MD Mama

What parents of babies and toddlers aren't doing--and should do

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The other day, I was talking with Rebecca Kahler-Reis, a good friend of mine who has been working with Early Intervention as an occupational therapist for more than 20 years. She told me that in the time she has been working, she has seen lots of changes in what parents do with their babies and toddlers--and they aren't good changes.

"There's so much I wish they knew," she said.

Okay, I said. Tell me, and I'll tell them. Here's what she wants you to know.

First of all, Rebecca says, babies need more tummy time. Yes, it's great that babies are sleeping on their backs--it makes a difference with preventing SIDS. But when they aren't sleeping, they should be on their tummies. She wishes that parents didn't put their babies in seats or baby carriers all the time.

"They need to be on the floor," she says.

They need to be on the floor, on a firm surface, for more than the 10 minutes many parents put them there. If they don't like it, she suggests starting with putting them on their bellies on the parent's chest or legs to get them used to the idea. You can make being on the floor more interesting by putting interesting stuff there. 

Here are a few of Rebecca's suggestions for "interesting stuff": baby mirrors (babies love to look at themselves!), things they can hit and knock over (like soft blocks), or crinkly toys (bright colors are best).

Speaking of toys....Rebecca is concerned about all the gadgets marketed to parents these days, promising to help their child's development. She likes the simpler stuff so much better. Like linking rings--they are easy to grasp. She loves nesting cups. She loves containers in general--anything that children can put things inside. For example, with toddlers she loves to use old plastic spice containers; she has children put straws through the holes. The idea is to give them toys they can manipulate with their hands.

Like the spice containers, so much of what is great for development is stuff you find around the house--like other containers (Rebecca also mentioned cleaned-out moisturizer containers). Or shoe boxes and other boxes; Rebecca suggests covering them with pictures (like old calendar pictures taped on with packing tape) and letting kids stack them. She loves kitchen things, like pots and their lids. Babies can practice putting lids on the pots, put things inside the pots, bang on the pots and lids. Objects like these can be experienced in so many different ways, and that's what Rebecca says is important. 

"Think temperature, texture, shape, sound and smell," she said. As they experience things in all these dimensions, they learn so many different things. 

Rebecca is not a fan of walkers--and the physical therapists she works with feel the same way. "If a device is supporting you," she says, "you're not ready." Babies need to learn to roll, crawl and pull to stand. Not only are they building strength and coordination when they do, they are learning motor planning--and persistence and patience. 

Technology, gadgets and the latest toys can be great--and some can be very useful. But when it comes to encouraging the development of babies and toddlers, old-fashioned is your best bet. 

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