My nephew is always all-smiles. Every time we pay a visit, he is beaming from ear to ear, giving us the impression that he is simply the happiest baby to ever walk the earth. However when my mother-in-law’s friend was over for a family party, she gave us some of her nursing insight on the constant smiling. While it’s cute, the smiles are actually an instinctive reflex for the four-month-old. When he sees the whole family smiling and looking into his eyes, he automatically does the same. Mimicking those around you is a behavior that you’re born with the ability and instinct to carry out.

A smiling baby can melt anyone’s heart, but the reasons behind it are evidence of the harsh realities of nature outside the confines of a happy home. In the wild before every family was safe from predators and natural disaster, a baby needed to make sure he fit in enough to be accepted and cared for. Mirroring the faces of those around him was the best way to make sure he was accepted into the tribe and watched over until self-defense was an option. Now, that instinct that your baby has obviously won’t make him any more loved or cared for, but it will definitely make everyone in the room go, aw, how cute!”

If you want your baby to smile more, the solution is simple. Smile more at him. By putting on your happy face when you stare into your baby’s eyes, you are teaching him to do the same with every interaction. A smiling baby is a cute baby, so you might as well teach him how to win his family members over even faster. If you see a baby or a toddler who doesn’t seem very happy looking at others, there’s a good chance his or her parents don’t seem happy either.

No matter how badly your day is going or how stressed you are, just looking at your baby brings great joy, so don’t be afraid to show it. Smile when you look at your baby to encourage the same in return. It is one of the first things your baby will ever learn, and it is one of the easiest things you will ever teach. Though, you probably don’t even have to be told to smile at your baby all the time because it’s like a reflex for you, too.

Source: Ursula Hess et al: Emotional Mimicry as Social Regulation. Personality and Social Psychology Review January 2013

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