A NEW brain-building campaign is being launched in Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan to help parents support their baby’s development. Many new families have been left wondering the impact the closure of baby groups and soft play centres, and the reduced interaction with family and friends, will have had on their baby.

During a virtual focus group with parents and early years practitioners, parents shared the challenges of caring for a baby born during the pandemic and the additional strains placed on new families.

Rebecca from Caerphilly is mum to 6-month-old Owen. She says: “We’ve been lucky enough to be in a bubble with my parents for a while, because it is tough to begin with. Anyone who has done it alone during lockdown, fair play to them.”

Helen from the Vale of Glamorgan, who is mum to 19-week-old Shepherd, adds: “I really enjoy it, it’s great having a baby and really fun, but it’s such hard work. We haven’t had a support bubble or anything, just my husband and I, Shepherd hasn’t even met any of my family yet so that’s been tough. I think things like not being able to have coffee mornings or baby classes has been really hard.”

To help reassure parents and increase their confidence, NSPCC Cymru/Wales is launching its Look Say Sing Play campaign in partnership with Cardiff Council, The Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board, and Cymraeg for Kids project.

The baby brain-building campaign highlights to parents how their interactions with their new baby in every day moments can help with their development. Parents are encouraged to take a look at what their baby is focusing on and how they react, say what they are doing and copy the sounds their baby makes, sing along to their favourite tune or play simple games and see what their baby enjoys.

Families piloting the campaign’s tips and activities say they’ve noticed a change in their baby’s development and that it’s given them confidence as parents.

Helen and baby Shepherd have been trialing Look Say Sing Play

Rebecca says: “For me there were some activities we hadn’t ever done before, there were some that we had done in singing and sign language classes, and there are some that you just naturally do. It was just clarifying you’re doing the right thing and what language to use as well with your baby and seeing what their reaction is too, which is really interesting.”

“We fit the activities into our daily routine, so the activity around different emotions we’ll do when he’s in the bath if he’s getting a bit angsty.  We’ve been doing the activities for a few weeks and it’s interesting to see how much he had progressed too, with skills such as grip and eye-contact.”

Helen adds: “The science explaining how each activity is going to help his brain development or personal development was really reassuring and has definitely made me more confident playing with him.

“I would definitely recommend it. I think when you are a new parent a lot of things seem quite big and scary and new, but I think it’s reassuring that this is all very straightforward, there’s nothing complicated – you don’t have to be good at singing or anything.

“One of the things we learnt was a song where you have to smile at them and then do a sad face, and then do a sleepy face, and then something noisy. Knowing that that is actually developing his personal skills and increasing his emotional intelligence, that has really stuck in my head. I love learning that sort of thing and the more of that I know the more I am enjoying it.”

The NSPCC has produced a series of YouTube videos showing mums and dads at home trying out the Look Say Sing Play tips with their little ones, using only what they can find around the house. It also explains how each fun task helps their child’s brain to develop.

Local campaigns manager at NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Emma Motherwell says: “Our research shows how many parents and expectant parents are unaware that the interactions with their new baby in moments such as playing, singing or story time can be brain-building ones.

“Parents have faced a huge amount of time without baby groups, soft play, playgrounds or seeing friends and family. Parents and early years practitioners are understandably worried about the long-term impact this may have on children.

Baby Owen has been trialing Look Say Sing Play with mum Rebecca

“We hope our Look Say Sing Play campaign will help parents bond with their children and reassure them by sharing the science behind it. The tips are all about the fun you can have with what’s lying around the house, rather than creating an extra expense or adding to the list of things parents already have to do.”

Some early years practitioners across Cardiff and The Vale have been piloting the scheme with families they work with.

Kathryn, a health visitor working in Cardiff says: “Look Say Sing Play is such a simple approach that parents I’ve worked with really responded well to. It’s great to talk to them about activities they can do easily, without the need for expensive toys, and help them understand how all the little things they do are building their baby’s brain. I’m looking forward to using this approach with more families and would highly recommend it to others.”

Abigail Atkinson, an Early Years Practitioner for The Vale of Glamorgan Flying Start added: “It’s great, because it’s so accessible for all families no matter their budget. The response has been really good from families both virtually and during home visits.

“With the home visit that I did the mum was actually quite surprised because her little boy usually flits between activities quite a lot and she was really surprised with how long he sat at that activity and engaged with it.

“One of the benefits of it is how simple it is. Sometimes with sessions we may have to take a big bag of various activities, whereas Look Say Sing Play is really simple and very effective.”

Donna, a Flying Start Health Visitor in Cardiff says: “Look Say Sing Play is a really useful tool we can use to talk about development, bonding, family relationships and having fun. It’s an easy way for families to support their baby’s development and have these lovely experiences with their children and it’s really easy to fit in our Flying Start programme.

“I think it’s been really beneficial and I’m definitely going to keep using it. There are so many lovely ways we can promote and role this out to our families and we’ve had some really positive responses from health professionals and families.”

Parents can sign-up to get weekly tips via NSPCC website. Each one will include a fun, age-appropriate tip which they can easily fit in to their daily routine.