You can help Baby develop social skills this month by responding to her smiles and laughs. Here are other ways to help your baby's social development.

Encourage Her to Babble
Credit: Kathryn Gamble

Closing in on the one-year mark is an exciting time, and not just because of that first taste of birthday cake. "They are on the verge of this incredible leap of language development that's going to take off in this next year," says Beth K. Ryan, M.Ed., a senior child life specialist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

What to expect: "Babies at 12 months continue to increase their shows of affection, and these spontaneous hugs and kisses are pure joy for parents," says Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., psychological services manager at Children's Medical Center of Dallas and professor of psychology and psychiatry at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical.?"Language development is also ramping up, with many babies at this age saying their first words or adding to the few they already have. Parents will notice their baby clinging to them in unfamiliar settings and around unfamiliar people, but parents may also notice a little more independence and willingness to explore in comfortable, familiar settings."

Don't be surprised if your mood rubs off on your baby. "Like animals, children understand your posture; they understand your tone of voice, especially if it's not playful," Ryan says. "That's the first thing that gets translated, so our actions do speak louder than our words."

Progression: "Parents may notice their child attempting to mimic sounds such as the [ones the] dog or cat [makes], and they may also notice the child saying the same word over and over as she refines her language use," Dr. Stavinoha says.?"Parents may also notice that their baby can understand very simple commands, and this is usually very rewarding and fun for both parent and child."

How to help: "Parents don't need to use fancy or sophisticated strategies to foster social development," Dr. Stavinoha says.?"Instead, the most important thing is to be responsive to your child.?This means smiling back when she smiles at you, and laughing with him when he finds something funny.?Making good eye contact is important for parents, as eye contact is a foundation for more sophisticated social behavior and emotion recognition as the child develops."

To boost your baby's vocabulary, describe her actions so she starts to put two and two together. Remember to pause and wait when conversing with your baby to teach her the give-and-take of conversation and encourage her to babble more, Ryan suggests. And don't be afraid to launch a barnyard chorus. "Animal sounds are the first beautiful way to teach language -- it helps us bridge babbling into defined words," she says.

If your little one is feeling clingy, try soothing her with phrases like "Mommy's right here," Ryan suggests. You can build up her trust by leaving her alone to play for one or two minutes, and then coming back. Hiding games like peekaboo can also help. "They get to play out in a simple way the cause-and-effect relationship as it relates to people. This message that gets translated as, 'Yes, people leave, but they come back,'" she says.

When you should worry: Your little one isn't attempting to communicate. "While some children at this age may not be saying words yet, babies should be trying to speak by babbling and cooing, and should be using some gestures to communicate," Dr. Stavinoha says.?Another sign for concern is a baby who doesn't turn to a parent for comfort when hurt or upset, he says.

Don't freak out if: "Your baby doesn't have a lot of understandable speech at this age," Dr. Stavinoha says.?"The focus for parents in terms of social development should be on communication attempts. Trying to use language, even if it is just babbles and coos, or attempts at using gestures, is good evidence that the child is making attempts to be social."

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