Baby Gaze: Why Do They Stare?
Babies love faces.
Yesterday I was at the grocery store, waiting to check out. Ahead of me, a mom was unloading her groceries while a little guy about 12 months old sat in the grocery cart. We locked eyes and he stared. I smiled and said “hi” and he stared some more. I kept smiling and after a moment he looked away, then returned his gaze on me for the next few moments, silently engaging and studying ’that lady standing there.’
So here’s my take on this interaction…
- He’s curious because he’s never seen me before.
- He doesn’t respond to my smile or words, but is interested because he surmised that I’m not threatening (plus his mom is really close).
- He glances away to break the intensity of the interaction and returns because he’s driven from within to connect with others. This is how he learns about people outside his little world.
- In a few months, he’ll likely be a little friendlier as he gets some words to help him communicate.
- In a couple of years he may carry on a conversation with a complete stranger, so long as they’re interested in him and friendly in return (and mom or dad is very close by!)
Just as we, when falling in love with someone, gaze into their eyes, the process of you and your baby gazing at one another begins the attachment process. You are in love!
When given a choice, a newborn will choose to look at a face over another object and by the time they reach 3-4 months of age they will begin to really focus on and gaze at your face.
The ability to discriminate between faces of different people shows up at 5-6 months, so they’ll begin to recognize the familiar faces of friends and family.
In the first year, babies get a lot of information from faces. They learn to recognize people and identify them. They’ll look back at you as they crawl away, to see if you’re watching and if you’re following them. They learn to detect your mood by looking at your face and use your expressions to give a non-verbal thumbs up or thumbs down on whether a new situation is safe. When they see you looking at something, they will turn their gaze to follow yours.
All of these behaviors indicate that their little brain is beginning to think with more complexity, so by watching them watch you, you learn a lot about their development.
When we gaze into the eyes of our newborn we fall in love. And this begins from the moment the baby comes into your life, whether by biological birth, through adoption or whatever circumstance a baby enters into your world. This is how we attach to one another.
And it’s the most important thing. A trusting person that responds. The lifelong benefits of the attachment process are extraordinary.
Enjoy the beauty as you gaze at your sweet little one!
Until next time,