Five Things You Can Begin Teaching Your Baby in the First Year

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve taken “my kids” out (my son and/or the children I nanny) and strangers compliment, “Wow your child is so smart.”

“Correct, stranger, my children are smart but so are over a million other children, including the ones in your life.”

I feel offensive on every other child’s behalf as if the stranger is putting them down, regardless of their innocent attempt at a compliment. What I find more baffling is when parents have their own child playing near by and say, “Wow yours‘ is so smart… How old is he (or she)?”

I want to advise, “Perhaps you should start saving up for your child’s therapy.”

As adults, we sometimes forget on how intelligent all children are (forget what we thought as a child at their age…) children aren’t just children… they are people in little bodies. They are new to world we have lived in and we tend to forget the things that come mindless to us, are new discoveries for them. (Think of an alien visiting our world for the first time…)

By the way… If you are a new mom, or about to be a new mom, congratulations! I’m telling you these five things, coming up, will help step on the right path to your child’s growing mind.

There are a lot of reasons people come to this outward conclusion of my children being overly intelligent… one of the most frequent is how often my child and I communicate. The reason mine can sing their ABC’s, count, know their colors and converse with me about the selection of toys, weather and anything else that come to that mind… well, this is just how we talk daily. Honestly, it’s like I talk to them on a daily basis as a person that might be from another planet, explaining feelings they might be having, things they come across in our worldRemember each child is different and still works in there own way on their own time. Some children are more physical in the early years and some become more verbal. Some begin physical and verbal communication earlier than others. This doesn’t mean one child is smarter than another it simply means the environmental training is different.

With all the above said, here is a check off list to ensure your child receives an effective introduction to learning, vocabulary, communication, social and safety skills before they’re two (or after two, it’s also never too late to start).

1. Communicate: communication is key on any relationship and baby is showing you signs of communication starting the day they arrive. So how do you enrich this communication in baby’s first year(s)?

Read: I can’t stress how important it is to start this ritual the first week into baby being home. There are even black and white picture books made for newborns. Making up content to wordless books, pointing out objects and imitate sounds (dog, vacuum, cat, bee..) are creating the tools your child needs to understand the world around them.

Talk: It may feel like you’re having a conversation with yourself when talking to a newborn but while you’re speaking your little one is catching on to voice fluctuation, syllables and tone. (no matter the age). When directly talking with baby (eye to eye is even more effective), baby is able to study your lips and eventually practice mimicking you. Use the same tone you do towards friends and family and save the “baby talk” for special moments.

Sing: Rhyming words and catchy tunes also help baby with syllables. You will see them catch onto music before their first year. Singing the ABC’s and number songs will have them impressing you when suddenly they are initiating the melody. Music is an important tool in babies and children’s lives ranging from communication to motor skills.

Sign Language: You don’t have to be knowledgeable of ASL to begin using it around baby (Look for the apps on your phone). Some babies will prefer this method of communication before verbally forming words. Others might verbally communicate while using ASL. While still others may skip signing and only verbally communicate. Regardless of how your child chooses to process ASL, it is another opportunity for baby to communicate and build a bridge that will alleviate possible future frustrations.

2. Safety: Unfortunately the world we live in poses dangers and has been true since the beginning of time. However, starting safety instructions at a young age might bring surprise when you witness how they begin observing and applying the knowledge to their surroundings.

Medicine: At some point your child will most likely need some sort of antibiotic to rid of an infection, pain medication to be comfortable during teething or ear aches… In turn, your child may see you take medicine, vitamins or pain reliever. During these times you want to stress, “That’s all you get. If you take more your belly will have ouchies.” (or whatever word you use when your child gets hurt) You also want to stress your medicine is “Adult medicine,” “Yucky” or “mommy medicine” and “If you eat this your belly will hurt and I have to take you to the doctor because it could be spooky.”

Why?

The more you emphasize what medicine is the less chance you have of them believing it can be candy or some sort of treat. The goal is to have them avoid anything that looks like pills and understand that medicine should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor or parent.

Red light/Green light: There are a few ways to teach baby what a red light means and what a green light means. One is when you are taking walks and approach light signals and cross walks. Make sure to get down to the stroller level and point. I suggest phrasing, “See, the light that is green. When the light is green cars go.” Point out the crosswalk sign, “The hand that is red means stop.” Make your words as simple and to the point as possible. “The light is red. Cars stop. The ‘person’ is green. We can walk.” (Incorporating names instead of “we” , “you” or “I” to bring better understanding. *Remember they are still trying to figure out pronouns.) You can also play these games while driving. When you stop at a light you might inform, “The car is at a light what is red. We stop. The light is green. We go.” (You are communicating and encouraging them to visualize)

Why?

