Start being a baby!

New exhibit takes parents through 1st year of their children's lives.

adult baby 88 248 (photo credit: Aimee Neistat)
adult baby 88 248
(photo credit: Aimee Neistat)
What do I do when my baby cries? How do I know what he wants and needs? Am I doing the right things as a parent? According to developmental and educational psychologist Avital Jacobi, these are the most burning questions for parents with infants. In light of the "Pampers House - Seeing the world through a baby's eyes" exhibition, which opened in Tel Aviv on November 7 and in Bnei Brak on December 7, Metro spoke to Jacobi about a baby's first three developmental stages and got some parenting advice. The exhibition, which has toured the globe, visiting Switzerland, Turkey, the Philippines, the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, aims to help parents understand how a baby experiences life, what it needs and how parents can communicate with their babies at each developmental stage. Created by the first company in the world to mass market disposable diapers, the 160-square-meter exhibition is arranged in three rooms, representing the various stages of a baby's development: newborn, crawling and "independence." Each room contains oversized models that illustrate a baby's point of view and gives adults a sense of how babies perceive this big, new world. According to Jacobi: "The better we understand how a baby sees the world, learns it and develops, the better we will be able to [meet its] needs, adjust the environment to the specific developmental stage the baby is in, and do everything in our power to make the baby feel confident and peaceful to explore the new world." Contrary to the common perception of childhood as happy, a baby's first couple of years are full of difficulties, uncertainty, and feelings of helplessness and insecurity. Jacobi says that the role of parents is to "make their babies feel secure while at the same time provide them with the right amount of the appropriate stimuli without making it too difficult or too easy." Via oversized objects and multimedia displays, the exhibit attempts to give adults an experience of the fear and intrigue that babies experience. Trained guides escort visitors through the exhibition, giving advice on how to interact with a baby at each developmental stage. Metro got a sneak preview on the contents of the Pampers House and the parenting advice visitors can expect to receive there. Pathway to the first room - The Womb Visitors walk through a tunnel that simulates the womb. In the background they can hear the sound of a heart beating and a mother's voice. "Researchers say that from the 25th week of pregnancy, babies begin to register in their memory the pieces of music they hear frequently. Once born, they will prefer the music stored in their memory to any other sound," said Jacobi. Jacobi encourages parents to play music - preferably classical - during pregnancy. Music both excites and relaxes babies, and when they hear familiar music after birth they feel safer and are more easily lulled to sleep. The first room - Newborn After the "womb" comes a room that simulates the newborn's perspective. Objects that seem ordinary to adults are huge and incomprehensible to an infant. Toys, a lamp, bed and mobile are all represented as gigantic, even intimidating. Adults can lie in an oversized crib and watch a short video that illustrates the baby's senses of sight and sound at this early stage. Their sight is blurred and thus they are attracted to moving objects and those with sharply contrasting colors. Babies can discern mainly the eyes and hairline on human faces and are particularly attracted to their mother's face because it is accompanied by a familiar smell and voice. Since newborns can't see clearly beyond 25 centimeters, Jacobi suggests parents bring their faces as close as 25 cm from the baby's face or place pictures and objects in this range. Mobiles can be hung above the baby's crib or playpen, because they enjoy following moving objects. It is also recommended that new toys or objects be shown to the baby by moving them slowly from side to side along the baby's field of vision. Parents should be cautious not to overload the baby with stimuli, as it might make the baby restless, says Jacobi. "One or two images at a time are enough. Changing the image every now and then will arouse the baby's curiosity," she says. Babies hear far better than they see and soon learn to distinguish their mothers' voice. The baby understands its mother's intonations of her voice, combined with her movements. The softer the mother talks, the more relaxed the baby feels. Jacobi says that parents should be conscious of the tones they use when speaking to babies. It is important to use emphases and changes in pitch. If everything sounds alike, the baby finds it hard to draw meaning from what it hears. The second room - Crawling The second room represents the second developmental stage, where the baby is between four and 12 months old. At this stage, they can roll over, crawl, sit up, stand up and walk. Their increased mobility leads to increased independence and a desire to explore. Babies enjoy exploring objects with their mouths, for the mouth is highly receptive to touch. "It is important not to stifle the baby's instinct to reach everywhere, touch and put objects into its mouth. However, it's necessary to make sure the baby's surroundings are safe," says Jacobi. Fragile items should not be within reach so that a parent does not have to say "no" all the time. When parents do say "no," they should physically remove the unsafe object from the baby's grasp. The baby should be given an alternative object to explore, Jacobi says. This prevents the baby from being left unsure of what to do, helps divert its attention from focusing on the forbidden object and avoids discouraging exploration altogether. Jacobi herself is a mother of three. After visiting the exhibit she realized something new about her own one-year-old. When he tries a new food, the first bite is very unpleasant. He plays with the food with his hands and sometimes makes a mess before putting it into