Study Debunks Claims That Babies Can Read

Summary:

If it’s good for a child to learn to read before kindergarten, then learning to read before preschool is even better, right? What if your child could start reading as an infant? That would give her an edge, maybe even guarantee her success throughout life. … Hold on, is that even possible? Several programs claim […]

If it’s good for a child to learn to read before kindergarten, then learning to read before preschool is even better, right? What if your child could start reading as an infant? That would give her an edge, maybe even guarantee her success throughout life. … Hold on, is that even possible?

Several programs claim they can teach babies to read. One declares, “All babies are Einstein’s [sic] when it comes to learning to read. Your baby can actually learn to read beginning at 3 months of age.” And scores of parents attest to their babies’ ability to read. But the question is: Are the babies actually reading or simply memorizing the appearance of words?

A recent study from New York University’s school of education debunks the claim that babies can read.

“These children do not have the internal capabilities to learn how to read at this young of an age,” says lead author Susan Neuman, an NYU professor and former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, focused on the program “Your Baby Can Read,” which uses DVDs, flashcards and word books to attempt to teach words to babies as young as 3 months old. Researchers studied 117 infants aged 9 to 18 months over the course of seven months. About half of the infants were randomly assigned to use the “Your Baby Can Read” product daily. The other half did not receive the product or do anything special. During the study period, researchers visited with the babies monthly to assess development.

Fourteen measurements were used to detect if any reading skills were gained. For example, researchers examined recognition of letter sounds, words identified on sight, and comprehension.

“We tried to be as generous as possible. We wanted to look at the full spectrum of reading abilities,” Neuman says.

At the end of the experiment, the babies who had completed the “Your Baby Can Read” program showed the same results on 13 of the 14 assessments as the babies who had done nothing.

“Our results indicated that babies did not learn to read,” the researchers say. The only difference was in the parents’ beliefs. Some maintained “great confidence in the program’s effectiveness.”

“There was the belief among parents that their babies were learning to read and that their children had benefited from the program,” the study says.

“Your Baby Can Read” highlights this ambition in parents by holding them up as the “experts” in statements throughout its website: “Three decades of research show that parents are experts at determining their infants’ language and cognitive abilities.”

Critics contend that this “parents are experts” assertion is made to deflect attention from the fact that expert scientific research has found nothing to support the program’s claims. “Your Baby Can Read” lists 14 studies attesting to the program’s effectiveness, but none were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

“Your Baby Can Read” announced it was going out of business in 2012 after an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into the “genius baby” industry. But founder Robert Titzer has since regained rights to the company name and continues to sell his products.

The NYU study did not find any negative effects of the program, but Neuman encourages parents to promote their children’s reading development in other ways. She suggests helping babies learn new vocabulary words by reading, singing, talking and playing games with them.

The Baby to Toddler Transition

Summary:

Shutterstock Mobility Sure, you waited for this day to come for months, but life is about to get much harder now that your sweetie can’t sit still. Gone are the days when you can safely plop your baby in the middle of the bed and get dressed. Now he’s on the move, either on all […]

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    Mobility
    Sure, you waited for this day to come for months, but life is about to get much harder now that your sweetie can’t sit still. Gone are the days when you can safely plop your baby in the middle of the bed and get dressed. Now he’s on the move, either on all fours or homo erectus style. But Baby’s mobility makes some things easier too; you don’t have to carry him everywhere, so your back is bound to feel a little relief.

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    Language
    By babbling, “dada”ing and the like, your cutie is now doing more than crying to communicate needs. It’s a lot of fun to watch your wee one’s language emerging from unintelligible jabber to … “Wait, did she just say ‘Mama’?” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some babies say their first official word by age 1, but don’t fret if your tot doesn’t. Baby milestones are achieved over a broad range of time, especially when it comes to language development. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.

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    Self-feeding
    Baby is getting more food on the floor and his face than he is in his mouth, but isn’t it adorable to watch him try to feed himself? The good news is, you don’t have to buy or make as much special food for Baby because he is ready to try a lot of the same foods the rest of the family is eating. Still, your baby will require close supervision while eating, as safety is a big concern now. The AAP advises parents to cut all food into half-inch pieces to prevent choking. You’ll also want to wait to introduce certain foods, such as honey, egg whites and nuts, until after Baby’s first birthday.

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    Weaning
    Around Baby’s first birthday, you may wish to start weaning him off breast milk or formula. For some babies, the transition to cow’s milk is easy; they naturally take to a sippy cup without much resistance. Other babies have a harder time giving up the breast or bottle. Talk to your child’s doctor about strategies to make weaning easier on Baby, and you!

