Babies are special and unique. More than just tiny humans, they have the power to melt hearts while keeping you up all night long.
One of the first things parents notice, after counting fingers and toes, is their eyes. Looking intently (gazing) into your baby’s eyes is a significant part of bonding, communication, and development.
Babies will attempt eye contact with you shortly after birth. Eye contact is one way you, as a parent, can tell that your new baby is taking an interest in the world around them. When they look at you, they are seeking your interaction and hoping you’ll look back. This is a conscious effort to engage with you socially, to communicate.
When you do look back there is an unspoken connection that occurs. By returning your baby’s gaze, not only do you help your baby learn to communicate, new studies have shown that your brain can synchronize with your baby’s brain which further enhances the efforts and understanding in communication. This connection leads to better language skills and by the time your baby is one year old, they will be able to use more words.
By the time your baby is 4 months old, they are capable of more detailed interactions with their eyes. Their vision is more clear and they notice more colors. And, at this age, they are beginning to learn how to communicate with their voices through cooing and laughing.
When you hear your baby using sounds to communicate, don’t interrupt or look away. By looking at him or her when they coo and gurgle, you are showing them that you care and are listening. When you respond, you may notice that your baby begins to copy the sounds you make.
Chatting with your baby is a great way to increase the connection you are building. By repeating their sounds or talking about your activities, you’ll be helping develop the connections within his or her brain. And further, if you will speak in a higher pitch, at a slower pace, your baby will be more in tune with your speech.
This slower, higher tone speech is referred to as “parentese.” It’s not baby talk, a mixture of silly sounds and nonsense words. Parentese is real words with a higher tone of voice (think cartoon-like) and slower. Like cartoons, parentese sounds happy and engaged. It helps babies tune into and respond to the chatter.
If you happen to notice that your baby doesn’t seem to share gazes with you, or that they are doing so less frequently than before, you will want to let your doctor know. Decreases in eye gazing could be an early sign of autism.
Most of a child’s brain develops during the first 3 years. As your baby’s brain grows, it forms the connections to think, learn and process information. Eye contact and chatting help these connections form. If you have any concerns about the development of your child, always talk with your child’s doctor. He or she will be able to address your concerns and put your mind at ease.