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Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center Inc.

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Nurturing children

Angela Oswalt, MSW

While good nutrition, sleep, hygiene, and basic medical care obviously are important to babies' overall health, another less concrete element is equally important, if not more important to a baby's emotional, social, and physical health. Babies need to be loved and nurtured from birth to create a trusting bond between them and the adults who care for them, and to help create trust and interest in the world at large, which enables them to grow and to learn. In fact, even if babies are given all their basic physical needs but not given love and nurturing, they can stop growing and gaining weight, become sickly, and be diagnosed with a condition known as failure to thrive.

The most valuable loving and teaching moments often come during everyday activities. Any event can be an opportunity for showing affection and loving interaction: bath time, feeding, diapering, and bedtime, just to name a few. Parents and caregivers should constantly talk to and interact with the baby. They can describe what they're doing while they do it, and describe things in the environment. They can ask the baby questions, even if the baby can't yet respond. Caregivers can also sing, laugh, read, and pray, or participate in other religious traditions, with the baby. Not only will this interaction improve social skills, it will also help develop the baby's language comprehension and expression skills. As well, caregivers can take every opportunity to hug and kiss and to tell their baby that they love them. Hugs and kisses can never spoil a child; they can only build a child's self-confidence and feelings of security and love in the family.

Loving, nurturing family and playtime can also be a scheduled part of the day. Parents and caregivers should spend a period of time each day dedicated to playing with the baby and to stimulating the baby's minds and senses. There are many age-appropriate songs, games, and interactive toys to help develop baby's gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language, cognitive skills, and social skills. Many books available at the library or bookstore include hundreds of fun songs and games that help baby grow without having to spend a lot of money on any specific toys or props.

It is important to follow baby's lead about playtime. Babies can be over stimulated or under stimulated. Babies tell caregivers that they're feeling overwhelmed or tired by averting eye contact, disengaging from play, or actually moving away. Allow babies a chance to take a break and come back to the play later.

Dedicating a portion of every day to family play time helps the entire family grow together and will set a precedent that can build and strengthen relationships that span into childhood, through the tumultuous adolescent years, and into adulthood. These family times are especially important if one or multiple caregivers are working outside the home, and the babies spend a significant portion of time in outside childcare.

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