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    Sleep
    Baby may drop his morning nap sometime after his first birthday, usually between 15 and 18 months. The “death” of the morning nap may happen earlier, though (cue the “Funeral March”). This can be a tough adjustment for everyone, especially Mom! But look on the bright side: If he naps less during the day, he may sleep longer at night.

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    Safety
    Once your munchkin is on the move, you’ll need to get serious about baby proofing your home. Go room to room and get down on Baby’s level. What kind of trouble could she get into? How could she potentially harm herself? Of course, no amount of baby proofing is a substitute for close, constant supervision.

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    Dexterity
    Baby is learning to do more with his hands than simply sucking his thumb or pulling out a clump of Mommy’s hair. As the AAP notes, by the end of his first year, your dexterous darling will be using his thumb and first finger to pick up pieces of food and manipulate toys. Thus, mealtimes and playtimes are great opportunities to encourage your baby’s ever increasing capabilities. Try lining up Cheerios and cheering when baby picks one up on his own: “Wow! What a big boy!”

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    Engagement
    As your child approaches her first birthday, you will notice she is much more engaged in what is going on around her. When the doorbell rings, she perks up and looks toward the sound to see what it is. When the dog walks in the room, she giggles and claps her hands in excitement. Just think: A few months ago, she could have slept through a fireworks display. Isn’t it fun to watch her become such a willing participant in her daily life?

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    Demands
    At first, your baby went along with whatever you wanted her to do, for the most part. Now, she may not be so thrilled when you buckle her into her car seat. Likewise, she may not be in the mood to sit patiently in the shopping cart as you browse the aisles at Target—and boy, will she let you know! Now is the time when your tot’s personality is emerging, and she is developing ideas about what she wants to do and what she likes. She may wiggle in glee when a certain song comes on or wail in protest when you take your wallet out of her mouth. Hey, at least you know where she stands.

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    Separation anxiety
    This is a normal part of baby development. Around eight months of age, many babies will begin to experience stress when separated from a parent This stage can last well into Baby’s second year of life. Of course, seeing your little one’s upsetting reaction to your departure can be just as hard on you. But don’t let tears deter you from leaving. As long as you are leaving your baby in capable hands, all will be okay.

Forty Percent of U.S. Babies Lack Parental Bonding

Summary:

A recent study says four out of 10 babies born in the United States will not form a strong enough bond with their caregivers and the lack of “secure attachment” will cause effects throughout the children’s lives, such as educational and behavior problems. The bonds are formed during simple actions, such as comforting crying babies […]


A recent study says four out of 10 babies born in the United States will not form a strong enough bond with their caregivers and the lack of “secure attachment” will cause effects throughout the children’s lives, such as educational and behavior problems. The bonds are formed during simple actions, such as comforting crying babies and responding to their needs.

The researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol all contributed to the new study published by Sutton Trust, which publishes papers on education and social mobility. The study can be downloaded from the Sutton Trust’s site.

According to the study, 40 percent of infants in the United States “live in fear or distrust of their parents,” which can come out as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, poor language skills and other negative ways as they grow into adults. Twenty-five percent of those babies don’t bond because their parents aren’t responding to their needs. Fifteen percent of the babies actually avoid their parents because interaction with them causes so much stress.

The coauthors used more than 100 research projects, plus data collected by a U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001, to reach their conclusions. Poverty, ignorance and stress were mentioned as the key problems causing the bonding problems.

“When caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place—leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn or disorganized,” the study says.

The study found that the attachment can be created with either parent. But the best results in avoiding possible later criminal behavior seemed to show it was more important for boys to form an attachment with their fathers and for girls to bond with their mothers. Boys growing up in poverty were twice as likely to have behavioral problems in school if they didn’t have a strong bond to a parent.

The lead author of the study, sociologist Sophie Moullin of Princeton, says, “They can overcome it. It’s not a make or break situation, but they might find it harder to regulate their behavior.”

“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap,” says Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust.

Potty Training for Babies

Summary:

When you’re trying to potty train a child, you’ll notice there are countless books, gadgets, and more intended to help. And everyone shares their potty training tips. Sifting through it all may seem overwhelming, especially with your first child. But proponents of the technique known as elimination communication believe you can cut through the chaos […]

When you’re trying to potty train a child, you’ll notice there are countless books, gadgets, and more intended to help. And everyone shares their potty training tips. Sifting through it all may seem overwhelming, especially with your first child. But proponents of the technique known as elimination communication believe you can cut through the chaos by starting early, in infancy. They say it’s a much more natural approach that requires nothing more than a little parental intuition, a potty receptacle, and, occasionally, some carpet cleaning supplies. So what is this increasingly popular—though controversial—technique, and is it the right choice for your family?
Definition

Elimination communication (EC), also known as natural infant hygiene and infant potty training, is a process in which parents observe their infant’s sounds, facial expressions, body movements, and other cues in order to learn to recognize when their babies are signaling that they need to relieve themselves. The parents, in turn, help the babies become aware of these cues and achieve toilet independence, often at a much earlier age than traditional potty training.

