Raise a Friendly Baby

Show Her the World

When Katie Tam was a baby, her mother, MJ, took her along on errands and made a point of introducing her to the people they met. "I did it with my older kids, and it really helped them become more outgoing," says the Chicago mom of three. It's a good idea to start with familiar faces (such as neighbors and friends) and work up gradually to more challenging situations, like saying "hi" to another customer in the checkout line.

Once she starts making eye contact and smiling at strangers, your baby is truly becoming a social being. She's ready for larger gatherings, such as a family party or a church event. A bonus: The more you enjoy yourself, the better it is for your child, who will learn that it's fun to be around other people.

Be a Friendly Role Model

You don't have to leave the house to show your baby how to be outgoing. When your husband walks through the door, say, "Let's greet Daddy. 'Hi, Daddy. How was your day?'" Smile and use a warm voice when answering the phone, and then tell your child who called ("That was Grandma. She's coming over to visit later. Isn't that exciting?"). You can also take out dolls, stuffed animals, or puppets and throw a pretend party. Have the toys greet and chat with one another, and show them taking turns and being polite. Your child won't be ready to mimic these behaviors for quite some time, but it's never too early to introduce them.

Helping Shy Babies

Sometime between 8 and 12 months, most babies develop an intense shyness around strangers. This anxiety typically peaks around 18 months before gradually decreasing. While it can make socializing difficult, it's actually a positive sign, since it means your child is forming a strong attachment to you. These tips can help your child feel more comfortable.

  • Prepare your guests. Explain that your baby is skittish around strangers, and ask them to chat with you first and wait to make eye contact until your child has warmed up to them.
  • Stay in sight. When strangers are around, make sure your baby can always see you or your spouse. This will prevent her from becoming frightened or overwhelmed.
  • Use a favorite book or toy as a prop. Have your guest say, "Oh, here's your bear. Do you want to play with it?" This helps your baby focus on familiar things.
  • See "strangers" through his eyes. Anyone your child doesn't come in contact with on a regular basis may scare him. Remember: Comfort your baby first, your guests later.

First-Year Social Milestones

Your baby makes major social strides in her first year.

3 weeks
She can differentiate between objects and people -- and almost always prefers people.

4 weeks
He makes eye contact and will often stay fixed on your face when you smile at him.

2 months
She'll respond to your smile with one of her own -- her first "social" smile.

3 months
He makes sounds when spoken to, a sign that he's starting to grasp the essentials of conversation.

6 months
She'll begin to play one-on-one games with you.

8 to 12 months
He'll become wary of strangers but feels a very strong attachment to Mommy, Daddy, and other caregivers.

One year
She'll start to develop a sense of humor and show a preference for some people over others.

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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