Bringing a child into this world is exciting, and for most new parents a little bit scary as well. Even seasoned parents will tell you that every child is different and number two (or three or four) is as much a life-changing event as the first. Unlike everything else in our modern world, a child doesn’t come with a 10-minute YouTube instructional video. And what works for one parent, might not work for the other. But there are some universal guidelines backed by science to preparing your environment to welcome a new child in the family. Before you go and buy “the internet”, consider what an infant really needs during the first year of its life outside of the womb. And use the things you already have to meet those needs and make the new baby feel welcome from day one.
Understanding your child’s needs
So, what does a child really need? Most of us have a vague idea of what a newborn might need. Sleep for instance. Babies are supposed to sleep a lot. They also get hungry quite often. They need diapers and clothing. But beyond that, we’re often not sure. Scientific research has shown that the child below the age of three needs a bunch of things. But it’s not what we’re led to believe by the big brands. Although gadgets are nice to have, what a child really needs is love and support from a caregiver (or two or three!) and the opportunity for safe exploration. They need order to feel secure and firm, but kind limits when they start to test boundaries. To feel capable, they need to be able to assert their independence. And to thrive, a child needs to communicate and interact with others. Preparing your home with these goals in mind ensures that your child’s immediate environment will meet their changing development needs as they grow as much as it meets yours.
Adapting your home for your newborn
Although a newborn is dependent on a caregiver to meet most of its needs, there are a few areas in your home you can adapt to ensure he or she feels welcome from day one. A welcoming home encourages movement, order, communication and concentration among other things. Montessori parent guide and home consultant Jeanne-Marie Paynel shares useful tips on how to prepare your home to welcome your child over at Voilà Montessori. Here are some of the areas she recommends adapting as your child grows: the movement area, the physical care area, the sleeping area and the feeding area.
The movement area
Infants learn by observing their surroundings and there is nothing more unwelcoming than being kept in a box or behind bars all day. Consider ditching the bassinet or play pen and clear an area in a common room of your home, such as the living room, where your child is able to move freely and watch the happenings in the home. A thin mattress or soft rug can be an ideal soft surface for your child to work out those muscles. Add a low shatter proof mirror to aid development and make sure the area is big enough for you to be able to get on baby’s level and interact with him or her.
The physical care area
This area can be as simple as a changing table with the items you need to care for your baby. Choose a changing table that allows you to stand at your child’s feet, so that you are able to make eye contact with your newborn. Diaper changes are great opportunities for you to connect with your baby. Involve the baby in the daily routines by narrating what you are doing. And never mind the “goo goo ga ga”. Give your child a head start in life by talking in simple, but complete sentences. If you feel silly talking to your baby like an adult, you can ease yourself into it by singing songs instead.
The sleeping area
Sleep has been a controversial topic, mostly because (new) parents have unreasonable expectations of what a baby’s sleep patterns should be. It has been scientifically proven that children tend to sleep better when they are able to feel safe and secure. How a family feels they are able to meet these needs is a very personal choice and varies widely from family to family. Whatever works for you and your family, strive to keep the sleeping area calm and clutter free to encourage rest.
The feeding area
Newborns tend to feed frequently, and most caregivers don’t pay any special attention to what the feeding area looks like. For breastfeeding moms, it is recommended to have a designated feeding area, especially in the beginning when both you and baby get the hang of things, where you keep a stash of snacks, water and any other items you need to feel relaxed. As the child gets older and starts exploring solids, a designated feeding area would be great to encourage independence.