This diaper-free method, which has been around far longer than modern diapering and is widely practiced in other cultures, is often met with giggles, confusion, blank stares, rolled eyes, or even disgust in our Western society. Many parents have never heard of it, perhaps because it is largely absent from most parenting manuals and potty training books. Certainly, EC is not for every parent—or baby, for that matter—but it is a hot topic in potty training right now and a path more parents are choosing to take.
How does it work?

The philosophies, nuances, and tricks parents use in EC could fill many books, but the short and sweet version is: EC is not considered potty training by those who practice it. It is the process of parents and children learning to communicate regarding the child’s natural need to eliminate waste. Parents must learn to read their child’s signals. Though it may seem subtle at first, many parents learn their child’s “poop face” or recognize their squirming when they have to use the potty. When the baby signals that it’s “time,” the parent holds the child over a waste receptacle, which could be the toilet, a potty chair, a bucket or even a small bowl. This action is then paired with a verbal cue, such as the words “go potty” or a sound like “psss.” Eventually the child’s cues are reinforced and paired, so when the parent makes the cue sound, the baby will eliminate on cue. To make the process easier, EC babies are left undiapered or placed in less-absorbent undergarments most of the time so parents can easily learn when the child is wet while learning the cues. Eventually, the child will be able to consciously make a sign to his caretaker and hold his bowels until he is held over the receptacle, assuming that happens in a timely manner. With consistent action, children younger than 1 have been able to use sign language or other cues to communicate their need to use the bathroom, even if they cannot walk to the toilet themselves. Successful EC is the product of patience, consistency, good humor, persistence, observation and excellent timing.

Trying EC doesn’t mean making an ironclad commitment. Parents can start EC and decide it’s not for them and stop. EC can also be tailored to each family’s needs. A family could use diapers part time, never, or only on trips out of the house. Parents who opt to give EC a try need to do so with an open mind and flexible expectations. Expecting themselves or their children to master EC in a matter of days or weeks is unrealistic and creates pressure that will certainly be met with frustration.
Advantages

Parents say they use EC for a number of reasons:

Dramatically reduced environmental impact, since fewer disposable diapers go to landfills and no cloth diapers need to be laundered
No diaper rash because the baby’s bottom is not exposed to waste
Improved baby-parent bonding and communication
Saving money by not buying diapers or numerous potty aids
Less stress, when practiced properly
Flexibility that allows the technique to be practiced full or part time, depending on parental work schedule, and allows for the process to start at any age.
Reduced exposure to chemicals found in disposable diapers

Disadvantages

Some of the concerns and criticisms include:

Infants younger than 12 months do not have the muscle control to voluntarily hold their bladder or bowels
It takes a great deal of observation and dedication on the parent’s part to be successful
It is difficult to get grandparents, babysitters or other caretakers on board with practicing EC; if your child is in a daycare, he will most certainly be diapered during the day
Messes to clean up

For additional information or support from other EC parents, including a list of 75 EC advantages, check out diaperfreebaby.org, a non-profit organization connecting EC parents with resources and one another.

Signs Your Baby Loves You

Summary:

Getty Let’s be real. Babies this little are not going to give you the kind of feedback you might desperately wish for after that grueling labor and those sleepless nights. But as you and your baby get to know each other, you’ll get glimmers that a bond is forming and that can be more meaningful than […]

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    Let’s be real. Babies this little are not going to give you the kind of feedback you might desperately wish for after that grueling labor and those sleepless nights. But as you and your baby get to know each other, you’ll get glimmers that a bond is forming and that can be more meaningful than a big declaration of love. “Attachment is a process,” says Debbie Laible, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Lehigh University. When you take care of your baby, he falls more in love with you every day and says thanks in his own baby ways.

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    She’ll totally flirt with you
    “Within a month or so of being born, babies respond to the facial expressions of their mothers and without thinking about it, the moms start doing it right back,” says Gopnik. We’re talking about the smiles, the meaningful looks, the coy looking away and back again (think back to ninth-grade study hall; you get the idea!). These goofy games appear to be as important in cementing a baby’s attachment as your responses to her physical needs. At around 4 months, she’ll also be unable to take her eyes off of you. And who can blame her? By then, she’s gotten used to life on the outside, can suck and swallow and is physiologically more regulated (i.e., is no longer eating and sleeping like a jet-lagged traveler), so she can begin to pay attention to more than just her immediate bodily needs, explains Gilkerson.

