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Teaching Your Baby About Feelings and Self-Control

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Do you know people you think are smart about feelings or tuned in? They can tell you how they feel. They seem to know how others are feeling, too. Tuned-in people also know how to control their own strong feelings, like anger, so they don’t have to act
on them.
People who are smart about feelings are said to have emotional intelligence. Why is emotional intelligence important? Children with emotional intelligence are more likely to feel comfortable and enjoy school. They seem to get along with others. They usually
feel liked and accepted. They know how to work well in a group. They are less likely to lose control and have behavior problems.
Teaching your child about feelings and self-control starts in the first five years of life. That’s when parents can really make a difference.
Being in Tune
You can teach your baby about feelings by being in tune. Scientists call this attunement. Being in tune means that you know what your baby is feeling and you let him know that you know. When you do this, you help build the connections in his brain that produce those feelings. You are wiring his brain for understanding feelings and for thinking. You are building emotional intelligence.
To be in tune, you have to be a good observer. As you watch what your baby does and listen to what he says, you can ask yourself:
• What is he feeling right now?
• How should I respond?
• How can I let him know I understand?

Being in tune with your baby is like being a mirror—reflecting back what you think your baby is feeling. Here are some examples of what you can do and why these things are so important.

If your babyYou canWhy this is important
Smiles at you.Smile back, nod your
head, talk to your baby.
This teaches your baby
how to relate to others
and how much you
love her.
Is surprised by
a sudden loud
noise and
cries out.
Hold her, pat her gently,
say, “What a big noise.
Don’t worry. I won’t let
anything happen to you.”
This shows your baby
that she is safe and
you understand how
she feels.
Gets excited
about seeing a
puppy.
Show that you are
excited also and say,
“Oh look at the puppy!
He’s so cute!”
This encourages your
baby’s interest in
exploring the world
and strengthens
feelings of joy.
Sees a stranger
(someone you
know) and
screams in fear.
Stay with your baby,
reassure her, introduce
her to the person.
This helps her learn
to trust others and
overcome her fears
about new people.

As your child gets older, you can talk more about feelings so he learns the words to say what he feels. Children who learn to use words instead of their fists when they have strong feelings are developing self-control. They know how they feel and can let others know without acting out. Here are some examples.

Is Touching Your Baby important for his brain development?

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Babies and young children need to be held and cuddled. But did you know that touch is also important for your baby’s brain development?
What Scientists Know
Every time you hold and gently touch your baby, a message is sent to his brain and a connection is made between brain cells. These connections make it possible for your baby to talk, see, feel, move, and learn.
When you touch your newborn baby, you are teaching him that he is loved and wanted. Studies show that gentle touching helps to calm a baby and reduces stress. A baby who is calm can take in the sights, sounds, textures, and smells around him. And these experiences build connections in his brain.
What Health Care Providers Are Learning
Many health care providers are discovering that infant massage promotes healing and growth. If your baby was born early or with a low birth weight, regular touching can stimulate his appetite. It enables him to gain weight more rapidly and to grow. If your baby has colic, touching may help ease the pain and make him more comfortable.

A baby with special needs, such as a heart problem, may do better if given regular infant massages by an expert. This person can also teach you how to do this kind of massage for your baby.
What You Can Do
Make time each day to spend gently touching your baby. Talk with her as you gently stroke her arms, legs, back, belly, feet, and toes. “I’m stroking your legs, now your  arms.” Touching and talking helps her learn.

It’s also important for fathers to touch, hold, and cuddle their babies. The more fathers hold and spend time with their babies, the stronger the bond they build, and the more comfortable they are with their babies.
Take time to find out what your baby likes. Keep in mind that each baby is different. Some are sensitive to touch and may respond better to being wrapped securely in a blanket and rocked. Some babies need to be stroked gently. Others respond better to a
firmer touch. Watch and see how your baby responds to different kinds of touch. What seems to calm her? What makes her smile? What upsets her? Don’t be concerned if your baby doesn’t respond as you would expect. You will soon discover the kind of touch your baby likes best.
Children never outgrow their need to be touched gently and often. Touching helps your child feel secure and calm so that she can continue to learn and grow. When you take the time to hold and hug your child you will feel a special closeness. And you may even
find that you feel calmer and healthier yourself.

Making Sure Your Baby Can See

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What Scientists Know

In the first few months after birth, the part of the brain that controls vision is being “wired.” The wiring connections can only be made properly if your child sees clearly and the eyes are straight during this first year of life. Problems such as infant cataracts (a clouding of the lens), crossed eyes, or one eye that doesn’t focus, will prevent the brain connections for vision from being made.
Most of these problems can be corrected. Sometimes a simple patch, glasses, or surgery is needed. If the problem is not found and corrected, your child may lose the ability to see.

