You’ve probably seen your baby’s first reflexive smile when he sleeps, but when he looks right into your eyes and smiles, it’s a magical moment that you’ll forever treasure. How can you tell the difference between a social smile and a reflexive one? Keep reading and find out. 

Your baby’s first smile will be spontaneous, a reflexive smile, and it’ll probably happen when he is asleep. During REM sleep your baby’s body goes through physiological changes, and one of these produces a smile. However, at this point it’s probably just a physical reaction, not an emotional one. This reflex can even be considered a part of your little one’s survival instinct, such as the rooting, sucking, and moro reflexes.   

After a few months, playtime gets more exciting! Making funny faces, voices, and cuddling will make your baby smile in reaction to sensory experiences, not a social response. However, you can try and encourage a smile! This smile is known as responsive smile, and usually appears between 6 and 8 weeks of age.

So, when will a smile provoked by social stimulation appear? You can expect it when your baby is around 2 or 3 months old. At this stage your baby will want to connect! Now he will smile when he sees you, and he will learn that he can get a reaction from you by smiling, not only by crying. During this time, his developing cognitive skills help him identify familiar faces as well as understand behavioral patterns. Your baby will start choosing what makes him smile and what doesn’t.

When your baby is around 9 months old, he will have a stronger sense of object permanence. He will know that something exists even when he can’t see it; use this to encourage smiling! Try to play Peek-a-boo or “now you see me, now you don’t”,  that will incite a lot of smiles and laughs.

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When will your baby smile at you?

  • When he is overjoyed.
  • When you smile at him willingly, as a response to his actions.
  • When he wants to get your attention.

How to incite a social smile

  • Play Peek-a-boo.
  • Get silly! Make silly sounds and faces.
  • Sing to him.

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