    Flirt back—and don’t be afraid to use exaggerated expressions. “Face-to-face interaction is part of how babies learn about positive give-and-take,” says Gilkerson. Your child’s starting to realize that with a single look, she can show you how happy she is that you’re around—and that it’s a feeling worth sharing, since you’ll beam back.

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    He smiles, even for a split second
    You know those people who say that your baby’s early smiles are just gas or an involuntary reflex? Don’t listen to them. Recent research indicates that an infant’s grin may mean a lot more. The goofy newborn smiles may be your baby reflecting your own smile. He’s instinctively building a bond with you.

    The first true social smiles start brightening moms’ days between 6 and 8 weeks. Your baby may smile when he sees your face — or Dad’s or a big sib’s. He’s starting to associate your face with feeling good. The bond deepens!

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    He’ll latch on to a lovey
    Babies often pick a favorite object, like a stuffed animal or a blankie, at around a year old. Gopnik explains that these transitional objects symbolize you and your affection, which explains the histrionics if you—heaven forbid!—put it in the wash for an hour. “It represents your love, but in a way your child can control,” she says.

     Let your child keep his lovey close by in situations where he might feel insecure, if that’s possible. Don’t worry that there’s some set time to get rid of it, as with a bottle. Chances are he won’t be clutching it as he walks down the aisle on his wedding day (though, let’s be honest, many of us still have Mr. Fuzzybear tucked away somewhere).

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    She stares at you, so intently it’s practically rude
    Right from birth, a baby can recognize his mother’s face, voice and smell, says Laible. The next step is linking those sounds and smells he trusts with something he can see. That’s why he’ll start studying your face as if he’s trying to memorize it. In a way, he is. He’s making sure he knows what comfort — and love — looks like. So next time you catch your baby’s eyes locked on you, give him time to drink you in.

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    He gives you smooches (sort of)
    Sometime around a year old, your baby might start giving kisses—and they probably won’t be chaste pecks. Expect wet and sloppy ones that land (sometimes hard!) on whatever part of you is closest. “When I ask my daughter Evvi for a smooch, she crunches up her nose, tilts back her head and then swoops up to my face and plants her lips on mine,” VA. “She totally melts my heart!”

    Evvi’s enthusiasm shows she’s been paying attention to the way her mom shows affection, and she wants to do the same, says Richard Gallagher, Ph.D., director of the Parenting Institute at the NYU Child Study Center. Babies are eager learners when it comes to physical affection, and there’s no one they’d rather practice on than Mom and Dad.

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    This is when it starts to get really fun. Babies past the 6-month mark are a lot more aware of the world around them and are developing new abilities practically every day. So your baby can now show her big-time affection for you in some pretty adorable ways:

    She holds up her arms so you’ll pick her up
    Kerry Smith recently noticed that her 6-month-old son, Leo, has a new way of expressing whom he wants the most. “When someone else is holding him and I walk up, he’ll twist his body toward me and hold out his arms,” says the Prescott Valley, AZ, mom of three.

    Many babies adore being held right from the start, but it takes about six months until they have the physical and cognitive abilities to ask for a pick-me-up. It’s a body-language expression of how much they’ve come to trust and adore their parents. And it can be enough, especially on one of those endless days, to make your heart lurch, too.

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    She’ll pull away from you, and then run back
    You’ll start seeing this as soon as your baby crawls. “You’re your child’s warm, cozy, secure base. But she’s also thinking ‘Hey, wait! I can crawl! I want to get out there and find out what’s in the world!’” Gopnik explains. So she does, until she gets insecure. Then she’s all “Let me go back and make sure Mom’s still there.”

    Freedom to explore—and then bungee back to a safe place—is what this is about, so let her do it. Of course, for many moms, this is harder than it sounds. But instead of hovering, put your energies into some extra babyproofing.

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    She’s bouncing, wiggling and cheering for you
    The way your baby acts when she sees you after a few hours — or a few minutes? You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re a bit of a rock star. This glee isn’t just cute; it’s a sign of the deep attachment that’s grown between you.

    On the flip side are your baby’s wails of distress when you leave. It’s part of her development, and she’ll learn that you always come back. She understands object permanence now (you exist even when you’re not around), so it’s rough for her to know that the object of her affection is out there and not here to snuggle.

    Babies this age do their emotions big, so whether it’s heartbreak that you’re gone or earthshaking excitement that you’re back, one thing is clear: You are loved. By a tiny, crazy little person, yes, but loved.

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    As your baby goes from blob to bright-eyed to whirlwind, the way he shows his love gets more complicated, too. In the early toddler stage, your child is exploring his little world and testing boundaries and he relies on you—yep, because he loves you—to help him. It’s a busy time for a toddler, and that’s why the ways he expresses his love can seem indirect:

    He does what you do
    Whoever said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery must have known a toddler or two. Whether he’s lugging a briefcase down the stairs or cooing over a baby doll, he’s definitely showing how cool he thinks you are. Like all people—adults included!—toddlers imitate the activities and behaviors of the people they love most, says Laible.

