Raise a Happy Baby

A month-by-month guide to the toys and games that help build brainpower -- without overstimulating your little one's senses.

Birth to 1 month

To keep your baby entertained and give him a leg up on learning, you may have bought him a stack of educational videos, a shelf full of pop-up books, and the latest electronic toys. After all, you figure, giving your child a smart start in life can't hurt. But the truth is, overstimulating your baby can backfire. In fact, pushing toys and activities that are beyond an infant's capacity may raise his level of the stress hormone cortisol, which interferes with the brain's ability to function well, says Parents adviser Craig Ramey, Ph.D., coauthor of Right From Birth: Building Your Child's Foundation for Life.

But there is an easy way to ensure that your little one gets the right amount of stimulation: Follow his cues. Studies show that babies are preprogrammed to seek out exactly the activity they need, so fill your home with sights and sounds appropriate to his age, and let him decide what captures his interest.

What Your Baby Learns: Newborns depend on you completely, so the most important thing your infant learns in the first four weeks is to trust you, says Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib.

Brain Boosters: Give your child your undivided attention, gentle words, and a loving touch, and respond quickly to her cries. Providing security will help your infant understand that her world is a safe place.

Keep in Mind: Your baby has been snug inside your womb, and the outside world is totally unfamiliar. Don't expose her to too much external stimulation, like bright lights and loud noises.

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