Keeping Babies Occupied

Babies brains grow faster in a day than ours do in a year.

Posted Jun 09, 2015

Before you skip straight to the advice bullets, first ask yourself this: Why do we think we need to keep babies occupied? Their brains grow faster in a day than ours do in a year, and they are more fascinated with the world and being in it than we can ever remember being. In fact, it is simply exhausting to grow and absorb at that rate.
As a busy dad of four and grandfather of four, I admit that I was often looking to ‘occupy’ my babies when my wife or I had something we were occupied with and hoping to have an ‘occupied’ baby so that I/we could get it done!
Boredom is simply not part of the healthy infant’s repertoire; fatigue, yes, boredom, no. And when do we feel we need to do something to or for the baby to occupy him? When they start to fuss or crank. But as we all figure out eventually, you cannot entertain a child out of fatigue. Still, if you must do something before you conclude the inevitable (he’s tired!), make it personal, not digital, especially if it’s a baby. Remember that brain development? Being with you is the secret sauce, and keeping it simple helps them cope; the rest is just filler. So, my suggestions:
-Any game should include a caring human (peek-a-boo, hide and seek). Start with eye contact and monitor how the baby is managing the excitement;
-Any music should start with you making the sounds along with eye contact (keep it sweet with simple repeated melodies);
-Any physical interaction should begin with gentle touch or lifting. Monitor the baby’s face for intensity of the play;
-Avoid entertainment for sake of entertainment unless you want an enduringly passive child who will look to you for many long years, starting with the preschooler whine: ‘I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!’

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School.