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Your little baby is tiny, sleeps most of the time with her fists tightly clenched, and has a hard time trying to focus her vision. Yet when you hold a brightly-coloured ball or a slow moving toy above her, she turns her full attention to the moving object. Yes! Even babies as young as one-month-old love to play. However, as parents, we must be very careful to play with our babies safely and stay away from these common but dangerous practices!
Why Play Is Important For Your Baby
Playing helps your baby evolve in many ways. Games nourish her growing brain and body, and help make her physically and mentally fit and sound. For small babies, their parents or caregivers are their constant playthings. Playing helps them feel more secure, improves their communication skills, makes them more confident. It helps in developing their gross motor and fine motor skills as they grow older.
Games also play a vital role in the cognitive growth of the babies. Through playing, they are able to recognize faces and voices, understand their own body parts, experiment with various sounds and even learn good manners. Playing helps a child unleash her imagination, creativity, socializing skills and language skills. While it is a secondary matter that they are still unable to hold toys on their own, babies make their preferences known by turning their gaze towards the objects of their interest and looking at them with unabashed curiosity. Curiosity is what motivates a small infant to look at a musical chime or an older child to build towers out of Lego sets.
So – certainly playing and games are no child-play! They form an important part of normal child growth and development. However, there are a lot of things that can go horribly wrong during playtime if we are not careful enough.
Wrong Ways To Play With Babies
1. Throwing baby up in the air
This is probably one of the most common ways in which we play with babies – we raise them up in our arms, then throw them up, and catch them. This one is especially a favourite among dads. But did you know that this innocent-looking form of playing can actually injure your baby?
The most obvious outcome is of course that you are unable to catch the baby. Short falls can actually crack your baby’s skull! While this is less likely, there are other reasons to consider too, to give up this form of playing with babies at once. Throwing your baby up in the air can give your baby a pulled neck or strain. Finally, it can bring on ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’, wherein your baby suffers from trauma to the brain, or eyes, or even bones, because of being shaken violently. Abort this form of playing immediately.
2. Swinging baby and older children by their arms
So many of us might have done it, or seen people around us do it to their children. Children too seem to enjoy being swung by their arms. The adrenaline rush of being swung round and round, and seeing the world around you go round and round in circles is too much to resist! But this seemingly harmless play can in fact be brutal to your baby.
Swinging babies or children by their arms can give them a ‘pulled elbow’ or ‘nursemaid’s elbow. A pulled elbow is when the ligaments in your elbow get pulled or torn. While this is not a permanent condition and the elbow can be restored completely to its original, normal condition, it is no doubt a very painful experience. Also, this is not something you can fix at home; it warrants a trip to the hospital.
In general it is advised to avoid rough play with baby. It is very easy to get carried away and end up hurting your little one.
3. Choosing wrong toys for your baby
Yes, there is such a thing as an age-inappropriate toy. How? Well – your baby at different stages is able to do different things. Pincer grip does not develop till 3 to 6 months of age. Small objects pose a choking hazard as the baby is likely to put them in her mouth. Till their motor skills develop completely, babies are at the risk of hurting themselves with the toys, hence sharp toys/toys with edges should be avoided till a certain age. There are many things that can go wrong while selecting a toy for your child.
Here are some general tips to help you choose safe toys for infants:
- 0 to 3 months – At this age, your baby is near-sighted. Hence, toys such as MP3 players, musical boxes, rattles, squeaky toys, unbreakable mirrors, would keep her interested and entertained throughout the day
- 3 to 6 months – As your baby starts becoming older, her vision improves; she begins holding things and can recognize your voice instantly. Toys suitable at this age are activity centres with many dangling toys, small-stuffed toys, board books, colourful teething rings and squeaky toys
- 6 to 9 months – Now your baby is able to sit. She becomes increasingly active and can spend hours playing by herself. In addition to board books, stuffed toys and dangling toys, you can buy her stacking rings or her first set of Lego blocks
- 9 to 12 months – This is the most delightful stage. Your baby most probably would be standing by herself. Push toys, a little pail and shovel, shape sorters, toy telephones will harness all her energies and help her indulge in endless hours of fun
4. Choosing wrong Plush Toys, Stuffed Toys, and Soft Toys for your baby
This one might come as a surprise – but did you know that all those stuffed animals that you lovingly put in the arms of your baby might actually make her sick? Soft toys can cause allergic rhinitis in babies. Putting your baby in bed with a soft toy next to her is a bad idea, but even playing with a soft toy can prove to be harmful. The fur or ‘hair’ of the toy can come off, and your baby might end up swallowing them. The toy may catch moisture and become a hotbed for germs. Soft toys also tend to catch allergens in their fur.
Make sure you try and pick a soft-toy that has less fur. The toy should also be easy to clean and should not collect static charge. It is also important to wash the toys on a regular basis to get rid of collected dust and germs. Finally, make sure the fabric and materials do not cause irritation or rashes on your baby’s skin.
5. Leaving babies unsupervised during playtime
Another common mistake we tend to make, especially when we think we have left their babies with a ‘safe’ toy. But remember – your baby is more inquisitive and curious of her surroundings than you can imagine. She is going to try to do all sorts of crazy and funny things that you never imagined her to be capable of trying! She is going to pick up spoons and plug them into sockets. She is going to try and eat her messy diaper, and her toys, and her own toes. She is going to try and pour your cup of tea for you. And through all of it, she is going to have one big innocent smile on her face that is going to make it difficult for you to get mad at her!
Apart from the obvious physical danger, there is also a socio-emotional angle to this. Babies physically depend on their primary caregivers – that means you, mommies – to teach them about the world. They get confused and upset when they are left alone. Hence, they become more whiney and cranky when left alone during play time. Most mothers will tend to leave them alone, thinking they are training their babies early on to become independent. But this could not be farther from the truth. Such children grow up to become self-involved and narcissistic, some studies claim.
Best thing to do is to never leave babies alone during their play time till they are old enough to keep themselves safe.
Play time should be fun, no doubt, but it should also be safe. No form of playing or games should land your baby in the hospital! Take care.