The author’s baby, playing. (Jamie Davis Smith)

Not too long ago I had my fourth baby, so it seems that by now I have a lot of things figured out. But figuring out how to play with an infant beyond peek-a-boo and the itsy-bitsy-spider still remains a challenge. Thinking that my son could use a more varied playtime I asked Kyle D. Pruett, M.D, a clinical professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and an Educational Advisory Board Member for The Goddard School for recommendations.

Pruett suggests beginning by asking yourself  “Why do we need to keep babies occupied?”

His answer: [Babies’] 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. Boredom is simply not part of the healthy infant’s repertoire.

Pruett’s suggestions for playing with the babies to help their developing brains:

1)  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.

2) Any music should start with you making the sounds along with eye contact (keep it sweet with simple repeated melodies)

3)  Any physical interaction should begin with gentle touch or lifting. Monitor the baby’s face for intensity of the play

4) 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!”

5) Avoid digital entertainment, especially for babies.

Don’t get concerned if you can’t make every moment count. Even Pruett admits that as a busy father and grandfather he often sought to occupy his children and grandchildren when he just needed to get
something done. Don’t feel guilty or like you’re doing long-term harm to your child if you throw them in the exersaucer for a bit.

Pruett also cautions that children may be fussy or not interested in an activity out of tiredness and that there is no way to entertain a fussy child out of fatigue. Watch or the baby’s cues and if he just
doesn’t seem interested in playing wait and try again another time.

“Remember that brain development? Being with you is the secret sauce, and keeping it simple helps them cope; the rest is just filler.”

The author is a Washington D.C. based mother of four.

Like On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, advice and news. You can sign up here for our newsletter. On Parenting can be found at washingtonpost.com/onparenting.

You might also be interested in:

The love-hate relationship with my breast pump

Getting over our fears for our kids’ sakes

I may be a single mom, but I’m not doing it alone