Why Your Baby Doesn’t Need Social Skills Yet
Neuroscience and parenting educator Nathan Mikaere-Wallis explains why your baby doesn’t need to learn social skills, and tell us what babies DO need instead
7 min read
Why Your Baby Doesn’t Need Social Skills Yet
Statistically, it’s going to be your first born child that will grow up to be the highest qualified and earn the most money. Not always, but often.
And it’s not because they got the best of your genes, mum, it’s basically because you had your face in front of their face for more hours per day during their first 1000 days than your next child. Because when the next child came along, you also had a two-year-old to look after!
A one-on-one relationship with your baby is so important
Literature calls it the dyad – from the word ‘dialogue’, meaning a two-way relationship. And the dyad doesn’t have to include the mother. In fact, there’s actually no real biological drive in the baby to find their mother when they are born. Yes, a baby will recognise their biological mother and know her smell, taste and sound. But the baby is not biologically programmed to attach to their mother specifically. But actually, a baby is programmed to attach to the most responsive person to them. It could be a grandma or father.
We don’t need to talk about social skills until your child is three.
Many people think if you start learning something early, search as social skills, you will be better at that skill.
Well, not in this case. Babies don’t need social skills yet until they are three years old. If a baby starts getting ready to be 3 when they are only 18 months old, they are not doing the important ‘work’ that an 18-month-old needs to do.
Parents may think if they put their child into an early childhood centre when she is 6 months old, it will improve her social skills. It doesn’t. It won’t harm your baby, but it won’t improve their social skills.
To put it plainly: When looking at the social skills of 4-year-olds, the only ones with better social skills than those who stayed home with a parent until they were 18 months old are those that stayed home with a parent until they were 3 years old.
Yes, education is a good thing but the type of education your child needs under 3 is a one on one relationship.
So what does a one on one relationship mean? In an ideal world, it means a responsive parent stays home with their baby until they are at least three years old.
People may think it’s good for babies to be in early childhood education for the social aspect, learning how to play with other babies, etc. But this is not the case.
A child will learn social skills after having a one-on-one attachment relationship (normally with their mother). In other words: a child can become friends with 5 people after being really good friends with 1 person – their responsive caregiver (the other person in their dyad). Normally their mother.
We say it takes a village to raise a child and it does..but when we are looking at a child’s whole life span. This phrase is more meaningful when we think about ‘a village supporting the dyadic relationship’.
What we learned from the ‘Decade of the Brain’
In the 1990’s we learnt A LOT about the brain. We call it the ‘decade of the brain’ as we learnt more in those ten years – through MRI and PET scans – than we had in the previous 300 years. One of the most important discoveries was about the first 1000 days of life, and that we are not set by our genes.
Previously we thought that if Albert Einstein was your birth father, then you’ll be good at maths!
That’s why early childhood traditionally hasn’t been valued because it was thought it was just ‘babysitting’ and biology is doing all the work, dictated by genes.
Now we have learned that the human brain has been designed to gather data in the first 1000 days, from conception through to 2 years old. The brain is gathering all of this information during it’s first 1000 days and will be shaped by its findings.
The human brain is designed to be moulded by the environment it encounters. Which means we are not set by our genes.
What this tells us about predicting your child’s future
To summarise for parents: this means we can statistically predict a child’s outcomes later in life pretty accurately, based on the data collected the by the time the child is three.
For example, we can predict how much money a person will earn at age 32 based on nothing else but the number of words spoken to them in the dyad between 0 and 1.
Language is the most complex thing your brain does so the more you speak to your baby in the first year, the brainier they are likely to be!
It doesn’t matter what you speak about, even if it’s about The Simpsons! Your baby doesn’t understand English (yet) and as long as you are talking and engaging them, your baby is collecting data. They’ll be thinking “wow this is a complex world! She’s making me use most of my brain! I’m going to wire up a complex brain for all this learning, talking and interacting”.
And of course, this is the same brain that will do loads of other things like take exams, get qualifications, show empathy for other people, control anger – so you get all of this good stuff just by talking and engaging a lot in the first year. This is why engaging with your baby is so beneficial.
However, baby has to be emotionally attuned to you for this to be effective.If it was just the benefit of hearing language, we could hire a homeless person to stand at the end of your baby’s cot and read a dictionary!!!! The baby has to be emotionally attuned to the person for the language to ‘work’. Language the parent uses directly over the top of the baby, without being attuned, doesn’t count.
Don’t worry – you haven’t wrecked the kids!
If you are learning this when you may have already – as I did – put the kids through childcare and you are wondering if you have wrecked them? No, you haven’t! Kids are amazingly resilient.
The Dyad is one of the most important factors of a baby’s wellbeing – but there are many factors that contribute to wellbeing, on a risk/resilience scale. Even though baby was in childcare, you may have sung to them a lot which helps, or you were an engaged parent, or every time baby is hungry you feed them; or you may spoken two languages with your child…..all of these factors are more steps towards resilience and away from risk,
So don’t freak out from one risk factor – it’s where they end up overall that’s important.