his mouth. "I realized that the reason why he wants to touch the food and feel its texture is that each time he [encounters a new] food he has no idea what the texture or taste will be like - whether it will be sweet, sour or salty. But he explores the food [with his hands]… so that the next time he sees the same food coming he'll know or assume what it will taste like," said Jacobi. She imagines that when a baby tries new food it is like an adult being blindfolded and food spooned into their mouth. For most people, this would be a "very unpleasant experience," she says. The second room provides rubber gloves that adults can put on and then use to attempt to pick up large puzzle pieces. This is intended to illustrate the difficulties babies face when attempting to exercise imperfect fine motor skills. "The gloves really made tangible the problems a baby faces when trying to pick something up. At the time [we adults] think, 'What, he can't pick it up?' but [at the exhibition] you realize why he really can't," Yaniv Gatot, a visitor at the exhibition, tells Metro. Gatot said that after having three children he had already learned how a child experiences growing up in a world built for adults, but that the exhibit illustrated to a certain degree what it must physically feel like to be a baby. He suggested that the exhibition would be of increased value for people who were having their first child. The room also displays a huge model of a mother with outstretched arms into which the baby attempts to take its first steps. According to Jacobi, if a baby trips while attempting to walk, it is important not to panic, for the parent's reaction may scare the baby and prevent it from trying again. "The parent's response has a big influence on how the baby feels about not succeeding. What they understand is that when they try to do new things there is a danger that they can fail and that failure is something very bad. If this continues, then in the years to come they could become perfectionists because they see every failure as a total failure and they can't see their failures or mistakes as part of learning. I can see in my clinic that this starts from an early age," Jacobi explains. The third room - Independence The third stage of development occurs when the baby is approximately a year old. The baby can now stand up, walk around furniture while holding onto it and walk with no support. This mobility allows the baby to explore independently of its parents and discover things that were not previously visible. This room features an oversized toilet seat, dinner table and chairs. The huge furniture gives adults an idea of how the house looks to the baby who can - at this stage of its development - independently explore the various rooms in the house. The toilet was one of the biggest eye-openers for Vivi Rechnitz, who - until she visited the exhibition - could not understand why she finds toilet training her four-year-old son so difficult. "[The toilet] looks so big now. I can understand now why he doesn't want to sit on it," she said. There are also giant markers with which visitors can attempt to draw and experience the unsteadiness of controlling such a heavy object as they slide it over the paper. Jacobi recommends that by the time a baby reaches the independence stage, his or her parents should have adjusted the house so that the space in which the baby can safely explore is as large as possible. In doing so, parents should consider what types of objects are within the baby's reach. Jacobi recommends that parents respect the baby's need to explore independently. "Allow them to move away, trust them and know that they will always return to [you]," she said. Jacobi tells the story of a "somewhat antisocial" client who had a two-year-old son. One day, the mother let him out of his high chair and he began walking toward another family. The mother was furious because she felt as though her child was betraying her. What she didn't realize was that the child's wandering was a good sign: he was being social and independent. "When the child goes [away] it means that he is developing well and that the relationship between the mother and the child is [sound]," Jacobi says. Children feel safe when their parents are around. "[Parents should] oversee the child but not stay too close," Jacobi recommends. She says it's important for parents to make sure the baby understands his parents are the "safe base" to which they can return whenever they feel the need to "refuel" with confidence before going back to explore. In its first two years, a baby will learn more than it will in any other single year of its entire life, according to Jacobi. "Every minute that he or she is awake it learns, grasps, hears and uses all its senses. That's why when we want to change the baby's diaper, it doesn't want to lie down. [The baby] is very busy, trying to explore and learn," Jacobi explains. Most of the parents interviewed said the exhibition made "tangible" what they already knew about how children perceive the world. Many said they did not think the exhibition would make them better parents. However, most interviewees did say the exhibition expanded their ability to empathize with their children. "It's important to see how a baby sees and experiences [the world]. This is very tangible here. It doesn't matter how much you read it in books or people explain it to you, [this exhibition allows] you to suddenly see it - it's very interesting," said one visitor, Hadar, who is a mother of two. The developmental stages on which the exhibition and Jacobi's theories are based belong to the branch of developmental psychology that asserts that motor development has a direct influence on a baby's emotional development. In Jacobi's opinion, the exhibition provides a "fresh and unique experience, unlike reading an article or looking at your baby." The Pampers House exhibition will be open at the Tel Aviv Seaport, near the Shilav Zone, from November 7-29 between 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and in Bnei Brak on Hazon Ish Street from December 7-12 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Entrance is free.