Sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. By the time we have children, we’re used to having all of our five senses. And we probably don’t understand what it’s like to experience life without all of them working completely.
But when babies first arrive, some of their five sense are still developing. So, to support your baby’s sensory development and help them experience the world fully, keep reading for great parenting tips.
Why is sensory development necessary for your child?
According to Britt Collins, pediatric occupational therapist, as well as the author of Sensory Parenting, “sensory development is vital for a child because it helps them learn how to interact with their environment, as well as learn how to ‘regulate’ or calm their nervous system.”
So, that incredibly soft blanket, or that brightly colored rattle might not seem so important. But these, and many other objects, provide opportunities for your child to grow and come to terms with the world he or she experiences.
And let’s not forget that a baby’s brain is incredibly active. In fact, there are 1.8 million new synaptic connections occurring each and every second in their little brains. And the more sensory experience they have, the easier it will be for these connections to remain intact and strong.
What’s more, studies have shown that when newborns engage with some or all of their senses, they can actually lower their cortisol levels. This is wonderful, since too much stress can prevent a baby from sleeping soundly and staying calm – a challenge for new parents!
Sight: Eyesight in the first year
When your baby is first born, they’re only able to see about 12 inches away, and they generally see shades and shapes rather than distinct detail. As they grow, they’re able to follow moving objects, and they eventually develop depth perception.
Ray Tsai, M.D. is president and chief of Dallas’ Children’s Health Pediatric Group, and he suggests doing the following activities with your child to support their eyesight.
- Use bright and bold colors and patterns in their room. This gives them something to focus on.
- If you breastfeed your baby, be sure to switch sides so that your baby has an opportunity to see you from different perspectives.
- When speaking to your baby, try to keep your face squarely in front of his or hers, this will allow your baby to focus on just you.
- After they hit the four-month mark, you can start introducing games like peekaboo or pat-a-cake, this will give them a chance to practice eye and hand coordination.
- Playing in front of a mirror can also be a fun way for both you and your little one to support his or her eyesight. That’s because it gives them an opportunity to focus, experience reflections and follow objects. It also helps them recognize facial expressions and vocal tones and the emotions which these expressions represent.
Sound: How to support your baby’s hearing
Your baby has been listening to you from the very beginning, as well as all the other familiar sounds of your daily life. That’s why your baby can easily sleep through noise – she’s been doing that in the womb, too!
There are many ways to engage with your child to support their sense of hearing. Here are just a few:
- Read to your baby, especially any books you read to her when she was in utero.
- Sing or play music and observe how she enjoys the music.
Touch: Helping your baby touch and feel
Unlike eyesight, your baby’s sense of touch is very well developed once they’re born. They have very sensitive skin, so it’s important to use infant-appropriate products and to dress them in non-irritating fabrics.
According to Tiffany Field, PhD, babies are very good at telling the difference between different textures, temperatures and weights of different objects. Therefore, you can introduce different objects for them to touch and feel – just be careful to only introduce items that they’re developmentally ready to handle.
For example, small items can be a choking hazards, such as buttons and tiny objects. And other items may be too heavy and cause injury, such as large books and toys.
When your toddler is ready to play with small items under your supervision, follow this dad’s example and introduce rice, pasta, beans and grains to your child. When toddlers play with these foods, they get to have a fun sensory experience with real objects they’ll continue to use as they grow older.
Another great way to support your baby’s sense of touch is with skin-to-skin contact. It provides many necessary health benefits. In fact, it’s vital for your baby’s emotional, psychological and sensory development. For example, bonding with your baby can help to regulate their body temperature, breathing rates and blood sugar levels. What’s more, it also helps the baby obtain healthy bacteria from his or her mother.
Smell: How to support your baby’s sense of smell
Your baby has a good sense of smell when he or she is born, so there are ways you can support their olfactory system from the get-go. For example, because babies like familiarity, try to keep the aromas and scents in your home consistent. This will help your baby feel comfortable.
Try to steer clear of intense perfumes, as well as strongly-scented lotions, creams and laundry detergents. This can be a bit too much for your little one to handle. Conversely, as your baby grows, don’t be afraid to introduce different scents to them, especially in the foods you prepare.
Taste: Your baby already has a sweet tooth
Did you know that your baby’s sense of taste is fully developed when he or she is born? It’s true, and what’s more, they’re naturally drawn to sweet flavors.
That means as your baby grows, they may reach for the sweeter option and leave savory flavors to the curb.
To prevent your child from becoming addicted to sugar, encourage and introduce a wide variety of foods. And instead of candy and processed foods and drinks, give your child many opportunities to eat fresh fruits instead.
Watching your baby grow and develop is a marvelous experience. To help your child make the most of these formative years, follow these easy tips and support their sensory development.