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    Making a beeline for you when he’s hurt
    When Emily Cook of Calgary, Alberta, gets a scrape or a sniffle, nothing makes her feel better like rocking on her mom’s lap. The fact that your toddler runs to you for comfort—and then can dry his eyes and run off—means he loves and needs you.

    Of course, you may also notice that your kid doesn’t have to be that hurt to come to you wailing. Even a minor accident can make for big drama if Mom’s around to see it. “Emily puts on this pout, coupled with dramatic sniffling. Then she throws in a big, unblinking stare that says ‘Poor me!’?” says her mom, Heather. Yes, there’s a plea for attention in there, but it really does make your baby feel better to get proof that you love him as much as he loves

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    He reserves bad behavior just for you
    What mom hasn’t heard “He was an angel!” when picking up a toddler from a sitter, then witnessed downright devilish behavior mere minutes later? Toddlers test limits with abandon—but most often with those people they love and trust. This isn’t exactly the warmest, fuzziest way your child will say he loves you. But that’s exactly what he’s doing. “You know you’ve done your job well if he can hold it together in public but saves his blowups for you,” says Elizabeth Short, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University. “He knows that you’re safe—he can act up and you’ll still love him.” You may never welcome a meltdown, but at least you can stop thinking your thrashing, screaming toddler is out to get you. He isn’t. He just loves you sooo much.

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    He’ll freak out when you leave
    Starting around his first birthday, and often continuing until he’s 3 or so, your child may get upset when you have to part—and rejoice when you return. “Separation anxiety is a sign he knows that the person he loves is different from others, and he’s beginning to have object permanence—an understanding that people and things don’t disappear the minute they’re out of sight,” says Gilkerson.

    This is one behavior you don’t want to reinforce. Because, let’s face it, it can be excruciating to listen to your child’s wails as you leave him in daycare. Offer reassurance: Say “I know you’ll miss me, but Mrs. Rosie will take great care of you and I’ll be back to pick you up.” Rest assured that he’ll be fine, says Gopnik, and know that you’re teaching him that he can count on you to come back for him later.

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    She wants to marry one of her friends at school
    At 3 or 4, she’s figured out that getting married means you love someone. Even if she doesn’t push for wedlock with her pals, she’ll start to love certain friends in a way she didn’t when she was younger than 2 and it was all about her parents. “It’s an extension of the bond she feels with her intimate caregivers,” says Gopnik. As kids enter kindergarten, their friendships become more central to their lives. Wanting to marry a buddy isn’t a direct expression of her love for you, but it shows you’ve created a caring environment for her, both at school and at home.

    Arrange playdates and praise her when she does things like sharing or hugging. Just be aware that some kids go a little overboard with displays of affection. Teaching your child how to recognize when someone’s feeling a bit smothered (“Sweetie, see how she’s pulling away?”) will help her learn to respect others’ boundaries.

    Meagan Francis, a mom of four, is the author of Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World.

  • Baby Sign Language: 21 Words and Signs to Know

    Summary:

    Sign Babies Sign: More According to Nancy Cadjan, President of signbabies.com, a line of books, seminars, DVDs, games and flash cards that advocate baby sign language, babies are developmentally ready for their parents to start signing to them after 4 months old, but won’t be able to sign back until 7-9 months, when they have better […]

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    Sign: More

    According to Nancy Cadjan, President of signbabies.com, a line of books, seminars, DVDs, games and flash cards that advocate baby sign language, babies are developmentally ready for their parents to start signing to them after 4 months old, but won’t be able to sign back until 7-9 months, when they have better coordination.

    What to help give your little one a head start? Download these free baby sign language flash cards.

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    Sign: Done

    This sign will help babies transition from one activity to the next. It also helps Mommy explain that something is all gone.

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    Sign: Sleep

    Signing to baby that it’s time to sleep is a good way to start the bedtime routine. Even better: when she lets you know she’s tired by using the sign.

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    Sign: Medicine

    This sign comes into handy when babies are teething and want to tell you they want medicine to ease their pain.

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    Sign: Eat

    Stay consistent with your signs. Use them frequently—every time you engage in the activity or say the word. When you’re eating, use the “eat” sign and say, “We’re going to EAT. Do you want to EAT? Let’s EAT another bite of cereal.”

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    Sign: Milk

    When signing, remember that context is important. Sign “milk” while feeding your baby a bottle or while nursing—not when you’re doing other things.

