One of the most surprising things about having a baby for the first time is how much things slow down. There’s this tiny creature looking to you for all of their nurture, sustenance and entertainment. With all the information around about child development and how to enhance babies’ learning, there can be a pressure to see play as a goal-oriented activity instead of just…play.
So I spoke to Emma Brummell to find out her thoughts on play in the early years. Emma is a Play Therapist working with children to help them through any tricky periods in their lives, using play as a means of helping children to process and manage their big emotions. She offers support to parents to help them learn about and develop a strong and loving attachment with their babies as well as implementing positive strategies to care for and nurture themselves while they are giving so much to their babies. The one thing Emma would tell new parents about play? “Embrace this time of being your baby’s favourite toy”
“There is a huge market promoting a vast range of toys and equipment designed as educational and promising to enhance our babies’ development. This can put a lot of pressure on a new parent, making us feel like we are doing our babies a disservice if we don’t have a full toy box accessible from birth. This can also cause frustration and a sense of failure when we find that our brand new little people couldn’t care less about all of the shiny new, expensive toys we have bought them and instead want to spend every moment curled up in our arms.
The one thing I would tell a new parent is to forget about the toy box for a few months and instead embrace this time of being your baby’s whole world – their food provider, their safety, their comfort and their play. The first few months outside of the womb are referred to as ‘the forth trimester,’ this is a time of transition for the baby, after spending 9 months cosy in the womb they are now here in the world were for the first time they are experiencing many new, often overwhelming experiences such as hunger, cold and sometimes periods of separation from their mother. During this time babies seek the safety and calm created by being in physical contact and can gain the most joy and developmental benefits when they are together. The simple act of staring into each others eyes can provide so much joy, so feel no guilt in spending all day lying down and soaking up all the happy hormones created from staring at your little person and rest assured they are getting just as much back.
The blue print for all future relationships is being created during these times when you and your baby are soaking each other up, learning about each other and laying the foundations for a strong attachment. Playing little games such as sticking your tongue out and watching your baby mimic your actions activate mirror neurones in their brain, which are essential for developing an understanding of others actions and intentions, these brain connections are also involved in planning and controlling actions, abstract thinking and memory. Children who have efficient mirror neurone activity are likely to have greater emotional intelligence and higher levels of empathy.
Singing songs to your baby and chatting to them in that soft but high pitched way you find yourself doing has huge benefits such as soothing your baby, helping them to feel calm and more likely to be engaged with you. They begin to learn about communication, taking turns to talk/babble/stare. Most importantly it helps to build that strong attachment, filling your baby with feelings of love and comfort. On top of that I often found that I felt quite soothed and comforted by singing a little song and in the midst of newborn madness comfort and soothing for you is just as important. So, don’t stress about making sure your little one has enough toys or if they are ‘playing’ enough, instead gather them up in your arms, take them to bed with you and spend these early days and weeks resting and enjoying each other in the gentlest most beautiful of ways.