Building your baby's emotional and social skills through play

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Babies are social beings who enjoy being around people they know and love, especially you! Not only is playtime their favourite time of day but it's also teaching your baby how to feel and express emotions, including self-esteem, confidence, independence, happiness, love and security.

Daily play

You are your baby's number one choice of playmate, especially in their first year. Setting aside dedicated playtime every day has many benefits for your baby's emotional and social development.

Play fosters emotional connections between you and your baby, and teaches them a sense of fun. Even a very young baby will smile, kick and coo to show their pleasure as you play with them.

Games like peek-a-boo and simple songs or rhymes are a fun way to engage with your baby. Use lots of eye contact, and when your baby attempts to imitate you, acknowledge their communication with a reply. Listening and responding this way helps build your baby's confidence and sense of self. Your baby will develop feelings of satisfaction and achievement through play.

Their self-esteem will grow as they successfully stack rings on top of each other, create a block tower, or shake an instrument to make an interesting sound. They will look to you for guidance and support, though self-satisfaction is often their greatest reward.

Quiet play

Your baby's emotional development is also nurtured through quiet play. This is a beautiful opportunity to foster closeness and develop their feelings of safety, love and warmth towards you and others.

During quiet play, hold your baby close, touch them softly, and use a soothing voice. Cuddle while you read together, sing favourite lullabies, or put on soft music and sway. These loving, caring interactions show your baby that you will always be there for them – they feel secure and supported, no matter what. Quiet play can also be used to soothe and comfort your child when they are upset or afraid.

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Organised play

While your baby doesn't have a developmental need to spend time with other babies, they may still enjoy the stimulation and excitement of getting out and about for social play.

Babies generally aren't interested in playing with their peers until the toddler years, but they love to look at other children (and adults), and will happily play alongside (as opposed to with) each other. This is known as 'parallel play'.

In new settings, remember your baby may feel anxious, especially if surrounded by unfamiliar people, so reassure your little one by staying close by and letting them watch the activity before joining in.

As they grow, organised play can help your child learn emotional control as they develop the ability to get along with others and understand the concept of sharing.

Opportunities for social interaction in an organised setting include playgroup, music classes, swimming lessons and baby gym. This can be a good way to introduce your older baby to their peers, especially if they don't have siblings.

But don't feel pressure to enroll your child in classes – your baby will build social skills and awareness equally through one-on-one playdates or by visiting loved ones like Grandma and Grandpa.