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    Sign: Change

    “Change” is an important sign because it gives your baby a heads up that you’re transitioning from play to diapering—something he probably won’t want to do. Signing “change” will help them understand the toy break is temporary. When you’re done, sign “done” and say, “We are DONE,” so that your baby knows changing time is over. According to Cadjan, many parents report that when they use the “change” and “done” signs, the struggle of diaper time goes away.

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    Sign: Help

    Should you step in to help, or let baby figure things out on his own? This will let him communicate when he needs your aid—or that he wants to help you.

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    Sign: Bath

    Teach your baby words he’ll be able to practice often, like “bath,” since you do it every day.

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    Sign: Play

    Don’t worry about teaching all the signs at once; just choose a few to start. When you think your baby is getting the hang of it and signing back, you can slowly add more signs to his repertoire.

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    Sign: Banana

    Teaching your baby signs for foods can help you get an idea of his favorites. “Banana,” a common first food, is a good one to try.

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    Sign: Water

    Don’t expect the signs to look perfect. Babies might do the signs a bit differently, since their fine motor skills are not as advanced as yours are. If you think your baby is trying to sign something, help her out. Say, “Oh! Are you signing WATER? Do you want some WATER?” and continue to make the sign correctly.

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    Sign: Book

    Foster an early love of reading with the simple sign for “book.”

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    Sign: Dog

    Many signs are easy to remember since they mimic a motion you might already be using. Patting your leg to call a dog is instinctive, making this sign feel very natural.

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    Sign: Cat

    Maintain eye contact whenever you sign to make sure your baby sees your hands clearly. This is key to helping her make the connection between the sign and the word.

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    Sign: Share

    Be patient—and don’t pay compare your baby to the champion signer at music class. It takes some babies longer than others to have the dexterity to sign, but keep at it.

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    Sign: Bread

    Some babies will grunt or pant when their parents sign, others will laugh or smile—all are indications that your baby is receptive to your communication.

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    Sign: Ball

    Don’t set aside time to sign, just incorporate it into your day, keeping it simple and fun.

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    Sign: Please

    Here’s a sign that teaches communication skills and manners. You’re welcome!

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    Sign: Thank You

    Baby sign language proponents say that signs not only help your child communicate with your earlier and more easily, it also helps them speak sooner too.

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    Sign: Apple

    Your signing vocabulary can grow with your baby’s interests, so that she’ll more easily (and gladly) make the connection. For example, if you notice she likes books with animals, teach her words like “dog” and “bird.” If she likes apples, teach her this sign.

    Visit signbabies.com for more information on baby sign language.

  • 9 Ways to Make Your Baby Laugh

    Summary:

    Jupiter Bliss on the brainDon’t bother trying to keep things new and exciting—nothing pleases your baby more than knowing what’s going to happen next, says Jill Stamm, Ph.D., author of Bright From the Start. A regular nap schedule, a nightly cuddle and your singing “You Are My Sunshine” for the hundredth time will keep him content. […]

  • Jupiter

    Bliss on the brain
    Don’t bother trying to keep things new and exciting—nothing pleases your baby more than knowing what’s going to happen next, says Jill Stamm, Ph.D., author of Bright From the Start. A regular nap schedule, a nightly cuddle and your singing “You Are My Sunshine” for the hundredth time will keep him content. Happiness is that simple when you’re tiny. (Hey, he hasn’t even heard of the economy yet.)

  • Veer

    Sucking is your baby’s most instinctive survival reflex, designed to get him nutrition. But even after his tummy’s satisfied, his urge to suck may not be. That can make him cranky—unless you let him go to town on a paci or his fingers (both are perfectly okay). His sense of calm will be restored.

  • Getty

    Your baby loves looking at you. Loves it. Loves it like you love looking at her (or Hugh Jackman, whatever). So flash her a goofy grin and open your eyes wide so she knows exactly what happy looks like. Play peekaboo. Lean in close and kiss her nose. Whatever gets your smiling face in her field of vision will be a thrill.

  • Age Fotostock

    Stretching doesn’t just feel good to adults. Try this stretch for some all-over happy, from Nicole Netelkos, owner of Om Baby Yoga in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ: With your baby on her back on a blanket, gently extend her left leg and right arm out from her body. Next, hug her right knee up to her chest and gently move it toward her left side. Repeat the moves with the opposite limbs.

  • Calm tummies make for contented babies, so if yours howls like he’s in pain or draws his knees to his chest, especially after a meal, a stomachache could be taking its toll on his still-developing digestive system. To ease baby gas pains: Lay your baby facedown on your lap, so there’s pressure on his belly, and pat his back. Or lay him on his back and pedal his legs in the air. Aah, relief (sometimes stinky).

