10 Golden Rules for Playing With Your Baby

Stephanie Booth | Jul 7, 2015 Baby

mom playing with baby

You know you're supposed to play with your baby. But HOW exactly do you do that? It's not like you can pull out a board game and make them the banker. (Not yet, at least.)

It's kind of tough to oversell how crucial play is for kids -- especially itty bitty ones. Play aids brain development, builds physical strength and dexterity, develops a kiddo's imagination, AND increases their already-special bond with you.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to plan how to play. We'd just do it. But hey, we're all careful parents with access to the Internet; we like to KNOW we're doing things right.

To that end, we have answers for you! Click through the slideshow to learn the type of play baby likes best and needs most.

Is #9 the easiest thing EVER?

play with babyImage © iStock.com/PeopleImages and © michaeljung/Shutterstock

  • Know When Your Baby Wants to Play

    1

    Babies cycle through different stages of alertness throughout the day, says Heather Wittenberg, PsyD, a licensed psychologist who specializes in the development of babies and young children. You already know your little one's nap times and fussy periods by heart. The best time for play? During the high alertness period that happens right after they've awakened, says Dr. Wittenberg.

  • Get Face to Face

    2

    Play should be spontaneous and fun. "It's NOT a controlled art activity or directed play date," says Dr. Wittenberg. More than anything, your baby craves face-to-face time with you. Put your face close to his and let loose with gentle cooing or silly barnyard noises. He'll eventually be able to respond and keep your "conversation" going -- which is a crucial emotional milestone.

  • Turn Off the TV

    3

    Ninety percent of kids under the age of 2 watch TV. Of course, sometimes you've got to turn it on so you can finally take a shower. But a baby's brain TRIPLES during their first year of life, and everything they see and hear affects that. Watching cartoons -- even gentle ones geared for very young kids -- means that they're NOT fully nteracting with you or exploring their world. To truly engage your baby in play, switch off the tube.

  • Explore the Great Outdoors

    4

    You may no longer be amazed by leaves, fascinated by the feel of grass tickling your bare toes, or excited enough to squeal when you see a plane overhead. But your baby is! Learning about the world around them is one way babies play, says Dr. Wittenberg. "Outside is best because the pace of things is nice and slow."

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  • Choose Simple Toys

    5

    You know that joke about babies loving a box more than the toy that came inside? "It's true," says Dr. Wittenberg. "It's all about sparking imagination." Toys that can only be used in limited ways don't fit the bill. Better toys, says Wittenberg, "have endless possible uses." Think: balls, boxes, shape sorters -- anything that allows little kids to play on their own terms.

  • Pump Up the Volume (Gently)

    6

    We're not suggesting you run out and buy an electric guitar for your newborn. But music -- played at a respectable volume, please! -- "can be fabulous for development," says Wittenberg. (Although it might take some trial and error to see what kind your baby likes.) Put on some tunes and dance around your kitchen. Or set up a "call and response" session where you bang a drum or shake a rattle, then wait for your baby to do the same.

  • Put That iPad Out of Reach

    7

    One-third of kids under the age of 1 have used a smartphone or tablet. But just because a game or app is labeled "educational" doesn't mean it's the best form of play for your baby. "Modern forms of technology have far too much speed and stimulation for a baby's brain to process," says Dr. Wittenberg. "There is nothing we know of that's beneficial [when it comes to] a baby using technology." Power down the screens and give baby his favorite toy to play with: YOU.

  • Cuddle Up and Read

    8

    Playing with your baby doesn't have to be physical. When you read aloud to him, even when he can't yet understand the words, you're teaching communication, building important listening and memory skills and helping create a lifelong sense of curiosity. Watch your baby to see which types of picture books he's most interested in, then snuggle up and read at the same time every day so it becomes a fun routine.

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  • Make Everyday Routines Fun

    9

    Peekaboo during diaper changing, toe tickling while you're waiting to check out at the grocery store, making silly faces while you're in the doctor's office ... There's no need to schedule play when everyday moments provide perfect opportunities, says Dr. Wittenberg. "You're building on the activities and ideas of the other, and you end up with lots of creative fun."

  • Listen to Your Baby's Needs

    10

    Some babies are excited by a game of peekaboo with a friendly stranger. Others prefer quiet, gentle one-on-one play only with someone they know and trust. "Keep in mind that what's best for one baby might not be best for another," says Dr. Wittenberg. "Your play should depend on your own baby's unique personality." Trust your instincts and you and your baby will do just fine.

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