When you look at your crying baby, it’s hard to imagine that among all her tears, her constant demands and her frequent naps, she actually wants to be sociable. But her need to mix with others starts right from birth. When your baby arrives in the world, she’s pre-programmed to be sociable and is born with many skills and characteristics that encourage her to form connections with others.
First social skills
Your little one’s eyes focus about 18 inches in front of her, which means she can see your face while you hold her as she feeds. That gazing at each other is one of her first social moments. She soon learns to smile, which instantly tells you that she’s pleased to see you. This positive feedback encourages you to give her more attention, and so her communication skills build.
Because a baby’s eyes are disproportionately large in relation to the size of her head, this triggers an innate attraction from other people and maximises the amount of attention she’s given. Your baby can’t survive without your care and interest – she needs you to give her milk, to change her and to keep her safe. She has to get your attention to make that happen, as well as receiving your comfort and reassurance when she’s distressed or uncomfortable.
Attention is vital to survival, but as you’ve already discovered, your baby also enjoys having attention just for the sake of it. That’s why you’re sometimes able to calm her down simply by cuddling her or by playing with her – this meets her social need to have interaction with others. In fact, the chances are your baby would even rather have negative attention than none at all. She thinks: “I’m glad mum’s here, even if she’s being a bit grumpy. That’s a lot better than being ignored.”
Most babies go through a phase when they become shy and anxious in the presence of strangers. This usually happens when they’re around 6 months old. Previously she didn’t care who she mixed with, as long as she was the focus of interest.
At around 6 months, however, your baby might start to cry when she sees a totally unfamiliar face. That’s perfectly normal. She’ll gradually learn to manage social contact with strangers, and the more experience she has of being in the presence of others, the more socially confident she’ll become.
Let your baby grip a toy in her hand. As soon as she’s grabbed hold of it, gently try to pull it from her, smiling at her at the same time. From around the age of 3 months onwards, you’ll find that your baby looks at you, smiles and holds on to the toy. She realises this is a game and thinks; “This is good fun”.
Steps to baby social success
- Give lots of social experience. Make sure your family and friends get to handle your baby so she adapts to different people.
- Respond positively to giggles. It’s important she can see the effect her giggling has on you.
- Interact all the time. Give your baby attention when she’s quiet and settled, not just when she cries.
- Enjoy your baby’s company. Relax and have fun with her, no matter what you’re doing. This builds up her social confidence.
- React calmly if she gets upset in the presence of strangers. Reassure her, but don’t let her hide from unfamiliar adults.
Did you know…
Your baby’s first laugh is likely to happen when she’s around 3 months old.