I love and collect life hacks – those little tips and tricks that magically make your life better. In the course of becoming a mom, I’ve found there are parenting hacks, too – shortcuts, hints and practices that make life with babies and kids easier, more fun or less stressful. Are you ready for my favorite baby and toddler hacks? Happy Friday!
Baby sign language. Before I had Zoe, I never would have dreamed this possible but preverbal babies as young as six to nine months really can communicate with ASL sign language. It makes perfect sense when you think about it – babies learn to wave hello/goodbye around that age, and that’s just another hand sign, a simple way to communicate.
We started with the obvious, using the sign for “milk” with Zoe consistently from about six months on. Sure enough, at nine months she began signing it back to us whenever she wanted to nurse. She then quickly picked up other signs such as “more” (extremely useful and versatile sign – she uses it for more food as well as more time on the swings at the park!), “all done” (also very useful at mealtimes or to express her frustration and desire to get out of the car seat!) and “light” (when she notices a cool new light fixture in a restaurant, for example). Later came the signs for “hungry/eat” as well as “please” and “thank you.”
At almost two years old, Zoe is coming along nicely with her speech, but we still use about nine or ten ASL signs consistently. These hand signs meant the world to us, providing us a way to communicate and understand each other long before she had the ability to use words to do that. She still prefers hand signs to speech at certain times, such as when her mouth is full, she’s tired or she’s upset or emotional. I’ve heard great things about the Signing Time videos but we used a book – Baby Signing. Whether you buy a resource or just use free videos available on YouTube, I highly recommend this to all new moms!
Music. It may sound like a cliché but there’s another nonverbal language that babies and toddlers can understand and use long before they can speak, and that’s music. We invested in mommy and me Music Together classes from the time Zoe was 6 months old until just before she turned two years old. This was money and time well spent – we absolutely loved our music classes and they gave us a musical foundation we continue to build upon to this day.
I’ll never forget the first time Zoe began mimicking songs back to me – she couldn’t form words yet, but she could go “lalala” to the melody or clap/wave her hands to the beat. This was super early on – even before she could use sign language. Her little face would light up when she heard favorite songs, and she would repeat simple tunes or “lalala” right along with me. Music and singing are still a huge part of our bond – I sing to her all the time, and now she not only sings along with actual words, but corrects me if I get the words wrong to one of her favorites! She also loves it when I change the lyrics to make a song all about her. You literally cannot sing enough to your baby or child.
If you didn’t start early, there’s no time to waste – start singing and playing music (with simple instruments or even household objects) today. Your child will love it! Singing is also a great tool when babies are upset or fussy or stressed, it can make bedtime and naptime more familiar and comfortable in a strange place or while traveling, and in general it’s something you can do literally anywhere, anytime. As we were told repeatedly in class, it doesn’t matter if you have a good voice or can even carry a tune – your child will love your voice because it’s part of YOU. They’ve been hearing it since long before they were born.
Attachment Parenting. I’ve blogged about this before, but I truly do believe that the most natural, instinctive and baby-friendly way of parenting a newborn is what’s known as attachment parenting (AP for short, also known as positive parenting or gentle parenting). AP can be controversial because, taken to its extreme, it can be pretty down on new moms working outside the home or being apart from baby for ANY length of time (which I agree with theoretically in an ideal world, but it’s not a reality for most parents these days!). That said, there are tons of resources to help parents adapt AP for their specific situations. We attachment parent to this day, yet I am a career woman who works outside the home, occasionally traveling for work, plus our daughter is in daycare four days a week not at home with a family caregiver. We’ve found cosleeping and extended breastfeeding, two elements of attachment parenting, to be great ways to keep the attachment/bond going even when we have to be apart. Which brings me to the next babyhack…
Cosleeping. This is as natural and primordial as it is controversial in today’s world. Some look down on cosleeping as primitive, others view it as an infringement on private adult space. For our family, it’s been an absolute dream come true. What’s the number one concern and worry of all new parents – getting enough sleep, right? Well, our little Zoe has been sleeping like a champ for 12 hours straight ever since we stumbled upon cosleeping. Even at 8 weeks of age, she knew what she wanted and stopped fussing/crying immediately once she was where she felt was her rightful place – right between mommy and daddy, safe and snug, all night long. By all means study up on safe cosleeping, but don’t just write it off as a weird hippy thing. I never would have dreamed I’d be “one of those crunchy bed sharing families” (my own words before we had Zoe!), but it works like a charm for us and has since month two.
There’s truly no joy in the world better than drifting off to sleep feeling her little hand in ours, or waking up to her smiling face mere millimeters from our own saying “hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!” It’s truly priceless being able to nighttime-parent, make up for time spent apart during the workweek, and continue to nurture and build our amazing family bond and closeness even while we sleep. It’s the laziest hack on this list, and the easiest by far.
Breastfeeding. You’ve definitely seen me talk about the importance of nursing before if you’ve been to this blog more than once or twice. Truly, it is the world’s best mothering and nurturing tool – not just a food source but a panacea for babies. If they’re hungry, it’s nutrition and nourishment; if they’re thirsty, it’s hydration; if they’re sad or upset, it’s comfort; if they’re angry, it calms them; if they’re sick, it’s quite literally medicine. There is no better baby and toddler hack than spending time in mama’s arms, drinking from the source. If there’s a magic bullet for parenting small ones, this is it. Breastfed babies and toddlers get sick less, get healthy faster, and develop incredibly strong and lasting bonds with their mothers. They develop faster, stronger and smarter. I don’t really think there’s much more to be said – except maybe a plug for extended nursing of toddlers.
Although the cultural norm in the US is to stop by six or twelve months, that little one is still your wee baby the day after that first birthday. Your milk is still a huge benefit to your growing child. There are some wonderful resources available online that make the case for nursing toddlers. I’m always happy to talk about this and share our experiences, as well.
And a bonus, #6: Library story times. Here in Columbus, we are blessed with an incredible, award-winning library system with thousands of baby, toddler and family story times throughout the week and on weekends all year long. Look up the closest location to you and make it a point to go even with very young babies. Inspire a lifelong love of reading, get babies used to the rhythm of being read to by people other than family members, learn tips for reading aloud at home, and enjoy the assorted fun and excitement that goes on at these events including puppet shows, songs and music, special guests (mascots, celebrities, you name it), stickers and hand stamps, and getting to meet the talented librarians who host them.
For more information about library story times, visit your library’s website or get hooked up with a local resource like Macaroni Kid for event listings and times. We love our story times at New Albany library and try never to miss them! They are free, they give your kids a chance to be social with other kids, and they often pack as much learning and fun into 20 minutes as many “mommy and me” classes for which we’ve coughed up hard-earned cash.
And those, fellow parents and friends, are my favorite baby and toddler hacks. What am I missing? I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.