  • Age Fotostock

    No matter how quickly you swoop in on a dirty diaper, your baby will probably end up with diaper rash at some point. But you can bring the smiles back quickly by applying a zinc oxide ointment to irritated areas; it heals the rash and forms a barrier against wetness to prevent another one. And really, who doesn’t feel happy with a warm, dry bum?

  • Veer

    By 3 or 4 months, most babies are able to grab things, and get a kick out of clutching something in their little paws. A shockingly easy way to get a giggle: Hold something colorful and soft just in front of your baby, let her reach for it then hand it over.

  • Age Fotostock

    Feel-good feet
    Even pre-walkers get a kick out of putting their legs to the test: Hold your baby under his arms and bounce him between a mini—obstacle course of overturned laundry baskets and boxes; when he lands, let him put some weight on his legs before whisking him off to the next stop. It’s a just-wild-enough ride to put your baby in a good mood.

    Even though your baby doesn’t have sore tootsies, she’ll still be delighted when you give her feet a massage, since your gentle touch feels good and the massage will relax her. For a quickie foot rubdown, apply gentle pressure to each of your baby’s tiny toes then rub the palm of your hand in a circular motion on her heels. Press your thumbs up and down across the soles of her feet, then finish up with a kiss for each big toe.

    Find more secrets to happines for your baby!

  • Separation Anxiety Age-by-Age

    Summary:

    Until they were 11 months old, my twin boys were so nonchalant whenever I’d leave the room that they seemed like a couple of teenagers. As I’d head off to work, the boys would glance my way, then resume chewing on their barnyard animals or playing with their babysitter. They seemed to be thinking, “Eh, […]

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    Until they were 11 months old, my twin boys were so nonchalant whenever I’d leave the room that they seemed like a couple of teenagers. As I’d head off to work, the boys would glance my way, then resume chewing on their barnyard animals or playing with their babysitter. They seemed to be thinking, “Eh, catch you later, Mom—whatever.” I figured: Phew! We dodged all the separation anxiety drama that had stressed out so many of my friends. (Hey, maybe we’d get lucky and bypass the terrible twos, too!)

    But then one morning, reality struck big-time. As I opened the door to leave, Ian, the small, scrappy one, began rolling around the floor, wailing as if stricken by food poisoning. Toby, his chubby, gentle brother, clung to my leg, bawling so hard he could barely breathe. I was heartbroken, and totally flummoxed. I had no clue why it was happening or what approach would be easiest on the boys.

    “Separation anxiety can happen almost overnight, which makes it shocking to parents,” says Sara Abbot, associate director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in Los Angeles. What’s more, it’s often not just a one-time, babyhood phase for many kids. The tears and fears related to being apart from Mom or Dad can resurface in the toddler and preschool years, posing new challenges for parents and warranting different
    solutions. As disheartening as that may sound, it can be very helpful to remember that separation anxiety is completely normal, even healthy. “From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it’s practice for building resilience,” says Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., coauthor of I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy! Why You Shouldn’t Say It…. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to minimize your child’s angst, as well as your own, along the way.
    The first strike: babyhood

    Though the timing can vary from child to child, separation anxiety typically first hits around 8 months, when babies suddenly grasp that their parents exist apart from them, says Abbot. “Literally, it’s like, boom! They understand you can leave.” They don’t, however, understand that you’re coming back. This anxiety may last several weeks, or even a few months, until your child realizes that you’re not, in fact, abandoning him for life—you’re just going to the bathroom.
    How to get through it:
    Start early

    By 6 months, introduce your baby to other regular caregivers, such as relatives or a babysitter. “Your child needs practice being away from you, hopefully well before preschool,” says Alex Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical director of the New York University Child Study Center’s Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders. “You want someone else to hold and talk to your kid a little differently.” These experiences may minimize her anxiety later on when you’re not around.
    Keep your goodbye short

    A quick “Bye, James, see you this afternoon!” is ideal. “Prolonging the departure gives your child the idea that there’s something to be afraid of,” Barzvi says. But here’s the really tough part: Try not to let the sobbing lure you back. Reappearing after you’ve left only gives your child incentive to cry harder and longer next time.
    Match your body language to your words

    “Your child can sense your confidence as you walk out the door,” Cooper says. Flash a smile, give a cheerful wave. You’ll be faking it, of course, but she won’t know that yet. She’ll just know that you feel good about who she’s with—and she can, too.
    Avoid sneaking off

    Parents often dash out the door when the child isn’t looking, hoping—understandably!—that this will preempt a meltdown. “But that’s tricking your child, and it can break your child’s trust in you,” Barzvi says. Instead, first ask your caregiver to redirect your child’s attention right after you leave with a favorite toy, a game of peekaboo or some new music (whatever), then say your quick goodbye.
    The peak: toddlerdom

