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 a world we have taken for granted. We tend to forget 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! These next five ideas will step you on the right path to encourage your child’s growing mind.

There are a lot of reasons people come to the 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, feelings and anything else that come to mind… is because this is how we converse daily. Before words were even formed. (Note, I have also worked with late bloomer speakers that communicate just as affectively with me) Honestly, I speak with them on a daily basis as if they landed from another planet. I explain feelings, nature, the tv, washing machine, dog, blanket, rattle and anything else that crosses our path. “Hello, newbie, welcome to planet Earth… things are quite different than planet womb.”

Remember each child is different and still works in their own way and on their own time. This doesn’t mean they are any less intelligent than Jane or John.

Some children are more physical in the early years and some become more verbal. Some begin physical and verbal communication earlier than others. Environment can heavily affect the child and the processing of their very individual brain.

With all the above noted, here is a list I began using on the newbies, to the world, to encourage vocabulary, communication, social and safety skills before the age of two (or after two… it’s never too late to start).

1. Communicate: communication is key in any relationship and baby is showing signs of communication the day they arrive. So, how do you enrich this communication during 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 black and white picture books made for newborns (until their sight is developed). Making up content to wordless books, pointing out objects and imitate sounds (dog, vacuum, cat, bee..). Know and don’t become frustrated as baby grows and becomes restless during books time. Go in to story time knowing that baby’s attention level might not last and be rewarded when it last longer than you anticipate.

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 affective), 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 notice baby enjoying music before their first year. Singing the ABC’s and number songs will have them impressing you when suddenly they are initiating the melodies. 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 apps on your phone – some are free). Some babies will prefer this method of communication before verbally forming words. Others might verbally communicate while using ASL. Some babies may skip signing and only verbally communicate. Regardless of how your child processes ASL, it is another opportunity for baby to communicate and build a bridge that will alleviate future frustrations and barriers.

2. Safety: Unfortunately the world we live in poses dangers and this has been true since the beginning of time. However, starting safety instructions at a young age will bring pleasurable surprise when you witness baby 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 if their is strong interest you can even explain, “I have to take you to the doctor because it could be spooky.” (You don’t want to freak your kid out, only stress the seriousness of medicine)


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 and use visual gestures, “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 that is red. We stop. The light is green. We go.” (You are communicating and encouraging them to visualize)


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 is usually why it’s effective. (Children love games) 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 hand to your side while controlling the other is important for babies safety.) “See the steam. The steam is hot.” You can do the same for fire, allow them to feel the heat is coming off, “See the fire. Fire is hot.” Follow these moments up with, “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.”


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 grab for it. You can also help them understand hot food by blowing on 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. Always call your pediatrician and confirm if further care is or isn’t needed.)

• Soap and cleaning supplies: Let baby help with laundry, dishes and cleaning. Sounds crazy? Allowing baby “to pour” or throw a “laundry soap Pod” in the washer and saying things such as, “Soap. Soap is yucky in mouth but cleans clothes.” Most likely baby will lead a pod to their mouth at sometime while helping, which is why you will be on guard and ready to explain, “Not in the mouth. Yucky.” 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 in there mouth)


Companies wouldn’t exactly have to use child caps if children understood soap “makes your belly sick if you put it in your mouth.” Children are curious, remember? You are feeding that curiosity by explaining exactly what these products are, what they are used for, any why they shouldn’t use them in other ways. (Always have poison control number saved in your phone: 1-800-222-1222) 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 very much.”

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 nine years ago (approx.. 2011), 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.


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 but let it come organically by passing by signs, pointing in books etc.)

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.” If baby pulls your hair, refrain from over reacting (for sometimes baby can think overreacting is hilarious) and calmly say, “That hurts. Gentle.” and repeat show them what gentle is.


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 or long hair. Most importantly, gentle will continue to grow with their social skills and applying the word when interacting with friends. When the toddler is in full force mode trying to plow the others over…. they will understand they need to be gentle around peers or children younger than them.

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.”


Teaching baby emotional feelings help them to verbally communicate without hitting, biting, and screaming. When you communicate that you understand what they are feeling you build a bridge to further communication, trust 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. If your child expresses that they don’t want your help or need space before communicating feelings, understand and respect it while vocalizing it. Trust me, they’ll come to you.

Sometimes, one of the hardest things for us to remember, as adults, is that these little people have big thoughts and feelings. Working out their feelings can be complicated. As adults, we are here to guide our children. We are here to explain this new world they’ve been born into.

Next time if you are out and about and a one year old exclaims, “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

Published by TheCloverNook

A background in the video production for over twenty years, Rebecca Ann Price continues her passion for story telling with her creation of Realm Komiks. An active contributor to Thrive Global and blogger for The Clover Nook, she specializes in “ Keeping You Younger" physically, emotionally and mentally as we travel through life together.

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