How to raise a social baby

Can you encourage your baby to be friendly and an extrovert or is this built into her genes? Kim Bell investigates.


Being introverted or extroverted is in your genes – at least – that is what the science says.

A 2004 Harvard study, conducted by psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman, looked at whether shy babies grow up to be shy adults. In the study, they exposed babies to unfamiliar stimuli and recorded their reactions. Some babies were highly reactive, while others took it in their stride. Kagan and Snidman then revisited the babies when they were older. Their findings revealed that the highly reactive babies had developed into shyer, more introverted adults, while those who were considered to be low reactive, were more sociable and extroverted.

Another study, this time by Michael Cohen of the University of Amsterdam, found that extroverts have a gene that makes them more responsive to the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

Author of The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney, explains that the level of blood flow to the brain varies between introverts and extroverts. The research shows those who are more introverted have a stronger blood flow to the brain, which creates a greater sensitivity to stimulation.

Our personality traits are part of our DNA – we are born that way.

ALSO SEE: Parenting the shy child 

Temperament vs personality

Jenn Granneman, author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World and founder of the website, shares that while we cannot change our temperament or that of our baby, we can change our personalities. “There is a big difference between temperament and personality. Our temperament – introversion of extroversion – is our nature, and it permanently affects our behaviour. Our personality, on the other hand is built over a lifetime, and is a collection of characteristics that makes us unique.”

Granneman adds that additional influences include the environment your baby is raised in, and while temperament is in the genes, there is a certain amount of flexibility, the “upper and lower limits of how much extroversion your brain can handle.”

There is nothing wrong with having a child who is introverted and enjoys spending time alone. But, given the right environment, introverts can be social. Just like extroverts can enjoy times of solitude. By understanding your baby’s temperament, you can work with her nature and help her develop in her environment, ensuring she feels safe and comfortable.

Tips for encouraging a friendly baby:

  • Encourage conversation
  • Get to know her quirks and temperament
  • Expand her social circle (slowly)
  • Introduce her to older children
  • Show her the environment she is growing up in
  • Be a friendly role model.

Do you have a shy baby? Try these tips

Most babies (both introverts and extroverts) will go through a time of shyness or anxiety between the age of 8 and 12 months, which is completely normal. However, there are ways you can assist your little introvert:

  • If your baby is a little anxious around others, prepare guests and friends. Allow your baby to get used to having them around, before they make eye contact, or communicate directly with her. Allow her to initiate the interaction, if you can.
  • Stay within sight – particularly if your little one is in a new or unknown environment.
  • Use a favourite toy or book to introduce new people. This way your baby can focus on something familiar in an unfamiliar situation.
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