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Monday, February 15, 2016

Growing Giggles: 7 Benefits of Play for Infants

Photo by Geoff Livingston (Flickr)

Don't you love playing with cute, giggly babies? They're entertained by the simplest things, like bubbles or songs, and they have so much curiosity about everything. I recently discovered that babies gain seven unique benefits when they play. Remember these benefits the next time you play games with an infant.

Play Builds Communication Skills

Even though they don't say words until around six months of age, babies do communicate with coos and by crying, giggling, squealing, moving their arms and legs, and making eye contact. Play also develops your baby's verbal and nonverbal communication skills. As you read stories, shake rattles together, and cuddle stuffed animals together, you build your baby's communication skills.

Play Reduces Stress

Did you know that babies feel stress? As infants, my girls always got fussy in new environments or when I left them alone with a sitter. In these situations, a little song or a favorite toy distracted them. Firm touch, sensory objects like balls, and rocking also helps babies relax and reduce stress.

Play Boosts Attention Span and Memory

We all know that babies get distracted easily. That's why I love play. It builds attention spans and helps infants develop essential concentration skills. When your babies become fascinated with a moving mobile or bring you the same book to read over and over, let them. This repetition lays the foundation for them to concentrate and memorize later in life at school and work.

Play Aids Physical Development

When my girls were babies, they had trouble grasping toys. I spent many hours bending over to pick up items they dropped! Playing with toys, though, helps our kiddos develop gross and fine motor skills, improve their coordination, and build muscle strength. As they grasp shapes, jump in a bouncy activity center, and interact with a play gym, babies discover and develop essential physical abilities.

Play Lays the Groundwork for Working Through Emotions

Infants don't understand that they're angry, sad, or lonely. In fact, it sometimes takes a lifetime for people to learn how to handle emotions appropriately. However, infant playtime lays the groundwork for kids to learn how to identify and work through their emotions. Role-playing games, stories, and conversations build emotional awareness. Parents and caregivers can also model appropriate emotional responses. When you empathize with a child's feelings, show your baby how to wait for a turn on the swing, and talk them through disappointment when their block wall falls, you lay the groundwork for your infant to work through their emotions.

Play Develops Impulse Control

I know it's unrealistic to expect an infant to have impulse control. We can encourage the development of this essential skill, though, during play time. When we create a predictable environment with play built into the day's schedule and respond with love to our baby's needs, we teach babies the basics of impulse control. We continue this training when we show babies that they can't steal another child's toy or they will lose any toys they throw. Learning that their actions affect others can begin the important work of developing impulse control.

Play Improves Social Development

I'm a big fan of developing friendships, taking turns, and displaying empathy. Kids aren't born with these social skills, though. They learn them as they play. Most babies are social, and they love being around other kids. Whether your baby plays peek-a-boo with an older sibling or sits beside another baby in a sensory kiddie pool, play time plants social development seeds that grow with your child.

My babies loved to play, and your babies probably do, too. While you enjoy their growing giggles, remember that infant play produces essential benefits. Are you ready to play and help your babies grow?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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