choose their book is also a nice way to get them to listen to you for long.
4. Count to your baby
Counting numbers provides an opportunity for interaction. Count some objects or illustrations such as playing blocks or the number of times a bird is illustrated in a children’s book. Your baby may not understand the numbers but is quite likely to pay attention to the words you say while counting. Counting may stimulate the baby’s brain to listen and think.
5. Play hide-and-seek
Hide-and-seek is a simple game to teach the baby about object permanence, i.e., to make them know that an object continues to exist even when it is out of sight (7). Babies discover this concept during the age of four to seven months (8). Before this age, if you hide a toy under a blanket, the baby would assume the toy is gone forever. If the mother left the room, the baby would panic and cry.
Playing hide-and-seek is an easy way to boost the baby’s understanding of object permanence. Involving siblings and other members of the family can up the challenge and make the baby think harder, thus exercising their brain. No wonder the baby will come across as smart when they lift the blanket to search for a toy, which they saw the mom hiding.
6. Mirror time
Most babies like to see their reflection in the mirror from the age of six months (9). Seeing one’s reflection in the mirror may be quite stimulating since it seems like a whole different world inside the mirror. One cannot say what is on the baby’s mind, but babies are likely to be amused to see their reflection. The baby would recognize their parents, siblings, or family pet in the reflection. It allows for an opportunity to play games where one parent can sit with the baby while the other can interact with them through reflections in the mirror. Watching reflections and discerning them may make the baby think better.
7. View the family album
You can introduce the baby to new faces by showing them the pictures of the family. It is a satisfying activity with older infants and toddlers, who are more likely to show interest than infants. When showing pictures, begin with the pictures of parents, siblings, and other family members, whom the baby sees every day.
8. Play the imitation game
Stick your tongue out, and soon, your baby does the same. It is said that imitation can play a significant role in the growth of the baby’s brain (10). Babies learn to form essential social interaction skills and discover the functions of objects around them through imitation.
Here are some of the simplest imitation games you can play with your baby:
- Opening your eyes wide and shutting them
- Opening and closing your mouth
- Sticking your tongue out or smacking your lips
- Swaying your head side to side
- Opening and closing the fist while the baby watches
- Using an object in front of the baby, like playing a toy drum while the infant plays their toy drum
9. Play pretend games
Pretend games are silly yet fun. Pretend play involves communication and the understanding of what goes with a particular role. For instance, dad pretends to be a mailman; he has to carry a bag with envelopes and also probably wear a cap. The child then learns that a bag full of envelopes indicates a mailman.
Pretend play games may work better with older babies. The following are some basic ideas for pretend plays, but you can create your concepts too:
- Pretending to play a role such as a mailman, a chef, or an engineer. Use relevant props for each role. For example, you can use plastic toy vegetables while playing chef and use a plastic wrench while pretending to be an engineer.
- Imagine stories with toys and pretend to play. Take a doll or a stuffed toy and pretend it is hungry or sleepy.
- You can also pretend to play using interactive books that have illustrations or pop-out cardboard pieces.
10. Avoid screen time
Stopping your baby from watching TV or using smartphones will not make them smart, but it will certainly cut down on distractions. Medical experts state that talking, reading, and singing to your baby provide all the stimulation their brain needs. TV and other screen time do not provide extra benefits to the baby even if the content is perceived as “educational” (11).
Ultimately, spending time watching TV and viewing the smartphone can eat into the precious time that can be used for other more useful activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for infants (12).
11. Provide a balanced diet
If your baby is old enough to eat solid foods, then provide them a balanced diet for the supply of all the essential micronutrients. Iron, zinc, and iodine boost cognitive development (13). A diet containing vegetables, meat, and dairy products, along with formula or breast milk should be an ideal source of all the nutrients and calories (14).
Remember that not all children develop at the same pace. There is no universal assessment parameter to determine how smart a baby is. General behavior and personality attributes are not conclusive indicators of the level of smartness. Therefore, do not worry if your baby is developing at a different pace than other babies of his/her age. As long as the pediatrician finds the baby’s growth healthy, you need not be concerned. Follow the practices that exercise the baby’s cognitive abilities and let the little one take a natural path to growth.
2. Early brain development and health; Centers for Disease Control And Prevention
3. More Than Baby Talk; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
4. CDC language skills; Administration For Children and Families
5. M. Corbeil et al., Speech vs. singing: Infants choose happier sounds; National Center for Biotechnology Information
6. Why it is never too early to start reading with your baby; Emporia State University
7. Cognitive development: 8 to 12 months; American Academy of Pediatrics
8. Cognitive development: 4 to 7 months; American Academy of Pediatrics
9. Important milestones: Your baby by six months; Centers for Disease Control And Prevention
10. You and your baby: Imitation; Michigan State University
11. 40 percent of 3-month-old infants are regularly watching TV, DVDs or videos; University of Washington
12. Where we stand: Screen time; American Academy of Pediatrics
13. S. E. Cusick and M. K. Georgieff, The role of nutrition in brain development: The golden opportunity of the “first 1000 days”; National Center for Biotechnology Information
14. Sample menu for an 8 to 12 month old; American Academy of Pediatrics