All sarcasm aside, babies and toddlers are pretty amazing. I recently watched “The Beginning of Life” on Netflix. It’s a docuseries detailing how new research explains the ways infants and toddlers are affected by everything that surrounds them.
I’ve read articles indicating the first 3 years of a child’s life are absolutely critical to their brain development and the person they will ultimately become. No pressure for us as parents right? Yikes. Episode 1 of “The Beginning of Life” entitled “Fantastic Baby,” elaborates on this notion and encourages us to think of our babies as tiny scientists. In practice, this provides for a fresh perspective and hopefully more patience for otherwise frustrating behaviors.
I remember my daughters loved to take food from their high chair and drop it on the ground. This started around 11 months of age. If I think of it as a scientific experiment, I have a new appreciation. Pick a noodle up, drop it on the floor. No sound, Mom picks it up. Drop the yogurt cup, hear a noise, see a mess. Mom picks it up and wipes the mess. Among other things, through this experiment the baby is learning about cause and effect, physics, emotions (Mom’s frustration, sibling’s amusement), and sound. Then they do it again to see if it happens the same way.
This leads us to the next behavior/character trait parents of infants see: persistence. The show tells us that infants and toddlers have persistence hard-wired into them for learning and survival. Every parent has watched a baby trying to grab something they want. It’s adorable. It could be a rattle, Mommy’s keys, or their own feet. They will try for several minutes, brow furrowed, arm outstretched.
If I, at 34, am reaching for something, I give up after approximately 8 seconds of half-hearted effort and call for my husband. My takeaway was to encourage a certain level of trial and error in my toddler. I should allow her to try to do something herself, even if I’m certain she will become frustrated with it. The frustration is good too. “Fantastic Baby” tells us a child who is never allowed to become frustrated never learns how to cope with that emotion, and never experiences the increase in self-esteem that comes with mastering something with which they previously struggled.
The episode ends by interviewing a mother who is living in poverty. When she talks about her baby, her eyes light up and we see a palpable maternal instinct. Her baby son is absolutely precious; happy, alert, bright. The message the viewer receives is while the first 3 years are critical, most parents love their children and a loving parent’s presence will likely provide the nurturing and stimulation needed. Talking, smiling, eye contact, cuddles, singing. These things are free and new research tells us they are among those that most facilitate healthy development.
Rest assured, something as simple as greeting your baby with an enthusiastic smile and high-pitched “Good morning!” positively contributes to infant development in ways we can’t even calculate. Imagine the possibilities if you try a few of these science activities with your toddler. You might just raise this generation’s Isaac Newton.