Ever seen a baby and thought it looked just like its parent because of the facial expressions? Well that is because newborns learn by mimicking their parents. I’m a goof-ball (as most new dads are) and am constantly playing games with Max, singing songs, making faces at him, and generally being very interactive. He has picked up on this and usurped my smile as his own. He makes the same sheepish pirate smile I do and then turns his head to the side to let the full guffaw of excitement out. I think this is why people think he looks like me (I think he looks like Kate though he clearly has my ears).
The other day I was reading about a study on memory in newborns and it talked about a group of doctors that passed around a newborn baby soon after birth. All the doctors were strangers to the baby. The first doctor stuck her tongue out at the baby and eventually the baby stuck its tongue out as well. Then one by one the other doctors played with the baby but did not stick their tongues out. When the baby was handed back to the first doctor, the baby stuck its tongue out…the baby remembered the first doctor.
I was fascinated by this for both the mimicking elements and the memory aspect. On Saturday during my morning play time with Max…I stuck my tongue out at him. After doing it a number of times and congratulating him when he tried to do the same we had established a new father/son game. Later that day at lunch we played again. Then again later that night. The next day he was getting better at sticking his tongue out when we played and had pretty much mastered it by Sunday night when I showed my friend Heather. Kate missed it and was unconvinced that this game was as cool as I was making it out to be. Then this morning, she saw it with her own eyes. Max and I had our morning play time before I go to work and he would occasionally (unprompted) stick his tiny tongue out at me. Was he playing or hungry? I didn’t know but when I started playing soon after it was clear. “Watch, we’ll play our game,” I said to Kate. I then stuck my tongue out, made the proverbial toot sound with it, and closed with a smile and waited. Nothing. Then, Max stuck his tongue out all the way, held it there for a few seconds, then smiled with gusto! A perfect mimic and his best tongue sticking out yet! Kate was ecstatic! It was very cool.
Sure, sticking your tongue out is not the best mannerism to teach your child but the fact is that it is never too early to invent games with your little one. They are soaking up everything around them and learning from you. This is a great way to help them learn. After Max mimics me and sticks his tounge out I then show him an object or action and say the word associated with it aloud with repetition. I know he is not going to start speaking for months and months but its fun to introduce objects and associate the fact that there is a sound or word that goes with it. Games are fun and crucial…for both baby and parent.
“Dad. Daaaaad. Dad! Dad.” He smiles. “Mom. Mooooom. Mom! Mom.” He smiles. Then he gets upset and doesn’t want to play anymore. Cries emerge from his tiny vocal cords, his face turns red, and his fists clench…don’t make Hulk angry! I hand him to Kate, she calmly places him on her breast, he begins gulping…”Milk. Miiilk. Milk! Milk.” Seemed more appropriate than “Boob.”