    For some kids, separation anxiety vanishes before toddlerhood; for others, that’s when it starts, peaking sometime between 12 and 24 months and bringing a more potent dose of distress. “This is when children develop a strong sense of attachment to the parent,” says Barzvi. “You’ll see tantrums or screaming or hysterical crying.” (Worried your child’s reaction is extreme? Visit Separation Anxiety in the Extreme for more info.) What’s also at play now is their desire to have some control over their lives, says Abbot. They know by now that you’re coming back, but they would prefer that you stick around. And because they also know that wailing will usually get a
    reaction, they give it their best shot.
    How to get through it:
    Develop a goodbye ritual

    For example, whenever you have to leave your toddler at daycare, give her two kisses and a high five. “The ritual creates order around the departure for both parent and child,” says Abbot. And that provides security.
    Give your child a small job

    When Ilene Siringo’s 23-month-old son, Luca, hit a particularly clingy phase, she started asking him to “shut the door for Mommy” when she left for work. This little responsibility made the transition a lot easier. “He likes to help, and he gets to have control of the door,” says Siringo, an optometrist in New York City. This strategy can also work with kids who get anxious when you have to leave the room. For instance, if you need to get the laundry, give your child a sweater to “fold” until you get back.
    Provide an ETA

    “A child this age doesn’t understand ‘three hours,’ but you can say, ‘I’ll be back after snack time,’ ” Abbot advises. And do your best to return when promised. It’s tempting to think he won’t know the difference if you’re significantly late, but at some point he will—and you can’t predict when. If you’re heading out for a late night, tell him you’ll see him in the morning.
    Remind your toddler that you always return

    When Anna Zirker’s twin boys were 2, she put her own twist on this trick: “When they’d say, ‘Mommy, don’t go,’ I’d ask, ‘What does Mommy do when she leaves?’ and they’d say, ‘Mommy comes back,’ ” says Zirker, of Bend, OR. Still works every time.
    The relapse: preschool age

    For parents, this may be the most exhausting form of separation anxiety. Just when you think your child’s developed a little independence, the tantrums and tears come roaring back, usually thanks to a new stress such as a new sibling, going to school, an illness in the family, or moving to a different house. Fortunately, the anxiety relapse usually lasts only a few weeks, according to experts. “With a sibling, it’s about attention,” says Abbot. “They worry that they come second now, that their parents are going to forget about them.” In the case of a new school, the child knows that Mommy will come back but may nonetheless feel unsafe or uncertain without her. “Suddenly the child is in an unfamiliar place and isn’t sure whom to trust. Plus, he has to share the attention of the teacher with all these other kids,” says Abbot. No wonder some of them get overwhelmed!
    How to get through it:
    Let your child know it’s okay to feel nervous

    Catch yourself if you reflexively say, “Be a big boy.” Instead, give your child a hug and say something like “I know that you’re nervous. Let’s think of another time you were scared but it was okay. Remember the first time in the pool?” You’ll help show him that his feelings are normal—and that he’ll be able to handle them. “We’re often so proud of an autonomous child that we don’t fully appreciate that the stepping-stone toward that autonomy involves a decent amount of dependence,” says K. Mark Sossin, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Pace University.
    Plan some extra one-on-one time

    After Jennifer Lehr brought home her new baby, her 2½-year-old daughter, Jules, threw a fit whenever Lehr had to tend to little Hudson. So Lehr decided to make a point of giving Jules extra attention, especially when she’d fix her meals. “I’d slow down and let her be involved,” says Lehr, who lives in Los Feliz, CA. “We’d make a smoothie, and Jules would drop in the fruit and pour in the milk and push the button.” Experts say the additional one-on-one time makes the child feel confident in the parent’s love and less threatened.
    Develop a predictable bedtime routine

    This is a good idea in general, but it can be especially helpful when your child is going through a tough time. It helps show him that there is order in his world. You can even make a posterboard listing the exact times of nighttime tasks. For example: 6:00, dinner; 6:20, bath; 6:40, pajamas; 6:45, brush teeth; 6:50, storytime; 7:00, bedtime.
    Do your best not to cave in

    A preschooler who is experiencing separation anxiety may also regress in other ways, such as asking for her pacifier back or insisting on sleeping with you. When you’re exhausted or fed up, it’s only natural to take the path of least resistance and ease up on the rules you’ve established. “But more than anything, a kid needs structure and routine,” Barzvi says. “If you give her Binky back, it’s going to make
    it a lot harder to take it away again. Instead of altering the routine, give your child extra hugs and kisses. Plus, by maintaining the sameness, you’re sending the message that there’s nothing wrong.” Of course, we all give in sometimes. So if you find yourself being more flexible than you planned, cut yourself slack and try again.

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