How do you play with your baby? Baby play time is a precious time for you to bond with your little one as he learns through exploration and sensory activities. But are you doing it right?
Here are 10 baby play myths that parents often believe, and what you should do instead.
Baby play myth #1: Play is just a way to keep my little one busy so I can do my thing
There are so many more benefits than that, says Carrie Lupoli, a parenting consultant and ambassador for Fisher-Price. Play is a real booster to your baby’s cognitive, physical and social emotional skills.
Besides buying toys, you can expose your child to fun activities such as sand play, pretend play, arts and crafts, and sports, shares Stacy Yeo, the principal of Brighton Montessori Preschool at River Valley.
“Unfortunately, most parents don’t give enough importance to playtime and fail to realise that play is fundamental to a child’s development,” the principal observes. They tend to think that if their kid is really learning through fun, they need to see results, such as their little one being able to speak better.
Quips Carrie: “If parents recognise that play is really child’s work, then they’d get them to play more than doing anything else!”
Baby play myth #2: Rattles, activity gyms and books in pastel colours are comforting to look at
Your newborn’s vision is fuzzy at first, and his sense of colour is not yet developed, says Carrie. High-contrast black, white and red toys will help stimulate his visual development and gain his attention. And, remember, he loves faces – so get up-close and talk to him!
Baby play myth #3: If Baby can walk, he should stop crawling
Your little one should be encouraged to crawl during play to strengthen his hands, shoulders and legs; he’s still developing his coordination and gross motor skills. “Gyms and playgrounds with tunnels are a great way to get your child crawling,” says Stacy.
Baby play myth #4: My toddler can’t figure out the jigsaw puzzle, so I’ll help him out with one or two pieces
Before you know it, you’ll be taking over the puzzle and completing it. Give your little one room to explore new toys and activities. When you step in too eagerly, you’re taking away the element of challenge and struggle – skills that are crucial later in life, both experts say.
“Children need to be given ample opportunities to learn problem-solving skills, deal with frustrations, and celebrate success from hard work and perseverance, adds Carrie.
Baby play myth #5: Okay, so I shouldn’t take the lead. Now I can go for a tea break while he tries out that new stacking game alone
You should still be there to cheer him on, ask questions and laugh with him. That makes playtime more enjoyable for your little one. “Sometimes, parents think that if they buy a good or expensive toy for their child, their job is done,” says Carrie. If you play together, even a cardboard box would bring him joy – no fancy gadgets needed.
“Playtime should always involve communication and interaction with the caregivers, especially parents,” she adds. “Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between the number of words a child hears in his first few years of life and his success later in life.”
Stacy suggests: “The next time you have household chores to do, place your child in a playpen near you and interact with him as you go about your work. Happy Mummy, happy Baby.”
Baby play myth #6: Baby wants to continue playing and skip his nap? Sure, as long as he’s happy
Especially in the early years, sleep is important for a child’s brain development. A lack of sleep can affect motor skills and concentration, and he won’t learn as much while playing. “One of the best things we can do for our children is to balance a healthy amount of playtime with ample quality sleep, centred around a routine,” says Carrie.
Stacy explains that babies aged two and younger need an average of 13 hours of sleep a day – one to three hours during the day and 10 to 12 hours at night.
And if you’re tempted to let him sleep more in the day so that he can spend time with you in the evening, don’t. “It compromises the amount of sleep he gets at night and interferes with his biological clock,” she says.
(Also read: Toddler won’t nap: how to adjust sleep time)
Baby play myth #7: My baby is anti-social! He doesn’t want to play with his peers
There are three important stages of play – solitary play (the child plays by himself), parallel play (he plays in the presence of another kid, but not together) and interactive play (he plays with others).
Until he turns three or four, Junior will not necessarily interact with his peers, but he will play alongside with them. However, it’s still worth organising play dates with other babies.
“Kids learn a lot through observation and playing next to one another,” notes Carrie from Fisher-Price. But if he still doesn’t interact with his peers by the time he’s four, it could be a sign of developmental issues that should be discussed with a paediatrician. Your kid might also prefer to cling on to you than join his peers because he is afraid of separation, adds Stacy from Brighton Montessori.
(Also read: 10 social skills to teach your toddler)
Baby play myth #8: Finger painting? Too messy! My little Picasso can unleash his imagination on the iPad using a doodle app instead
“Electronic gadgets cannot replace real-life experiences and should not be a substitute for hands-on play,” says Stacy. “Babies need to be exposed to different materials and tools, so they can work on their gross and fine motor skills”.
When your tot uses a pair of child-friendly scissors, for instance, he is strengthening his finger muscles and developing his coordination as he opens and closes it, explains Carrie.
Likewise, don’t swop board books for e-books. “The occasional use of e-books is fine, but it is critical that infants experience the sensation of turning pages and learn how a book should be opened and read from left to right. These inputs are crucial for brain development and future reading skills,” says Stacy.
She recommends getting large illustrated books with minimal text for younger babies. As for toddlers, choose books with many repetitive words, so they can learn and recall information.
Remember that kids below two years of age shouldn’t have screen time at all, says Carrie. “Spending too much time on electronic devices may make it harder for them to adapt to the normal ‘slower’ pace of life.”
(Also read: Toddler doesn’t like reading: 5 tips for parents)
Baby play myth #9: My little darling behaved badly at his playgroup? No big deal – he’s just a baby.
It’s important that you enforce basic rules, such as no snatching or throwing of toys during play. “It can’t be a free-for-all where children are allowed to treat peers negatively or aren’t required to clean up after themselves,” Carrie explains.
Failing to introduce etiquette and discipline can set a precedent for his future behaviour. “As he grows older, he adopts the same behavioural patterns, which may not always be ideal,” Stacy adds.
Baby play myth #10: The more toys, the merrier!
Having many playthings does not mean your baby will have a great time. “Nothing can make up for your loving interaction,” says Carrie. “Toys are a catalyst for meaningful development. But the benefit isn’t in the toy; it’s in the way a mum, dad or other loved ones interacts with him while playing with it.”
Make sure you select age-appropriate toys so he can get the most out of it as well, Stacy says.