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Watcha Lookin' at, Kid? All About the Baby Stare

Photo by Jesse Weinberg / Stocksy United / 1250401
Photo by Jesse Weinberg / Stocksy United

Does your baby gaze at the ceiling fan as it endlessly whirs? Does she stare at your golden retriever every time he’s near? Does he fixate on shadows on the wall for what seems like a very long time?

Obviously your baby can’t tell you what she’s thinking—yet. So what’s going on in your little gawker’s brain?

Babies are captivated by anything they can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Why? Because at this age, they’re building connections with the world through their five senses—and some of their earliest sensory experiences will be through sight.

Everything your baby sees creates connections in his brain and contributes to his learning. Because of the newness of it all, your baby will often notice details that your adult brain automatically screen out, like the sound of water from the faucet, the hum of a refrigerator, or the ceiling fan spinning around overhead.

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In other words, when your wide-eyed munchkin is gazing intently at something, it’s because her brain is processing new information and building a foundation for the world around her.

On the flipside, sometimes your baby may stare off into space because he just wants to chill out from sensory overload. Just as adults may retreat to a quiet space to unwind from the stress of constant motion and input, babies sometimes need to do the same. After all, they are rapidly taking in a whole new world—and that can be tiring!

Your tiny world gazer is only just beginning to connect the dots to everything he sees. If you can tune into what he’s paying attention to, you’ll be able to read his cues more skillfully—and nurture his growing mind. Here are a few tips to help you see the world through his awestruck eyes!
  • Keep it moving. Babies are drawn to things that move, and studying them will eventually help him identify the objects that are part of his world. Once he’s mastered the ability to recognize an object, he’ll begin learning he has the power to change how an object moves. For example, he’ll realize that he can use his hands (or his feet) to make a mobile dance overhead. (Which also is a parental cue to raise the mobile higher!)

  • Provide contrast. Contrast can fascinate babies! Think two contrasting colors side-by-side or even contrasting outlines, such as where the edge of a table meets the surface of a wall. Both of these can capture your baby’s attention and cause her to stare intently.

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  • Change it up! Did you catch your baby staring at a stranger’s beard or eyeglasses? She’s probably never seen a human face with those characteristics! Babies stare longer at objects that are new to them.

  • Take cues from your baby. What may be enjoyable to one baby can be scary to another. Let’s say you’ve got the most amazing mobile in your baby’s crib. Take some time to observe her response to it. If she looks away or attempts to distract herself after a while, that’s her signal that it’s time to turn off the sound and movement, or that she needs a different view.
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