Ten ways to get your baby to smile at you

23Oct08
This baby elephant is likely to draw more traffic to this blog than any of the advice I dish.

This smiling baby elephant is likely to draw more traffic to this blog than any of my jokes.

After six to eight weeks of short breaks of silence as the only reward for good parenting, you begin to develop a bad attitude. You start calling your child names – at first innocuous ones, like “meanie” or maybe even “jerk,” but you quickly progress to inappropriate terms like “dickhead” and “ungrateful rat bastard.”

Your wife may be alerted to this regression when she first sees your eyebrow twitching and your voice rising a bit too high when asking her questions. Your coworkers notice you have stopped mentioning your child’s every facial expression and that you now just kind of mutter under your breath when they ask about him out of obligation. Upside is they do actually like you a bit more for now.

And just as you start trying to decide whether you are a horrible horrible person for even conjuring the image of adding a Jackson Pollack effect to the nursery mural by hurling the screaming devil-child against the wall, something happens.

The ungrateful rat bastard looks up at you and grins for the first time.

At once, like a quickening in The Highlander, some kind of lightning-forged parenting mojo rushes through you. That feeling of instant adoration you had when he was first born that seemed two minutes ago like stupid idealism – it comes back, doubled and infused with endorphins not seen since your most chemically adventurous years. You realize you suddenly have the power to lift automobiles with one hand while spinning the baby on a finger and singing a German march in falsetto.

The sheer joy of your baby smiling is plain addictive. You will be consumed with getting him to do it again. Your desire to earn a smile will send you down some strange pathways.

There’s no point in me trying to get you to calm down and stop seeking your child’s validation. Once your kid has flashed his gums at you, you will find yourself competing directly with your wife. I am currently winning this contest in my household, simply because I am more willing to make a fool of myself. I suppose I should tell you that they will love you equally even if you don’t make special efforts to get them to smile at you. And that there’s no point competing for your child’s love, anyway.

Another slightly relevant attempt at readership through Google Image search.

Another slightly relevant attempt at readership through Google Image search.

But we both know that’s not true. The parent with the most smiles by Month Three wins. First one to get a giggle advances to the next round. So here’s how to kick your wife’s ass.

1. Laugh. Just get some eye contact going and start giggling. Your kid won’t want to be left out and will act as if he’s in on the joke. If you need something to make you start laughing, consider that I secretly hope someone will someday pay me to write stuff like this.

2. Contort your face. This one is an elementary but time tested tactic. It has many variations and I do encourage you to create your own expressions. But I have done extensive research in this category so I’d like to recommend a few facial expressions that seem to work best. I’d describe the most effective as “oh my, I think my nose might have fallen off,” which amounts to a surprised expression and crossed eyes. Coming in second would be “I’m trying to lick my eye but my nose keeps getting in the way.” Third place would have to be “Baby Fishmouth.” An honorable mention goes to “for a vice-presidential candidate, my grasp of simple macro-economic principles is alarmingly cursory,” which looks a lot like the first place one but requires glasses to be worn at the same time. Whatever your crazy facial expression, just be sure you always straighten it back up again and smile each time. You don’t want your child to think you’re ugly.

3. The Boop Game. Even before your kid has ever cracked a smile, you can get him to interact while playing this game. The surprised reaction you get at first will turn to smiles in a few sessions. Start out standing over your baby like you normally would when he’s on the dressing table. But then take a sudden loud breath and say “Aaaaaaaah” in a rising tone as you slowly bring your face closer to him. Just as you touch your nose to his, say, “Boop!” in a high pitched tone. Lather and repeat. Soon your baby will be conditioned to get ready to laugh whenever you take that sudden gasp.

4. Finger Dance. A rare talent among Type A personalities and other employed folks, most Type B folks possess this ability and will tell you that finger dancing is a fantastic way to pass the time while Type As tell you about all the crap they have been doing all day. Not as many realize that it is also an excellent way to get your baby to smile. Because infants are notoriously under-scheduled, they immediately gravitate toward these Type B-type amusements. Once you’re pretty good, you can use both hands at once, creating an opportunity to practice your couples moves for the as-yet-to-premiere Finger Dancing with The Stars.

5. Lip-sync songs that don’t match your appearance. This worked great for Rudy in The Cosby Show, and it will work for you too. Because infants seem to like higher tones more than low ones, it’s natural that the lip syncing fit is unnatural. But babies are sticklers for lip-sync accuracy, so don’t think you can fake your way through this one or they’ll lose interest in you and seek the sound source with their eyes. Pick something you know, or study hard – and be as animated as possible during your performance or you will not move on to Hollywood. Song choices are very personal, of course, but I exclusively employ Patti LaBelle.

