Babies are instantly social from the moment they are born, and the earlier they can enjoy rewarding relationships, the better their prospects to progress socially and emotionally.
Developing human relationships is an important aspect of life. Through interaction, children acquire a sense of belonging – a safety net aside from their parents and family. Security offers comfort, and when achieved at an early age, it can foster positive friendship bonds later in life.
When babies/toddlers/teenagers/adults interact with other humans and socialise, they open up to new possibilities by contrasting their perspective with the perspective of others. Without challenges and the assistance of others, creativity and learning would be stifled. Think back through your life and you will see that nearly everything was made possible because of someone else.
There is no such thing as a life without connections. Connections can have incredible effects on those who encounter them, even if the effect isn’t instantly noticeable.
But why start so young?
Child psychologists argue that from birth, children need to feel a sense of belonging in their world. Some also argue that a baby’s ability to socialise is intrinsic, while others believe it must be learned and developed.
Whichever it is, there’s no denying that socialising early has its benefits.
The benefits of socialising
Social techniques learned during early play include sharing, taking turns, forming friendships, playing well with others, problem-solving, communicating, emotional understanding and more. Lots of time spent playing, talking, listening and interacting will help your child learn the skills required to get through life.
As babies and toddlers begin to develop social personalities and display empathetic tendencies towards others, offering lots of play – be it through playdates, a local playgroup or a day care centre – they become more independent and confident.
Early socialisation can:
- Teach children how to share and take turns
- Help hone communication skills
- Provide practice making new friends and being part of a team
- Teach problem-solving, compromising and conflict-resolution skills
- Encourage cooperation, inclusion and compassion
- Teach respect for others, not just parent/carers
- Ease separation anxiety.
As they continue to grow, they will learn to interpret social cues and develop skills for coping when things don’t always go their way. A baby that’s been socialised as a newborn, for example, will have a head start in appropriate preschool behaviour, compared to a baby with little or no interaction. They may also have some ready-made friends if your socialising meetups have been local.
Building a social butterfly
It’s important for parents to look for opportunities in which babies and toddlers can interact with other children their age. You may be nervous that something negative will happen – such as your child being pushed, hit or bitten – but these incidences are all part of developing life experiences.
It’s also important to spend lots of face-to-face time with your baby, and encourage others to do so too. Invite friends and family over and encourage visitors and neighbours to give him lots of attention and really interact.
A timeline of events when socialising your baby should look something like this:
As a newborn, provide your baby with lots of face to face time . Pull faces and allow them to mimic, and try carrying them facing forward when possible so they can hone in on other faces too.
3 months old
From around three months old, treat your baby as a ‘social being’. This means continually chatting with them and pausing to allow time for a response. Talk to your baby as you’re driving along, even if you don’t think they can understand you. Babies can understand simple words long before they can pronounce them.
6 – 12 months old
From around six months old, help your baby to develop relationships with other kids. Of course, they won’t be able to play together the way that older kids do, but as they get older they will start to enjoy ‘parallel play’, playing side by side as each of them does their own thing. It won’t be until the age of around three when they will introduce the idea of ‘together play’.
12 – 24 months old
If your child is the one doing the pushing, hitting or biting, understand that children are learned creatures. You might expect children to know how to get along with others, but playing with others is a skill many babies and toddlers need help with. Model how to take turns without grabbing, and create attitudes and an environment that encourages your child to want to share. There is power in possession and, to a child, toys are a valuable, prized collection. Respect the normal possessiveness and try not to force sharing. Instead, model generosity, and play sharing games that convey the message that sharing is a normal way of life. Eventually, they’ll get it.
When it comes to managing emotions brought on by certain situations, take note of your baby’s responses, and acknowledge that their feelings are very real. Instead of saying, “Don’t be upset, it’s not a big deal,” say “I can see you’re upset because Livvy is playing with the toy you want to play with. She’ll be finished soon and then it can be your turn.”
24 – 36 months old
From 24 to 36 months, your toddler will gain a clearer understanding of what it is to play together. They are still not able to put themself in other people’s shoes, but will start to have ‘favourite friends’ and be better at sharing. From this point on, it’s about getting as much quality time with other children their age as you can.
Setting the stage for friendships
Exposing your children to different environments helps you to better understand their natural temperaments and needs, allowing you a clearer understanding of how to best support them.
This doesn’t, however, mean that you must participate in a playgroup, arrange a playdate, or create structured play EVERY day, but it does mean that you should be providing the opportunity for your child to see and sense the world around them. Socialising is something that comes very naturally in our day-to-day lives, and so long as you nurture the opportunities available, your baby will develop wonderful social skills for life.