Kids can run around, talk, jump, sing… so there are a million ways to keep them amused. But what do babies do exactly? The Guardian and The Independent on Sunday contributor Nick Lezard has a few pointers for reluctant baby entertainers.
Any idea what fathers do to entertain their children?
So, you are about to become, or have just become, a father. Congratulations. Now comes the hard part.
Any idea what fathers do to entertain their children? Sure. They play football with them, perform rudimentary magic tricks and make massive, involved constructions from old cardboard boxes, sticky tape and glitter. In an ideal world. Actually, what they mostly do is watch The Simpsons with them.
But this only applies to older children. Babies come first. And babies can't play football (but they can dribble - but in the wrong way!). You will find that even standing up is a bit of a challenge for them. The thing is, babies and fathers are not automatically natural partners, not like we often think mothers and babies are.
Mothers have no problem with babies - at least, that's how it seems.
How do men bond with babies?
Now, in these enlightened times, many men do love babies. But by no means all of them. And this article is dedicated to the kind of man who looks upon a baby with bafflement.
If your eyes light up at the sight of a baby or if you instinctively know how to entertain a baby (or how to entertain yourself when you’re with a baby) then you need read no further. Off you go and play with your baby. And, when you've done it, let me know how you did it.
For I have never been entirely at ease with babies, and certainly not other people's babies. Perhaps you feel the same way. When handed a newborn, do you happily take it in your arms and gurgle at it, marvelling at its pristine innocence? Or do you suddenly go all awkward and act as if you have been handed a bomb full of poo?
It's about taking part
With your own, it's different, of course. You will love them, don't worry about that. But you may also feel a nagging sense of responsibility. When the mother of your child hands you the baby, she's not asking you to share the magic. She's asking you to give her a break – and she will really need one. But you may feel completely at a loss as to what to do.
Babies are easily impressed...
I've had three children, so I do have some tips. I can't say whether they'll be any good in the long run, but my children have not suffered too much at my hands. So I can't have been doing something completely wrong. What I did, mainly, was nothing.
There are babies out there who are being subjected to flash cards, foreign languages, and Mozart symphonies, in earnest attempts to give them a head start over the rest of humanity. Do not feel guilty if you do none of these things. After all, Mozart never heard any Mozart symphonies when he was growing up, and he turned out OK, didn't he?
Keep things simple
The thing to remember about babies is that, not having much of a frame of reference, they are easily impressed. So don't expose them to the telly. It's information overload, and will contaminate their experience of the real world.
In the early days you will find that you can get considerable mileage simply by playing peek-a-boo with them. This might not be something you had planned on spending your time doing as an adult but believe me; you're going to be playing a hell of a lot of peek-a-boo for the next few months.
It's fine, though. Junior can't get enough of it – unless he or she is unnaturally jaded – and you will quickly discover that of the four main functions babies perform – ingestion, defecation, crying and laughing – laughing is the best.
However as they get older, a certain sophistication is called for. While you still have a working spine, do the throwing-them-up-in-the-air thing. But mind the ceiling and don't forget to catch them on the way down.
You could give them wooden puzzles. Actually, everything qualifies as a puzzle as far as babies are concerned. A wooden spoon can keep a baby enthralled for a good half hour. Look at all the things you can do with a wooden spoon! You can wave it around! You can bang it on the floor! You can throw it a short distance!
And that's really about it. It's not rocket science. Babies are easy. Enjoy them. When they get older, that's when the trouble starts.