6. Watch sports while holding your child. Your nonsensical outbursts in response to whatever is going on with that noisy light emitting box you call a TV sometimes seem to your baby to be bits of carefully choreographed comic genius. Don’t ask me why Buster thinks it’s funny when I object to an errant throw by Neckbeard, but he does. Maybe he’s a Redskins fan.

7. The disappearing head trick. This is a variation on peek-a-boo for those of us who find it wholly unconvincing. I mean, clearly you haven’t disappeared just by putting your hands in front of your face. And I don’t want my kid to think that I think I’m being tricky just for doing that. I believe that my child will expect better special effects out of his entertainment options. So, for this you will need a high-necked sweater or turtleneck. Get some good eye contact going and then pull your head into your shirt. Make a muffled sound and flail your arms around the void where your head should be as if you are having a hard time finding it as well. Then pop it out and say, “Here I am!” or “There’s Daddy!” or “Who’s really good looking?!”

8. Use a mirror. Maybe it’s genetic, but Buster loves the sight of his own image. You can’t blame him really, because he’s almost as good looking as his Dad. Once he does catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he’s pretty captivated and always flirts with the gorgeous hunk of baby flirting right back at him. If you don’t have one of those little plastic mirrors for babies, just show him himself in the bathroom vanity mirror or the one on the back of your door. That first moment of eye contact with his own reflection is pretty fun to watch. Note – don’t use this tactic if you have an ugly baby.

9. The Falling Leaf. Related in concept to the Boop Game, the falling leaf calls for greater distances for depth perception development. With your kid on his back on his play-mat and you standing up, make one of your hands all jazzy (like when you do the sign for rain falling in Itsy Bitsy Spider) until you get his attention. Hold it above your head and have it float down like a leaf or a feather would, going back and forth on the way down until you touch your baby’s nose lightly. Now, smack yourself in the face soundly for doing Jazz hands.

10. Generate some sound effects. Transform yourself into that guy from Police Academy and create a menu of sound effects that you use on a regular basis. My favorite is “Diaper Changing Robot” where I imagine myself as an assembly line automotive robot while changing him and every move of my arms requires a “veeeeeee,” “whirrrrr,” or “zzeeeeep.” Once he’s completely changed there is also celebration sound that sounds kind of like “pongpittapittapongpong – DING.” Buster seems to enjoy this almost as much as I do.

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22 Responses to “Ten ways to get your baby to smile at you”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    Great tips for getting some laughs and smiles. Might also just be the way you look that is making him laugh 🙂 at least that is what I think happens in my case with my daughter 🙂 What I find really cracks her up is singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to her… give it a try!

  2. I guess I just encountered a wrinkle in time or a wrinkle in the web… somehow that “Anonymous” comment above was marked “Anonymous” but it was actually from yours truly, in case you were wondering who that witty and clever comment came from lol

  3. You’re awesome.

    This is fantastic. Have you seen this video of the laughing baby?? And a dad is behind it. Thought it very fitting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P6UU6m3cqk

  4. That’s so funny. I love the detail; I’m pretty sure I can picture all of those contorted faces. Glad you’re back to liking the baby. 🙂

  5. Add “barking like a dog” to your list of sound effects…you might just be amazed.
    Just tweeted about this the other day…

  6. Isn’t it absurd the things we do as parents to get our little ankle bighters to laugh and smile. Noises always work great. My favorite is to shake my face untill my cheeks and lips are dangling from side to side flapping in the wind. My five month old gets a kick out of that. Of course, I need to put one of his bibs on me from all the flying slobber.

    Yeah and I can’t help but make my face hurt from smiling in reaction to my boys laughing and smiling.

  7. love the tips, another idea is the pretending to get hurt or fall, some reason a baby loves seeing this. I mean I’m normally a clutz but mine all love seeing me get hurt. 🙂

    http://www.babylune.com

  8. Great tip, seeing smile in baby face is feel of beening in heaven

  9. 10 lily

    hahah this blog is funny. and yes i found this page through google image search

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  11. 12 ande

    LOL nice work

  12. 13 Gina L

    Just wanted to say that this image did in fact lead me to your blog.. found it through Google images 🙂

  13. As the other commenter said, pretending to fall or bump into things really works. And you may notice that they do this in lots of childrens tv programmes, like telly tubbies and more. In general doing silly stuff with food also works too. Give it a try for yourself.

  14. Great image – “a picture paints a thousand words” – and then some more

  15. 16 Tom

    Dunno about my baby daughter but this made me laugh so hard at work my colleagues looked at me strangely, or stranger than normal, actually, the same as they always do since i became a dad and started acting odd.

    Brilliant stuff.

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