Find ways to build your child’s social skills from young, so that they’ll relate well to others.

Whether you’re the life of any party or prefer staying home with a good book, social skills are essential.

From the moment bubba is born, they’ll come into contact with many people. So, they will need to learn how to form relationships with others.

“It’s important to instil good social and communication skills from the baby stage, because it will help set your child up for healthy interactions in all aspects of life (eg playgroup, preschool, school, university, work, family, etc),” notes child psychologist Dr Vanessa von Auer, principal of Little Tykes and Tea & Tots at Integrated International School.

She adds, “A baby’s brain is still malleable, meaning that neuro pathways are developing based on their interactions, type of experiences and reactions to them. Starting them off with sound social and communication skills will help them develop into assertive, independent and confident individuals who are apt at balancing their own needs with others’ demands or expectations of them.”

Teaching your little one to be sociable at such a tender age may seem daunting, but it’s not that hard. We outline simple strategies you can put to good use.

1. Show affection through words and gestures

Start having conversations with your baby from day one and look them in their eyes, using touch, warmth and calmness, so they have a positive experience when it comes to reciprocal interactions, Dr von Auer urges.

Says Yeo Huilin, mother of a son aged 3 and a year-old daughter “My husband and I try to laugh and smile more when interacting with my children because they learn to mimic our facial expressions from a very young age.”

Also, don’t hesitate to pick your baby up when they reach out to you, and give them lots of cuddles and kisses. A strong parent-child bond is important ― establishing that positive relationship early on will set your baby up for other healthy relationships in the future.

“Sound social and communication skills will help them develop into assertive, independent and confident individuals who are apt at balancing their own needs with others’ demands or expectations of them.”

2. Bring them out to interact with friends and strangers

Taking care of a baby is exhausting, so it can be tempting to stay home. However, interactions outside the home are essential if you want to expand bubba’s social circle.

“It's a lot more convenient to simply leave our kids in the care of our parents while we are out at gatherings,” says Yeo. “But we understand that bringing them out provides valuable opportunities for them to meet people, develop socially and form friendships outside of the family.”

Such exposure to new experiences (and not just the same daily routine) also helps baby learn to identify various feelings, problem-solve, respond to others and express their wants and needs, Dr von Auer notes.

To get your baby comfortable with meeting strangers, take them on errands as well. Show them how you interact with strangers, whether you’re smiling and saying thank you to the NTUC cashier or the Starbucks barista.

3. Teach them proper social etiquette

If you want to raise a kid who is kind, caring and relates well to others, teach them proper social etiquette early on.

Yeo says “We always make sure to teach our children the names of people we meet, including that of family members and church friends. We also teach them to greet these people by name (once they are able to speak), along with a wave, flying kiss, handshake, high-five or a hug.”

Through such interactions, your baby learns that people are individuals who should be loved and respected.

“Raising a baby who is polite and understands social etiquette is really important to me,” supports Wan. “If my child does things that are not nice when playing with others, like snatching toys or hitting, I’ll reprimand her for doing it.”

4. Organise mummy-and-baby playdates

“Set up mummy-and-baby playdates, so your baby gets to interact with children their age as well as their mothers,” Dr Von Auer suggests. “This gives them varied exposure to different interaction styles.”

So, don’t hesitate to reach out to mums you meet at work, fitness class or even around the neighbourhood. In addition to helping your little one make friends, you’ll likely foster strong and meaningful female friendships as well.

Clara Wan, mother of a year-old daughter, also stresses that wide open spaces are important in facilitating interaction. “I find places like restaurants a bit restrictive, so I try to organise playdates at locations with more space to crawl around or play on the floor.”


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5. Enrol them in baby playgroups and preschool

Besides setting up playdates, consider enrolling your child in baby-accompanied playgroups.

During play sessions, they’ll get to build connections, develop a natural sense of curiosity and strengthen their self-confidence in relating to others. 

If you’re not sure where to start, Singapore has a ton of playgroups to consider. These include Tea & Tots and Little Tykes by Integrated International School, Blue House International’s Playgroup Programmes and Baby Stage by Centre Stage School of the Arts.

You can also place your child for preschool. Yeo says, “My husband and I have made a decision to enrol our children in preschool when they turn 3, so that they’ll learn to interact with their peers independently of us.”

If you want your child to be open and share their emotions and experiences, help them develop a “feelings” vocabulary.

6. Help them build their language skills

As good language and communication skills are instrumental in socialising with others, instil these in junior even before they can speak well.

To boost your mini-me’s language abilities, talk to her constantly and describe what you’re doing as much as possible. To capture her attention, you can also sing songs and speak in a more animated tone. 

“For language, it’s really about exposure,” Wan says. “I try to read as much as possible with my baby, choosing books that are more interactive (e.g. with flaps that can open). I want her to learn Mandarin as well, so I’ve started speaking to her in Mandarin.”

7. Label their feelings for them

If you want your child to be open and share their emotions and experiences, help them develop a “feelings” vocabulary.

Do this through labelling their feelings for them, so that they feel validated. “Whenever my baby is crying, I always speak to her and acknowledge what she’s going through,” Wan states. “I’ll say, ‘I know you’re cranky because you’re feeling hungry and tired’. It’s really about reaffirming her emotions.”

Through providing words to describe their experiences, you’re letting them know that how they feel matters, and that it’s okay to be frustrated or sad. This aids them in managing and regulating their emotions, leading to healthier interactions with others.

8. Be a positive role model

Of course, the best way to raise a sociable baby is to set a good example. If you make an effort to be open and friendly towards others, your little one will likely follow suit when she gets older. 

Wan says, “I’ve noticed that Ellie mirrors her caregivers a lot, so I try to be a good role model to her. This involves simple things like greeting someone as soon as they come home.”

Yeo adds, “When interacting with others, my husband and I try to be as warm and personable as we can, in the hope that my kids take after us.”

Photos: iStock

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