Socialisation for Babies
As adults our social skills vary enormously from person to person, as do our preferences for just how much time we prefer to spend in the company of others. Babies and young children also show differences in their capacity to socialise well and to be comfortable around unfamiliar people. Many parents, especially those who were themselves shy as children, express concern about their own children and wonder if there are things that they can do to help their little ones to make friends easily and be comfortable in social situations.
Establishing TrustDuring their first year, babies establish their very first and some would say most important human relationships, those with their parents and other core family members. Many child psychologists stress the value of the socialisation that takes place during this time frame since developing a sense of safety and security early on helps babies to later feel comfortable when forming other bonds. Attentive caregivers who are quick to address a baby's needs help the child to feel that the world is a safe place, so letting a baby "cry it out" is not recommended.
Encouraging Safe InteractionWhile mum and dad are all that a baby needs in the beginning, curious babies are sure to show interest in other people as they mature a bit. Margaret Mahler, a child psychologist who wrote extensively on child development, most notably her Separation-Individuation Theory, stressed not only the need for the primary caregiver (typically, Mum) to we warm and nurturing, but also for her to make herself available to provide reassurance as the baby makes those first attempts at outside socialisation.
During the second half of the first year, many babies experience their first bout of separation anxiety, displaying discomfort at being away from their mothers. Mums who are careful to reassure their babies that they are nearby can offer them the couragement and confidence to interact a bit with others, knowing that Mum is just across the room. Babies will often take a look to find their mothers in a room, even when they seem fairly comfortable with the situation.
Happy FacesOf course, babies are no fools. Just like the rest of us, babies show more enjoyment in socialising when the people around them are happy and upbeat. Parents should look for opportunities to help their little ones interact with other babies their own age, such as seeking out mother/baby play groups. Enjoyable, positive interaction with other babies and their cheerful mums will certainly help babies to see the world as a fun-filled place.
Nature vs. Nurture?There are varied opinions as to whether our capacity to socialise well is instinctive, or if socialisation is simply a learned skill. Indications are that it may be a little of both. Some infants, even very young ones, seem outgoing right from the start, seeking out faces and rewarding eye contact with big smiles. Other babies are more reserved and seem uncomfortable being held by any but a select few people. These innate differences cannot be attributed to upbringing, since the babies were seemingly different right from birth.
There is no denying, though, that factors such as whether babies are born to introverted or extroverted parents will have an effect on a child's social tendencies. It may not be so much that introverted people would produce babies with similar tendencies as much as the fact that the social comfort level of parents will help to determine just how much exposure that their children get to varied social situations. Practicing a skill increases the chances that a person will master it, so it makes sense that babies and young children who are presented with plenty of opportunities to hone their social skills will be more socially comfortable and confident than their less socially active peers.
What Parents Can DoMost parents hope that they will raise self-confident children who find it easy to make and retain friendships. While there is no way to guarantee a baby's social future, there are things that parents can do to help. In order to give their infants a sense that the world is a safe and welcoming place, parents should not only strive to meet their babies needs promptly, but should take time to cuddle and talk to their young babies. As babies grow, parents should actively encourage their baby's relationships with grandparents, other family members, and a select group of trusted family friends. When their babies make attempts to interact with people, parents should be encouraging.
As babies grow into children, parents can also make the effort to help their little ones feel confident in all areas of their lives, such as their problem-solving skills and athletic competence, since building a sense of capability will help children to feel good about themselves. Healthy self-esteem is vital to the ability to socialise in a comfortable, productive way.