Teaching your child about stop and go is beneficial for when they turn two and up. This knowledge can turn into a ‘game,’ eventually adding yellow to ‘slow down.’ When out in public, this ‘game’ can be a helpful tool if you child tries to run ahead or touch something in a store they shouldn’t. The idea of it feeling like a game usually makes this effective. In addition, you are teaching them fundamentals of traffic, crossing, and even bus safety.

Hot and Cold: When food is hot tell baby (six months and up). Holding their wrist high above the steam or burner, “See this is hot.” Obviously, don’t hold it there for long and use caution, you don’t want to burn baby. You are educating. I repeat: don’t do this without taking all precautions into consideration. (Keep in mind baby’s hands are quick so extreme caution, trapping one to your side while controlling the other is important for babies safety.) “The steam hot.” You can do the same for fire, allow them to feel the heat is coming off, “Fire is hot. Don’t touch hot. Hot gives ouchies.”

Cold is easier and less dangerous. Easy to explain cold with water, ice and snow. “The ice is cold. The water is cold.”

Why?

The earlier your child understands the difference between hot and cold the less likely they are to reach for things that you tell them are hot. It also allows them to realize if steam is coming off food it is probably hot and not to reach or grab for it. (If a burn ever does occur make sure to hold it under cold running water for at least five minutes, for extreme burns twenty – even if they are crying and try to pull away. Then treat burn accordingly.)

• Soap and cleaning supplies: Let baby help with laundry, dishes and cleaning. Sounds crazy? Allowing baby “to pour” or throw a “Tide Pod” in the washer and saying things such as, “Soap. Soap is yucky in the mouth but cleans clothes.” The same mind set for other cleaning products, “Cleaner. Cleaner is yucky but makes house smell good.” (Assuming yucky is the word you use when teaching baby not to put things on there mouth)

Why?

Tide wouldn’t exactly have to use child caps if children understood it is soap and makes your belly sick if you put it in your mouth. (Always have poison control number saved in your phone) You’d be amazed by what they can understand if you continue to repeat your words. “I will help you spray the cleaner. If the cleaner sprays into your eyes it will hurt really bad.”

3. Colors: During babies first year their brains are like sponges and they are absorbing everything around them. It’s also the easiest time to start teaching them colors. I wouldn’t begin colors until at least six months of age.

In the English language it is natural for us to add adjectives before nouns. For example, “The red car…” but little minds don’t separate the adjective from the noun, interpreting: “redcar” as if you are calling the object “red car.”

I read an article eight years ago, when my son was still a baby that explained this theory in detail (Sorry, I have no idea where that article is – but thank you to the person who wrote it). I have since used the suggested method with all “my kids” and each one has learned their colors before the age of one.

INSTEAD of the “red car”

TRY: “the car is red.”

Instead of “green crayon”

Try “The crayon that is green.”

Even when baby isn’t verbal you will you will eventually be able to ask, “Can you grab me the shirt that is blue?”

You will be enthused and wowed the first time you are understood and those tiny hands grab the blue shirt.

Why?

Teaching colors gives them a head start to preschool. By starting early with this teaching method they will be ahead of the game and avoid adjective and noun confusion on association with colors. (You can also begin number and letter recognition before the age of two.)

4. Gentle: Teaching gentle co-exist with sensory. When baby feels a soft object and wants to grab, guide babies hand slowly over the material, hair, object and calmly say, “gentle.” When baby wants to grab again repeat, “gentle.”

Why?

This tool is especially important if you have pets because babies love to grab fur and hair. Gentle can also save someone’s dangling jewelry. Most importantly, gentle will continue to grow with their social skills and applying the word when interacting with friends.

5. Feelings: Reading books about feelings while acting them out helps baby understand the differences between: happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited…. and the list goes on.

When baby expresses happiness let them know, “You are feeling happy.”

If they fall and cry help them communicate what they are feeling, “Ouchie. That hurt. I’m sorry you are sad.”

Why?

Teaching baby emotional feelings help them to verbally communicate without hitting, biting, and screaming. When you communicate to them that you understand what they are feeling you build a bridge to further communication and nurturing. This also works to your advantage when limitations are set and tantrums are thrown. “I understand you are angry but I won’t buy that toy. Sometimes even when we are angry it doesn’t get us what we want.”

You can help them find solutions to deal with their feelings and if they don’t want your help or need space before communicating… you can still understand and respect it.

Sometimes, one of the hardest things for us to remember, as adults, that these little people still have big thoughts and feelings and trying to work them out is complicated. As adults we are here to guide our children.

Next time if you are out and about and a child that appears to be the same age as yours shouts, “Look at the red balloon!”

Refrain from thinking: Their child is so smart and train yourself to think: If I can make the time my child can learn their colors too.

Photo by Valeria Zoncoll

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