Start your vocal warm-ups, moms! This month, singing to your baby is just one of the many ways you can help her social development.
woman holding baby
Credit: Brooke Fasani Auchincloss/Corbis

Get that camera ready. By now your baby is cranking up the charm with heart-melting grins accompanied by a soundtrack of giggles, squeals, and babbles.

"Your baby is no longer a newborn," says Kimberly Williams, Psy.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist in Great Neck, New York. "This is where the little personality starts to develop. You start to see changes in your baby's language, the way your baby plays and interacts, in independence, and how the baby understands cause and effect."

What to expect: Your little one's delight in the people and things around her will be obvious. "They begin to smile readily even when people aren't trying to make them smile," says Kenneth Wible, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Care Center at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. "They're beginning to take pleasure in the company of others and get more enjoyment from social interaction."

Your budding conversationalist might also be ramping up his language skills. "They start to realize that the little noises they make really get a reaction," Dr. Williams says. "So this is the point where it goes from the baby making automatic, involuntary sounds to making very purposeful sounds with the intent of getting reaction from their parents." Your baby will imitate facial expressions as well as noises, so feel free to start acting goofy and stick out your tongue. Your baby might be capable of following simple directions -- for example, "Say 'Dada,'" Dr. Williams says. "That's just something that's just so, so encouraged because not only does it enhance the bonding, it builds confidence and self esteem in the baby because the baby is realizing that responding makes a positive difference," she explains.

Progression: Your little one's babbles might start to sound a little more wordlike as she adds consonants to her vowel sounds. Your baby is also learning to entertain herself. "As the fourth month emerges you'll start to notice that the baby is OK playing a little bit independently, that the baby can find comfort and happiness and pleasure by doing little things like wiggling [his] toes or opening or closing [his] own hands," Dr. Williams says. You might notice your baby doing things over and over, and even something as simple as focusing on flexing his own fingers shows cognitive development as your baby learns about cause and effect.

How to help: Your baby's interactions now pave the way for brain development and future learning. "The single most important thing is interacting with them, talking to them, using adult language," Dr. Wible says. "Also give them the opportunity to interact with others, to have the opportunity to interact with strangers or other children is part of the whole process with socialization. They're interested now."

Think about how you structure your child's day and incorporate some routines -- for example, storytime or a play session at the same time every day. "Routines are appropriate to help set your baby's body clock and to help [her] develop a set of expectations," Dr. Williams says. "When things happen in a sequence and a baby knows what to expect, it's comforting and more regulating. The better and more consistent the routine, the happier the baby."

Don't be afraid to bust out a tune. Singing, especially songs that have hand movements, such as "Itsy-Bitsy Spider," aids frontal lobe and cognitive development, Dr. Williams says. In addition to helping baby learn pitch and tone, singing and dancing together can teach social lessons. "It's interactive, and it's teaching how to take turns and enhancing reciprocity," she explains.

When you should you worry: If your baby is a little too quiet and still isn't making sounds or noises that are starting to sound like words, mention it to your pediatrician, Dr. Wible says. This could be a sign of a hearing problem. But if you have a son, you might just have to be a little more patient. "Boys (develop socially) quite often later," Dr. Wible says. "When you read the textbooks, they say they shouldn't be, but some speech-language pathologists have said that boys are just much slower to talk and much slower to express themselves. Girls seem to be more articulate."

Don't freak out if: If your baby isn't saying "mama" yet. Babies develop at their own pace, and it's still early. Also, keep in mind that babies who were born prematurely might reach milestones later. "Don't compare them to their siblings or the next-door neighbor's 4-month-old," Dr. Williams says.

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