Your baby’s social development 6-9 months
Your baby learns by observing, imitating and listening to you, and loves to engage in ‘conversations’.
Your baby at a glance
Your baby is engaging more actively with the environment; both with specific people and specific toys. During this stage you are likely to see your baby:
- Expanding his level of communication with you and responding more actively to what you say and do by imitating and making sounds
- Enjoying looking in the mirror and smiling at her own reflection
- Showing an increased preference for people he knows, and becoming more reserved with or afraid of strangers
- Becoming more aware of herself in relation to what an who is around her
- Exhibiting separation anxiety, showing distress if you leave the room
- Developing object permanence, and with that truly enjoying playing peek-a-boo
- More actively engaging in play, perhaps showing pleasure when given a specific toy and becoming upset if it is taken away
Your baby's story
Your baby is awake for longer periods at a time now, and you will notice that he is developing an increased awareness of his surroundings. The increased awareness may also mean that you see the beginnings of stranger anxiety, which tends to peak sometime between now and 12 months. This means that he is able to tell the difference between familiar and unfamiliar people, and has a strong preference for being around those he knows.
When your baby is around 6 months, she may start to turn her head when you call her name. This is a lovely development and shows the beginning of her sense of self. You may also see that she starts following your gaze to look at what you're looking at. You are here seeing the start of so called joint attention, which means being able to coordinate her attention with others', in particular yours at this stage.
Your baby is also showing that he enjoys attention, and during this stage you may see him intentionally working to get attention, e.g. by making a loud sound or a fake cough. He also enjoys engaging in a game of imitation, banging a bowl like a drum or coughing when you do.
Your baby is becoming aware of being able to do more and is becoming more mobile. She will start to get very engaged in particular tasks and mastering new skills. At this age, she is likely to be more engrossed in figuring out how to work e.g. a toy than engaging in play with other children.
You may find that your baby is experiencing separation anxiety starting around this age. This means she will be distressed if she’s away from you or sees you leaving the room. This is a normal part of development, and often lasts until about 2 years of age. Before this age, it is hard for your child to comprehend that you will return. Your child may display a heightened anxiety response when away from you if she is in an unfamiliar environment or situation, and may feel safer away from you when at home or in another environment she is familiar with.
During this stage, often around 8 months, your baby develops object permanence, which means he will now look for a toy if it rolls under the sofa or you hide it away from him. You will probably become very familiar with the 'dropping game', where your baby will love dropping things and seeing it reappear when you pick it up. Peek-a-boo is still a great game. He now understands that you are still there even though you have hidden your face behind something, and is thrilled every time you reappear.
What you can do to support and encourage your baby's development
Have safe mirrors around, as your child will enjoy looking at himself move and smiling at the mirror image. He does not yet understand that he is smiling at himself (this develops later, usually closer to 18 months), but he is interacting with a human face which is what he prefers looking at. You can also use this as a great way to interact with your baby. Point and touch his nose, his ears, his mouth, and talk about each as you point them out to him. He’ll enjoy listening to you and watching what’s happening in the mirror, and it’s the start of learning the words too. It also helps him learn to focus and track images.
As your baby is becoming more aware of her own ability to move around or manipulate toys and objects, it’s great to let her lead and decide what she wants to do. Look for changes in interest and show a genuine interest in what she is interested in. She will be very sensitive to your reactions and is learning from your behaviours. Also, you’re helping your baby’s language development if you talk about and name what she is actually interested in at the time.
If you notice distress in your baby when he is separated from you, remember that this is a normal part of development. Find ways to reassure him, and be understanding if he gets clingy. Allow him to grow in his social exploration at the pace that suits him. When he seems to feel safe in a particular situation, you can gently encourage him to engage with others. You can join baby play groups or arrange ‘playdates’ so your baby can experience positive interactions with other babies and grown ups. In situations where your baby cries and gets very upset when you leave (even if you only go to the next room), respect his emotions and go back to reassure him. If you are leaving your baby in someone else’s care and he reacts very negatively when you leave, it could help to go back and stay a few more minutes to get him involved in something fun with the other person before you go. Also, always make sure you say a cheerful goodbye and assure him that you’ll be back later to pick him up. Remember that babies are very good at picking up mood signals from us. Psychologists hold that the best balance to give your baby is to stay nearby to provide the reassurance he needs, but allow him to explore as and when he wants. Having a strong and secure bond with you is what will help your baby become socially comfortable and independent later on.