Facetiming with a baby

Infant Socialization in the Age of Social Distancing

As a new mom there are so many unknowns. So many questions. So many moments worrying, “How am I messing up this little girl?”

Social distancing brought on a whole additional slew of concerns. Will this stunt her ability to develop socially? What will this mean for her ability to connect with family? How will this impact her mental growth?

While there’s some information online about socialization for kids under the age of two — it’s mostly reassuring parents that things are okay. That’s very appreciated, to be sure. But, I still wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help Pepper’s social and emotional development during this time.

And so, I did a little research. I reached out to a few friends — a pediatrician and two counselors — to get their insights. Here’s what I learned.

Your Baby’s Social Development is Based on You Right Now

We’re just going to cover this one again. Because for me, this fact is a huge stress reliever. 

“This is actually the developmentally appropriate for babies to be isolated with family. The majority of a baby’s social development actually happens with their parent or main caregivers. It’s not until they’re two- or three-years-old that they really start to form relationships with kids their own age,” said Jennifer M. Wild, M.D.

5 Tips to Promote Social Growth for Babies

1. FaceTime with Family & Friends

Videochat platforms, like FaceTime and Zoom, have changed the ballgame for how we stay in touch. This is especially true during social distancing when actual face-to-face time isn’t possible. Use these tips to make your video chats as helpful as possible:

“FaceTiming can help kids to bond with family members who can’t be physically present. But you want to keep in mind that for them to form that bond, you need to FaceTime on a regular basis. And, you have to have realistic expectations about things like attention span. A two-year-old isn’t going to be engaged for 45-minutes straight,” explained Wild.

“One of the keys to using FaceTime in a helpful way with children – especially babies – is to have the person talking keep their face front and center. This allows the baby to see a full range of facial expressions,” said Sabrina Hickel, LPC, NCC.

Make sure the person FaceTiming doesn’t offer things your kids can’t do or you wouldn’t want them to do. For instance, if you don’t have access to a swimming pool, it just sets your kids up for disappointment if that’s offered to them.,” shared Julianne Fox, LMFT.

FaceTiming doesn’t have to be complicated. At a really young age babies aren’t even particularly aware of the screen. It can be something as simple as a grandmother singing a lullaby as a way to help the baby get used to her voice,” said Fox.

Reading books with a baby.

2. Read Books with Real People and Animals

While Curious George and Peter Rabbit are beloved classics, babies don’t have the ability to distinguish between make-believe and real yet. Books that feature real images of other babies, people, and animals help babies develop a sense of the world.

“I’m always a huge fan of books with real people and real animals. These kinds of books help your baby start to learn about the world and helps with language development,” said Wild.

3. Watch Videos with Real People

While I’m working really hard to keep Pepper away from screens, she’ll be exposed to them eventually. Videos with real images can offer a good alternative to cartoons or other make-believe shows you might often show to a child.

“There are several different programs that offer rotating images of real things. Diverse faces. Animals. Natural habitats. It’s not a ‘fun’ show for a parent, but can be a good way to help broaden your child’s world. By sitting with them and talking about what they’re seeing, you can help them start to associate the person or thing with its name,” said Hickel.

BONUS TIP: Having trouble getting your baby to sit still while clipping their fingernails? Turn on one of these shows. They’ll likely be mesmerized.

4. Point Out People and Things While Driving

Whoever you can, try and help your child be aware of their surroundings by talking to them about the things you’re seeing and doing. They start understanding what you’re saying long before they can communicate.

“When going for walks or taking car rides, just pointing out other people and waving to them can be a fun way to promote socialization. The key is to just keep things simple,” said Fox.

5. Encourage Independent Play

While attention is an important part of socialization, you don’t have to feel the need to engage with your child non-stop. In fact, leaving your child alone while they are actively engaged with something is what promotes independent play. This is a vital skill for those who want their children to be able to self-entertain. 

But, once you do engage — engage all the way. Put your phone down and make eye contact. Be all in.

If your baby is engaged with something, like grabbing a rattle, don’t feel like you have to engage with them or provide commentary. Allow them to be independent. Their play is their work, and just like it is hard for us to re-engage with our work when we are interrupted, it can be difficult for them. This helps promote independent play, focus, and attention span. But at the same time, when they’re ready to play with you, be fully present. You might even consider putting your phone in the other room so you’re not tempted to check it,” said Wild

Word-to-theWise: Set Your Child up for Success

While babies learn a lot from observing social situations, it’s important to be realistic with yourself about what your child can and can’t understand. The idea and need behind social distancing is a complex issue — one which a baby isn’t going to be able to grasp. So putting them in a situation where they would normally be encouraged to interact with others, but forcing them not to, could have a negative impact.

“One thing to be conscious of is putting your child in a situation they can’t understand. At one and two years old, children can’t begin to comprehend what social distancing is or why it’s currently important. Putting them in situations where you’re constantly telling them no and forcing them to keep their distance could promote a sense of distrust and fear when meeting new people,” said Hickel.

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