What You Can Do
Earlier is better when it comes to making sure your baby can see. The most important step that you can take is to be sure the doctor checks your newborn baby’s eyes. Your baby will be given a red reflex test. The doctor will repeat this same test when your baby is about six months old.
Another test your baby will have at six months is a corneal light reflex test. This test shows whether your baby has a lazy eye (an eye that is slightly crossed). Once again, if there is a problem, the doctor can take steps to strengthen your baby’s eyes so they focus in the same direction.

What else can you do to help your baby see? Basically, the things your child sees in and around your home are all that he needs to help his sight develop normally. When your baby looks at your smiling face, a tree blowing in the wind, the patterns on your clothing, or a dog jumping and running for a stick, he is getting the kinds of experiences he needs for his sight to develop.

 

 

Your baby’s brain before he is born

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From the beginning of a pregnancy, a baby’s brain begins to grow. To help your baby’s brain cells—all 100 billion of them— be healthy and ready to do their job, you need to take care of yourself while you are pregnant.

Taking Care of Yourself Builds Your Baby’s Brain
While you are pregnant, you support your baby’s healthy brain development when you:
• eat foods that are good for you—green vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy foods
• get daily exercise—just walking each day is good for you and your baby
• have regular check-ups with a health provider—ask about taking vitamins
• get help if you are feeling a lot of stress—your baby needs a calm environment.
Doing these four things helps to build a healthy brain for your baby.

There are also some things you should definitely not do while you are pregnant. An unborn baby’s brain can be damaged if the mother:
• drinks alcohol

•takes drugs such as marijuana
• smokes cigarettes or cocaine
Avoiding these three things during pregnancy helps protect your baby’s brain.

Your Unborn Baby Already Knows You
Here is surprising news. Before your baby is born, she is already getting to know you! When you feel your baby move, try stroking your belly. Your baby will play “hide-and-seek” with you—moving away from your hand.

Talk to your unborn baby. It may feel strange at first, but your baby can actually hear voices. Pick a song you like and sing it to your baby every day while you are pregnant. After your baby is born, watch how she can pick out her mother’s or father’s voice from other voices. Sing the song you have been singing and see if she listens and even calms down.

Building your baby’s brain begins long before your baby is born. And building a relationship with your baby starts before birth as well.

Your baby’s brain

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At birth, all of your baby’s organs—the heart, lungs, kidneys—
are fully developed, but smaller than an adult’s organs. All except
one—the brain.

The Brain Builds Itself
Can you imagine living in a country where every home had a telephone, but only a few phones had wires to connect them? The phone system wouldn’t work. This situation is like your child’s brain at birth. Between the sixth week and fifth month of pregnancy, your baby’s brain grew about 100 billion cells! Some of these brain cells are connected at birth, but most are not. During the first five years of life (and afterwards at a slower rate), your child’s brain is hard at work connecting these brain cells.


Have you ever noticed what happens when you walk through deep snow or through tall grass over and over, along the same route? You make a path. Something like this happens as the brain develops. Each time your baby uses one of her senses—seeing tasting, touching,hearing, and smelling—a connection or path is made. When your child has different kinds of experiences, and these experiences are repeated over and over again, the connections in the brain become stronger. These connections shape the way your child thinks, feels, behaves, and learns.

By about age three, the brain has made many more connections than it will ever need. Just as you might cut back the branches from a tree so that the roots grow stronger, the brain gets rid of the connections that are rarely used. The brain keeps only the important connections.

Windows of Opportunity
Scientists tell us that there are times when certain parts of the brain can learn new information more easily than at other times. They call these times windows of opportunity. Some of these windows open and then close during the first few years of life. For example, the connections for sight must be made in the first three or four months. If they are not made during this time, they are lost forever. This means the child will never be able to see.
Other windows may remain open longer, but learning is easier at certain times. Scientists call these sensitive periods. For example, the first five years are the prime time for learning language. This does not mean that children will learn all there is to know about language by age five. Learning continues to take place throughout life. Although it takes 15-20 years for your child’s brain to fully grow and develop, some things are just easier to learn at certain times than at others.

Feeding the Brain
There are many ways to “feed” your child’s brain! When you talk or read to your child, play or sing with him, touch him, and nourish him with healthy food and love, you are actually “feeding” that very central organ: the brain. If your baby was born too early or with a disability, it is especially important to provide experiences that feed the brain. Talk with a health care provider to learn what special help your baby needs.