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First Smiles

Little brings parents more pleasure than when their baby first smiles and laughs. While past generations have tried to convince parents that these early smiles are merely gas (since when does that make anyone smile?), it's more likely a survival instinct for a very young baby. Desmond Morris, researcher and author of Babywatching (Crown), believes that these first grins, called "reflex" smiles, are designed to do just what they do?please grown-ups. They are an instinctive mechanism to make babies more appealing and thus safer. Since even blind children who never see a smile, display the reflex smile, Morris believes that these grins are innate, rather than learned, behavior.

Morris reports that the learned smile, which lasts longer and involves the whole face, emerges around the time a baby reaches 4 weeks of age. A child's eyes twinkle and real joy can be glimpsed. When the baby is about 4 months old, the smile becomes a more specific response to stimuli, such as seeing Mom or Dad. As Penelope Leach writes in her book Babyhood (Knopf), "(The baby's) smile and his 'talk' are an immediate reward to the mother who has torn herself out of deep sleep to feed him in the night."

Your baby's smiles will soon turn to laughter, and that's when the fun really starts. Your little one will play jokes, like dropping a toy over and over and laughing every time it's picked back up. Laughing makes babies feel good, so they repeat the process. Many experts have found that infants laugh on a regular basis when they recognize their mothers and have a strong bond with them.

Surprisingly, for some young children the experiences that make them laugh also carry an element of fear. Tickling a baby or playing Peek-a-boo, for instance, can be quite startling, and chuckles are usually delayed until the baby sees a parent's smiling face and feels his secure arms again. After a few tickles, fear gives way to trust and pleasure.

Infants will naturally find joy in their lives as long as they feel safe and loved. Parents can help them by playing simple, safe games and modeling lots of smiles, guffaws, and grins.

Home Safe Home

The March of Dimes Web site (www.modimes.com) offers a 10-point Home Safety Checklist that pinpoints potential problems for new babies. Areas of concern include smoking, the age and condition of your home, safe paint removal, carbon monoxide and radon emissions, well water and tap water toxins, and the dangers of pesticides. The site offers helpful tips and numbers to call to schedule appropriate testing in your home.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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