The Social Life of Babies
A shy baby can be (gently!) nudged to be less shy.
Each baby's born with her own social style. Some are drawn to bouncy, exuberant people, while others respond better to gentle voices and quiet gestures. "We used the word 'discerning' to describe Merrill at a very early age," says Nashville mom Anna Gray Hart. "One of my best friends wanted desperately to be Merrill's adoring aunt. But even as a newborn, Merrill didn't like her. Our front door had glass panes, and when Merrill saw her bounding up the front steps, she'd immediately start crying. I felt terrible that my child never wanted to be around my best friend!"
By contrast, at 4 months, Cindy Lesser of Newington, Connecticut, says her daughter is already a social animal: "Allison only likes to be held facing outward so she can see everything going on, especially if there are a lot of kids. She even seems to flirt with the boys. She'll coo and smile, and do a little head tilt and giggle."
But while Allison Lesser will probably always welcome a happy crowd, Merrill Hart won't necessarily always dislike her mom's friend. She may befriend calmer and more deliberate people sooner than boisterous ones, but with gentle persuasion, a reserved baby can be more adaptable.
"Babies who don't enjoy new experiences may become more outgoing if they're able to learn to manage their fears," says Singer-Freeman. That means respecting your baby's choices, for one thing. If she clearly doesn't want to be held by a particular person, make an excuse to keep her in your arms. And it means encouraging social exploration in small, nurturing environments before branching out into bigger groups.
Keep playdates small at first -- with only one or two other temperamentally similar babies -- and choose a daycare or preschool with a small class size and one teacher. Singer-Freeman's own son found new people and experiences difficult as a baby, but, after four years in a very nurturing preschool environment, became more confident in social situations. Given a little time to ease into a new situation, even your shy baby can learn to leave her cocoon and grow to be a social butterfly.