1. Read to your child
According to the National Literacy Trust, reading to your child every day from birth will build their vocabulary, imagination, self-esteem and even improve their sleeping patterns. “Read to your child way above their ability,” says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. “Sing to them too, because language is a lot about intonation. Keep talking. Nothing predicts a child’s ability more in school than linguistic skills.”
2. Stop looking at your phone
Babies and young children learn to read emotion from their caregiver’s face. So look at them. Give them your full attention and carry them in a sling or push them in a buggy facing you. As your toddler starts to develop language, look at them when they’re speaking. “When your child wants to talk to you, stop and listen,” says Blair. “It will help their sense of self-esteem, knowing they are valued, and help their sense of security, safety and confidence.”
It also increases the likelihood they will come to you later on, as teenagers, when they want to talk.
3. Name what you’re seeing, doing and feeling
When we say “ooh look, it’s a dog,” we’re labelling it, and this helps our infant focus their attention. Which, says Dr Louise Dalton, a consultant clinical psychologist, is beneficial for your child’s intellectual development. Naming emotions is also important for teaching them to talk about feelings throughout their life.
“This can start really early, when babies are tiny,” says Dalton. So you might say, ‘You look really sad,’ if they are crying. “As babies grow, you can label feelings by saying something like ‘you look really cross’ or ‘that’s really frustrating’ as well as positive emotional states.”
It’s important for adults to talk about how they’re feeling too, she says. “This gives children a model of how we talk about emotions, and also teaches them that everyone can feel nervous, or a bit worried, or frustrated sometimes.”
4. Share your infant with others
You may think spending every second of the day with your preschooler makes you a better parent; but, says Blair, exposing them to the care of others helps make them socially flexible and teaches them to adapt in future when they change schools or teachers, for instance. The obvious caveat: “They have to be loving carers,” says Blair. If they are, then the bigger the population of the village raising your child, the better.
5. Play simple memory games
All babies have to learn executive function skills — those that help with planning, remembering, organising, and so on. “We can think of these like air traffic control skills,” says Dalton. “We have all these planes taking off and landing in our mental air space. These are skills we’re not born with but can actively learn over time. And we can play a really important role in helping a child develop those skills way before they get to school, for example, through memory games such as head, shoulders, knees and toes.”
6. Hang a mobile over their cot
Babies are born without depth perception. For a while, the distance newborns can focus on stretches roughly from a person’s chest to their face. A mobile, says Blair, is very good for their eyesight development.
7. Speak in a sing-song ‘baby’ voice
It may come naturally, or you may find it embarrassing at first, but parents find themselves adopting the sing-song voice known as “parentese” with their infants for a reason. “Babies will attend much more when we’re using parentese,” says Dalton. “There’s a nice vocal range, we’re quite repetitive.”
Singing the old familiar nursery rhymes is also beneficial. “Babies learn the predictability of that and get ready for the anticipation of lines like ‘...and tickle you under there!’ It teaches them to attend to things and hang on for a period of time. They’re learning to stay focused and keep their attention on you, which is important for school readiness.”
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023
Telegraph Media Group Limited