Infant caregiving is not just babysitting. This article contains tips for observing infants for signs of social and emotional development. It also includes the signs of the early stages of newborn social skills.
Stages of Newborn Social Skills
Many people are surprised to learn that even before the age of two months, infants are developing important social skills. From birth, newborns are forming relationships with their mothers and other familiar caregivers. It is within this first two months that newborns begin to show preferences for familiar voices and faces. They may show this preference by gazing intently on the eyes and face of familiar caregivers and looking away from unfamiliar faces. As time passes, they may show preference by smiling or kicking their feet.
It is within the first two months that newborns begin to self-regulate. If they are feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated, infants tend to "shut down". They show this by turning their heads away from the stimulus or fussing. The infant may show renewed interest when a new stimulus appears. It is important to observe your infant for signs of overstimulation. Frustrating your newborn may actually slow down the development of social skills
By Four Months
Infant social development really begins to take off between the ages of two and four months. In this short time, babies often learn to smile and make noises with their mouths. By responding to a newborn's efforts at socialization, you are showing them that they are important and creating a strong bond between the two of you.
Between two and four months, an infant learns to interact with her environment in meaningful ways. She may actively attempt to engage familiar adults in her play by smiling and cooing. When her behavior gets a reaction from the adult, she may try repeating the action and waiting for a response. By responding, you are helping create new pathways in your baby's brain. A two to four month old infant will continue her game with a caregiver until she becomes overstimulated or bored or the caregiver stops responding. As a caregiver, you should take cues from the baby regarding when she is finished playing.
As an infant caregiver, it is important to know what to look for when observing babies. Choose a time for your observation when the baby is well-fed and all of his basic needs have been met. Attempting to observe a sleepy or hungry baby is a recipe for disaster.
When you are sure the infant has been fed and is not sleepy, find a quiet spot on the floor to sit with the baby. Lie the baby down on his back on a soft blanket. Lie down on the floor near him and speak quietly. When the baby hears your voice, he will turn his head. Use a higher pitched voice and praise the child for finding you. "Hi little Max! You heard my voice, didn't you?" Give the baby a chance to respond by cooing or smiling, engaging in a conversation with him. Speak softly so as not to startle or alarm the baby. Take your cues from him. When he begins to get frustrated by this game, try introducing a toy or changing his position.
Write down your observations of your play together. Take care not to include any teacher bias when observing infants. Make note of the child's facial expressions as well as how long the infant was engaged in the play. Note any signs of distress or over-stimulation and be sure to document those as well.
Use your observations to plan activities for the infants in your care. If you are working in a primary caregiving environment, make note of which caregivers each infant prefers. Allow that caregiver to interact with that particular child whenever possible. Doing so will promote a sense of attachment and continuity of care.
Observe infants for these stages of newborn social skills and note any anomalies or concerns. Keep in mind that all children develop on their own schedule, but be sure to mention any concerns you may have to parents.