Is My Baby Antisocial?

baby back - google - okay to modify and reuse

baby back - google - okay to modify and reuseDear Mr. Dad: My 7-month old baby is happy and playful when he’s at home. But when I take him to my new dads’ group (yes, that’s a real thing), he seems to have zero interest in interacting with the other kids. The same thing happens at the park or anywhere else where there are other babies. I’m worried that there’s something wrong with him or that I’m doing something wrong. Is there?

Sounds to me like the only thing that’s wrong is your expectations. Until babies are about 10 months old, they’re generally not very interested in interacting with other humans except the ones they see every day and who feed them. It has to do with something called “object permanence.” Let’s say your baby is playing with a toy. If you gently take it away and replace it with another one, he won’t protest. And if you cover it with a blanket, he won’t look for it. As far as he’s concerned, it no longer exists.

But in the not-too-distant future—usually at about 10 months—you’ll notice a dramatic shift. His out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality will gradually fade as he discovers that, gasp, objects continue to exist even when he can’t see them. Now, he’ll protest if you take away something he’s playing with, he’ll get excited when he sees a favorite toy, and he’ll look around for it if it’s not right in front of him. He’ll also start paying attention to other babies.

Paying attention to other babies doesn’t mean interacting with them, though. Babies typically do what’s called “parallel play,” meaning that they’re perfectly happy to play with a toy while sitting next to another baby, but they might as well be in separate rooms.

To adults, babies engaging in parallel play look like they’re ignoring each other. And if that’s all they’re going to do, what’s the point of getting them together? The point is that it’s a stage they have to go through. Although you may not notice it, those babies are occasionally glancing at each other and they’re taking mental notes on how to steal each other’s play techniques. Today’s fleeting interactions are laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s lifelong friendships.

It’s a slow process, so don’t expect too much too soon. Over the next year or two, it’ll look more and more like little kids are playing with each other, and you may even notice some behavior that will seem very much like cooperation and sharing. It won’t be. What you’re watching is actually a live-action play called, “Toddler Property Rules in Action.” It goes like this: “If I see it, it’s mine. If I’m holding it, it’s mine. If you’re holding it and I want it, it’s mine. If you were holding it and you put it down, tough luck—it’s mine. Once something is mine, it’s mine forever so don’t even think about trying to take it from me.” Like parallel play, these rules are a normal part of child development. It’ll be a while before they can imagine that other people might have feelings.

Despite all this, there are a few things you can do to help your baby develop friendships.

  • Keep putting him in situations where he’ll be near other babies.
  • Don’t expect them to play together: Plop them down next to each other, give them toys, and step back.
  • If your baby is shy, withdrawn, or gets fussy, don’t force the issue.
  • Limit these “play dates” to a few minutes.
  • Praise anything that looks like sharing or pro-social behavior, but don’t expect to see too much of it.

photo credit:



Stop Taking and Start Giving + Healthy Twins + Ending Defiance

Kevin Salwen, coauthor of The Power of Half.
Topic: One family’s decision to stop taking and start giving.
Issues: Realizing how much each of us has; what can you give away? The importance of volunteering; starting a family conversation; tapping into anger; experiencing the lives of others.

Joan Friedman, author of Emotionally Healthy Twins.
A new philosophy for parenting two unique children.
Issues: Recognizing each twin as a unique individual; fostering each child’s separate friendships and activities; coping with the stress that comes with caring for two babies at the same time.

Alan Kazdin, author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child.
Topic: Parenting a defiant child without pills, therapy, or battles.
Issues: Why most of the parenting advice we get is guaranteed to fail; a research-based and proved approach that is guaranteed to work.

An Unconventional Dad Raising an Eccentric Son + Daring Girls + Longing and Belonging

[amazon asin=0307884848&template=thumbleft&chan=default]John Elder Robison, author of Raising Cubby.
A father and son’s adventure with Asperger’s, trains, tractors, and high explosives.
Issues:How an unapologetically eccentric dad raised his equally eccentric son. A tender, suspenseful, and laugh-out-loud funny story of a father and son who grow up together.

[amazon asin=0062208969&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Andrea Buchanan, author of The Double Daring Book for Girls.
Topic: A guide to everything a girl needs to know
Issue: Camping to schoolyard games, great women in history, shooting pool; how to throw and catch; making sand castles, the Greek alphabet, how to spin a hula hoop, and much more

[amazon asin=0520258444&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Allison Pugh, author of Longing and Belonging.
Topic: Parents, children, and consumer culture
Issues: How parents decrease their own power in the home by putting their children’s needs first; how to handle kids’ consumer desires in a down economy; what really drives consumer desires.

Friend vs. Parent—You Don’t Have to Choose

Dear Mr. Dad. I’m the single father of a six-year-old girl. How do I balance being a parent and a friend? I don’t want to lose her by being strict all the time, but I also don’t want her to grow up as a spoiled brat.

A: Somehow people got the idea that parenthood and friendship are mutually exclusive—that it’s one or the other—and that we should always be the parent and never be the friend. That’s absurd. In fact, it’s not only possible to be both, it’s actually a really good idea.

[Read more…]

Changing Friendships

Since I became a father, my wife and I haven’t been able to spend as much time with our friends as we used to. Some of them seem to understand that we’re new parents and our time is limited, but others don’t. They think we should be able to go out as a couple and socialize just as much as we did before we had a child. Is there anything we can do to keep our friendships alive?

Considering how small and helpless babies are, it’s really amazing that they can have such a powerful impact on the lives of the adults around them. Simply by being born, your baby has already transformed you and your partner from a “couple” into “parents” and your parents and in-laws into, gasp, “grandparents.” Even more amazing is the impact that babies have on the pre-existing relationships between the adults in their lives. Babies can bring a couple together, for example, or they can create a lot of stress (or at least magnify it). They can reunite families and mend old wounds or they can open new ones. They can even change the nature of your friendships.
[Read more…]