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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 50: Social Referencing

Baby’s Brain in Week 50

As your baby nears her first birthday, watch for this interesting phenomenon: Set out an unusual object—maybe a wind-up bunny, an electronic chirping chick, or just a new piece of kitchen equipment. Because children are innately curious, your child will likely approach the object. As she does, she’ll look at you as if asking, “Is touching this object a good idea or bad idea?”

While your child is curious about the object, she’s also determined to be safe as she investigates it. (Remember, as early as their first week, babies instinctively act in ways that assure they’ll survive. And by week 36, your child was mimicking your actions, assuming you knew best.)

Now, at this age, when your child references your face, she’s reading whether you think her actions are dangerous or safe. If you smile and nod, she’ll proceed. If you look horrified, she’ll stop in her tracks. She’ll do so with respect of new, strange, wonderful, and dangerous objects—and new people she encounters, as well.

What the Research Shows

Researchers had a grown-up look into two boxes while a one-year-old watched. When peering in one of the boxes, the adult smiled with joy; when looking in the other, the adult looked disgusted. In each trial, the adult then offered the children the opportunity to investigate the boxes for themselves.

Did the children look in both boxes? Nope. They only looked in the box that had prompted a smile from the experimenter’s face. These one-year-olds had read the experimenter’s emotional response, taken it to heart, trusted her judgment, and kept away from what the adult had communicated to be displeasing. Talk about impressionable!

Week 50 Brain Booster

Two aspects of the phenomenon are important. First, if your child is approaching an electrical outlet while holding a screwdriver in his hand, let your child see horror written all over your face. Don’t fake a smile and use a sweet voice. To prevent any confusion, it’s important to mesh your body language, tone of voice, and words with a clear, “NO! Stop!” while taking the screwdriver from his hand. (Remember, Baby has relied on you to quell her wariness since week 32.)

Second, realize that you are now, and will be for many years to come, an important reference for your children regarding what’s safe, what’s dangerous, what’s right, and what’s wrong. For now it’s hot stoves and electrical outlets. Later the issues get more complicated, but your child will continue to look for your opinion all the years she develops; don’t hesitate to offer it.

Your Week 50 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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