Help Your Baby With Social Development (page 3)
In order to get along with others, children first need to feel good about themselves. You need to feel that you are a likeable person to have the confidence to reach out towards others and to make the moves towards friendships. It is part of being a confident community member.
In this earliest stage of childhood the baby needs the important adults in his or her life to be warm and responsive in their care of the baby and warm and friendly to each other. Babies are very sensitive to the atmosphere around them and need adults to respond to them in a gentle, caring way.
Early caring for babies is the key building block for social development, including friendships. Warm care makes the baby feel secure and comfortable. Having needs met reduces feelings of anxiety and worry, and helps the baby to develop an awareness of other people around him/her. Babies who enjoy warmth and affection in the family are more likely to be open to making positive social relations with others, building on the good feelings they have already experienced.
Warm care can also promote better learning of social skills because the good feelings that come from feeling cared for and secure help the baby to be able to manage the ups and downs of relating to others. The caring adult provides the baby with a role model that the baby can copy. When adults behave in positive ways in their own relationships, then the child is probably going to follow and do the same things.
Taking Turns—The Beginnings of Social Relationships
Parents and carers can help by taking turns with the baby. If the baby makes a little noise, puts out her tongue or opens her mouth wide, the parent can copy what the baby has done. This says to the baby, ‘I heard/saw you’, and ‘I want to have a “conversation” with you’. Then if you wait, the baby is likely to respond again and so you have a beginning relationship. It is important to notice when the baby is tired and gets agitated or looks away. This says, ‘I need a bit of a break from the conversation’. All of this helps the baby to develop a sense of trust and leads to the beginnings of being able to relate to others.
Responding to the baby’s signals is a really important way of helping their social development:
- if your baby smiles at you, she needs you to smile back;
- if she cries, she needs you to comfort her; and
- if she is ‘talking’ to you by signs or little noises or beginning words, she needs you to show you are interested and not to look away.
As babies grow and learn, these signals become more complex and varied. As they grow, babies quickly grasp the idea of cause and effect: ‘When I do this … then I get that …’ and so they add new ideas, words and actions to what they can do.
The first step in learning to talk is babbling. Join in the ‘conversation’ and enjoy taking turns in ‘talking’ with your baby. Taking turns in babbling and imitation games encourages understanding of both people having a turn in talking and listening: the beginning of the rules of conversation.
The Beginnings of Friendships
Mothers’ and babies’ groups, baby massage classes, parent coffee mornings etc. are all good places for babies to see and begin to relate to other babies. The key to successful social gatherings with babies is that the adults enjoy them too and that they are welcoming, supportive and enjoyable.
Helping Your Baby Learn About Being a Friend
- Involve your baby in social activities.
- Babies will enjoy facing the group and being able to reach out to others while still safely near their familiar adult.
- Allow your baby opportunities to explore without your intervention or direction but watch for when she needs support or help and be ready to enjoy her achievements with her.
- Visit a range of places where people gather to meet, talk and eat together. Your baby will watch and learn new social signals.
- Don’t go too fast for your baby. Babies develop at different rates and pushing them to be involved before they are ready is likely to overwhelm them and set them back. Watch for their signals of when they feel comfortable.
- Interactive games such as ‘Peek-a-boo’ help babies to understand facial expressions and the importance of eye contact in social relationships.
- Reassurance and encouragement while dancing gently with baby, playing nursery rhymes and singing with baby will help him/her to feel confident and enjoy exchanges with others.
Telling babies they are doing well, that you love them, and encouragement all help them build positive feelings about themselves and about you, which provide them with a strong base from which to learn about others.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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