As a parent, you are your child’s first playmate. Through interaction with their parents, children first learn how to respond and connect with other people. A newborn quickly learns to recognize the voice and touch of her parents. Over time, this same child will learn how to interact with those around her. With your help, your baby will also become familiar with others and will come to enjoy their company as well as yours.
A baby’s first year is spent learning about themselves and their environment. It’s really not until about age two that they start to actively explore and play with other children, and babies need encouragement to learn how to interact with others. First they need to learn how to share their toys, which is a whole new concept when you’ve only ever known your own company! Once they master this, they then develop empathy for others, and can start to build friendships. All this takes time and patience (on your behalf as well as your little one!), and it’s not until about age three that your child will start to make longer lasting friends.
So what can you do to help your child learn these critical social skills? As a baby, spend lots of time making faces with them and being physically close to them as well as inviting friends and family over to spend time together. As your baby grows, she may develop stranger anxiety. This is perfectly normal and not at all a reflection on your parenting. With some tender loving care she’ll learn how to cope with strangers, and will also likely grow beyond this phase over time.
Toddlers love playdates and also enjoy practicing their new skills when it comes to making friends. Some will be great at sharing toys, while others will need a little more help to learn this skill. Joining the local playgroup or enrolling in music lessons or other social activities will give your child plenty of opportunity to bond with other children of a similar age, whilst also having fun and learning new skills all at the same time!