Raquel Anderson has 14 years of experience as a mental health provider in institutional and private practice. Aside from her private practice, she is an advisory board member for the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County’s Be Merge Initiative.
As babies grow into toddlers, their worlds begin to expand. First, it’s their families, including parents, siblings, and pets. And then it might be a playgroup, daycare, or caretaker. In a fairly short period of time, the typical baby’s world expands from just a handful of people to a whole crowd. Even though it may seem like your baby is too young to really engage this growing world, this remains a crucial time of social development. Raquel Anderson, Bundoo Behavioral Health Specialist, talks about socializing your baby.
Bundoo: What is meant by the term “socialize” when it’s applied to a baby?
Raquel Anderson: The term “socialize” literally means “to mix socially with others.” It is through socialization that babies learn to connect with people and adapt to a multitude of environments. Socializing starts from day one. Each baby has his or her own social style, which will become apparent as he or she grows older. As babies grow older, they will begin to develop deeper relationships, first with you, then with others. In the early days babies learn to respond and adapt to the people around them. Eventually these connections go from simply having their needs met to enjoyment, independence, and intentional interactions.
What can parents do to help their babies get along more easily in social settings?
Expose your baby to various environments. We are socializing all the time. Socializing begins at home, playing with siblings, parents, and various family members. Establishing playdates from casual get-togethers, to organized groups, to mommy-and-me type classes is an important part of socializing. Babies even learn important social skills in everyday activities like going out to eat with parents, trips to the grocery store, shopping, and running errands. Babies also learn socialization through observation. They have many opportunities to watch you interact with other adults and children daily. All of these endeavors help them build social skills, confidence, and security. Exposure to various environments is key to healthy development. Having the opportunity to expose babies to different environments at an early age helps us as parents learn their temperaments, as well. We can observe if they struggle with quiet, intimate situations or get overwhelmed by more active, intense activities, and we can learn how to balance between the two.
When it comes to socializing with their same-age peers, how is it different for a baby than socializing with other adults? Is there anything parents should be doing at this age to establish boundaries and help guide behavior?
When babies are “playing” with their same age peers, it can look very different from when they are playing with adults. Adults will intentionally interact with a baby and engage in ways that babies do not do on their own. Babies will happily play alongside other babies but not play together. Occasionally, they will smile and coo at each other. However, even when set next to each other with a set of toys, they will play alone.
What behaviors do you consider “problem behaviors” and how can parents address those specifically?
At every age and stage, it is important to be mindful of safe play. Make sure the toys and activities are age-appropriate. When playing with other babies or children, be sure interactions are gentle and cooperative. Keep a watchful eye so you can intervene when necessary if anyone is on the verge of a meltdown and a battle. Redirection to a new activity usually will suffice. If need be, you can start a new activity in a separate area of the room.
Some parents worry that their babies are “shy” when they worry about strangers. Is this normal behavior that babies will grow out of, or is it early enough to start identifying introverts versus extroverts?
It is common for babies at this stage to seem “shy.” Babies about this age are becoming more and more independent from you. With this comes anxiety. They often develop a fear of unfamiliar people. This is the beginning of separation anxiety. This stage coincides with learning about object permanence, which is knowing that an object or person exists or will return, even when they are absent from the baby’s sight. So when you leave your baby with an unfamiliar person, they basically do not know if they will ever see you again. Babies outgrow object permanence before separation anxiety. The fear of strangers can persist until about age two. This is a normal part of development and not an indication of being extroverted or introverted. These traits will become more noticeable as their temperaments and personalities develop. A better predictor of extrovert verses introvert is the type of environments they are drawn to. If they prefer the more quiet, intimate environment, they are more likely to be more introverted individuals, though that’s not always the case.