Playing with your baby


Playing with your baby is wiring-up their brain [this will link to the Under the Bonnet page]. It helps your baby feel safe (creates secure attachment) helps you get to know your baby and what is special about them.


Play teaches your baby how the world works and how to get along with people. (social skills) that prepares them for the future. For dads (and mums), playing with your baby an important part of your job as parents.

How do newborns "play"?


A very young baby is “playing” when they are looking at a human face and getting a reaction. This is a big deal! For a baby, playing is about being looked at and being talked to. You know they’re doing it if they are responding to you.


Examples of playing with a very young baby might be for you to make BIG expressions at the baby, like smiling or raising your eyebrows or going booga booga, sticking your tongue out or playing peek-a-boo. They might smile, they might just be watching you, but they know you are playing with them.


How you play with the baby is important


For play to be good for your child, you need to follow their lead. That means:

  • Doing what the baby wants to do, not just you want them to do.

  • Your baby needs you to respond positively to what they are doing or saying with a smile or a clap or some other kind of congratulations.

  • Your baby needs you to help them when they get stuck and can’t figure out what to do next.

Mums and dads tend to play differently with a baby


When it comes to play, mums tend to be:

  • more inward

  • quieter sheltering.


Dads tend to be:

  • more teasing

  • more active play

  • let the child go further before pulling them back

  • using more active or challenging language


These roles may be reversed in some families.

The different ways parents play with the baby are good for the baby. There is something about the contrast between two styles that helps with the baby’s brain development. And research links they dad playing with his baby results in the child do well when they are first introduced to maths.

Tips for playing with a baby

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It is good for your baby when you:

  • Watch for their reaction when you do something

    • show them that you are happy with them

  • If the baby shows their interest and reaches for something, explain what it is

    • without over doing it, every interaction is a learning opportunity

  • Follow your baby’s lead

    • if they are looking at something, you can look at it too, and talk to them about it or show it to them, or let them show it to you

  • Give your baby a toy (or anything that’s safe) and then see what they do with it

    • it’s okay if they don’t do it the “right way”, let them do it their way

  • Encourage your baby to give things a try, even if it’s as simple as smiling or reaching for something

    • be pleased with what they are doing unless it's is going to be harmful


Any time can be play time. Looking your baby in the eye and talking to them while you are changing the nappy is playtime.  


Going deeper into play.


Your baby’s attention span


Young babies have a short attention span. Your baby won’t be able to keep up with play sessions for long. You need to read their signals that tell you when they’ve had enough. These signals are:

  • Looking away from you

  • Making certain sounds you will come to recognise

  • Fidgeting and acting like they are frustrated or upset


When your baby gives you one of these signals, give them a break by looking away or stop doing what you are doing. Sometimes they will want to go straight back to what you were doing, or they may be over it for the time being. Play is about watching them and getting an idea of what they are wanting to do. Babies communicates a lot – just not with words.


Where you play with your baby

Your baby won’t be able to concentrate if there are things about that are distracting:

  • Noise or sounds, like you talking to someone else or someone talking to you

  • The tv or radio (you may not even notice but the baby is) make it difficult for a baby


Repetition is how babies learn


Babies and toddlers often want to do the same things over and over and over. Or they want you to read the same book again and again. That’s good, they are still learning something even though you may be over it. Early learning is all about repetition. One-off things don’t make much of an impression on a baby. By doing things or hearing things many times, they are learning.

Playing with the baby is an important part of parenting.

Talking is part of play

Just because your baby can’t talk back to you with words yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening and learning from you. By listening to you talk, your baby is learning to talk themself. Your baby will “talk” to you by making sounds long before they are capable of saying a word.


By talking to your baby and explaining what you are both doing when you are with them – they feel they have your attention, and they are learning heaps.