Do Babies Need Daycare For Socialization? Experts Explain
Whether they stay home or go to day care, here’s how to tell your little one is ready for friends.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably had to decide at one time or another whether you’d stay at home to take care of your little one, send them to day care, or maybe take them to a family member’s each day (thanks, Grandma). One question that tends to come up during that process: do babies need social interaction from day care?
My husband and I had our first baby in March 2021 and decided early on that, since I work from home, I would keep our baby with me. As his first birthday creeps closer, and he’s more mobile and inquisitive every day, we’ve started talking about whether we should put our son in day care or if I should keep him at home longer.
So, which scenario would be best for his social development? Two speech and language experts, who are the pros when it comes to little ones’ social skills, weigh in.
Do Babies Need Social Interaction From Day Care?
The short answer is that yes, babies do eventually need to be around other children their age to practice their social skills. However, you don’t have to put them in day care to do it.
“Deciding on child care is such a daunting task and every family is different with different resources that might make the decision for them,” said Natalie Reuther, MS, CCC-SLP, speech therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville, in an interview with Romper. “No matter where your child spends their day, research shows that the quality of the play and language environment is what matters for cognitive and communicative development. Providing structure to the day allows a sense of security and predictability that their needs will be met in a consistent manner, and this allows children to focus on the important task of playing and learning about their daily routine.”
Reuther says if you’re choosing a day care, check if the center follows a curriculum. Do they incorporate lots of screen time, or are the days based around playtime? Do the providers have enough time to engage with kids one-on-one, or are they pulled lots of directions? On the other hand, if you’re keeping your little one at home, keep consistent meal and play times and help set up lots of opportunity to learn through playtime and interacting with you.
What Age Is My Toddler Ready To Socialize With Others?
There’s no set age where your baby needs to have play dates or be in day care. Instead, keep an eye out for these milestones and age ranges to know when it might be good for your kiddo to be around their peers:
“Between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, you see parallel play develop — being able to play side-by-side,” says Julia Gardunio, MA, CCC-SLP, speech therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville, during a call with Romper. “By 3, we start to see turn-taking, cooperative play, and showing concern for a crying friend. These are things they have been exposed to for years at this point and they’re confident enough to integrate those spoken and unspoken rules into their interactions.”
How Can I Help My Child Develop At Home?
Gardunio said that if your baby isn’t enrolled in day care, you can give them the same benefits by making sure you give them “a rich play environment,” and get down in the floor and play with them throughout the day. So, what does that mean?
“Sometimes we see parents come in and they’re like, ‘Wait, how do I play with my kid?’ And we tell them just notice things together and give your child a chance to explore things,” she said. “You can setup play dates and take your child to the playground. If you notice your child is drawn to another child, ask the caregiver if you can meet at the playground again next week.”
“Regardless of your decision, ensure that you’re able to play with them and dive into their world,” said Reuther.
These two experts also said the following can help your child’s overall development, whether they do them with you during the day or after day care ends:
- Limit tech-heavy toys, like something with lots of buttons that lights up and sings the ABCs. Gardunio said these basically play for your child, whereas giving them little figurines and cars or a container to take things in and out of actively engages them.
- Use apps like Peanut to find other parents with babes a similar age in your area.
- Engage in sensory activities (which don’t have to be the elaborate kind you see on IG). If your child is touching a soft blanket, talk to them about how soft it is and then hand them a hard toy, Gardunio said. Reuther said mealtimes are great for this, too, like letting your baby feel the difference between applesauce and a cracker.
- Resources like pathways.org and Bright by Text provide information on how you can play with your child to boost their development at every age.
Natalie Reuther, MS, CCC-SLP, speech therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville
Julia Gardunio, MA, CCC-SLP, speech therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville