Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Two-way Mirror: How Parents Influence Babies' World View

Sometimes, being a parent can seem to be an overwhelming responsibility. After all, parents are expected to teach their children everything. How can that be possible when parents have so many other things to do? Mother Nature has it all figured out. Much of children’s early learning comes from paying close attention to the adults (and children) in their lives and copying what they see. Because babies have so much to learn, this type of learning happens all the time when babies are awake. Your baby is always watching, listening, and learning from you, not only at times when you are relaxed, focused, and ready to be a good role model.

A Wonderful Opportunity

To stay safe, children must learn the “rules” of the community they live in. They need to know what to eat and what not to eat, how to wash their hands, how to pet a dog, and thousands of other rules they will use as they grow older. Newborns start this process in the first moments of life by focusing their attention on the faces and voices around them. Very young babies will try to copy their parents' expressions. As they get older, babies are able to observe, copy, and understand more of what is going on around them. Babies are driven to learn. They instinctively study your words, your actions, and how you treat others. You’ll want to keep that in mind as you go through your busy day. When you go to the grocery store and name the fruits you put into your cart, say please and thank you, or hold someone’s place in line while they run and get an onion, you are teaching your baby about food, being polite, and kindness.

A Tremendous Responsibility

Unfortunately, babies don’t watch us only when we are on our best behavior. Babies watch everything we do, even when we yell at cars that cut us off, lose our tempers, or eat too much. Nearly all parents have noticed that their children develop some of their bad habits and we’ve all heard sweet little voices repeating words that children should never say. Children can learn from our flaws as easily as they learn from our strengths. While no one is perfect, it is important to carefully consider what your baby sees and hears when she is with you. When you make the inevitable mistakes and say or do the wrong thing, you still can help your baby learn by taking a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and show her how to make different, and better, choices.

Keep it Simple

It is best to let the world unfold for your baby, one small step at a time. You don't want to start pushing your newborn to know the alphabet or multiplication tables. The most important lessons your baby needs to learn are all about you and how the two of you will communicate. By sticking with simple loving words and actions, your baby will grow and develop and you'll find parenting to be a lot more fun. Next time, we’ll give you some examples of how to share some simple “lessons” with your baby.

Next Time: Polishing the Mirror: Simple Ways to Reflect the Best of Yourself for Your Baby

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