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The Emotional Development of Your Baby

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 3/2/2012

According to modern research, babies can actually feel and understand more than we can imagine. The emotional development of an infant lays the foundation for how the child will relate to others later on in life. Learn how you can encourage the development of your baby.

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    Research Shows...

    Research on the emotional development of infants is relatively current as it is a newer field of study. It wasn't until the 20th century that researchers began to look into what mothers already knew, that babies had a wide range of emotions. An infant's emotions are the only way it has (before learning to speak) to communicate its needs to its caregivers. Infants learn to recognize their parents' facial expressions and voice tones and the parents in turn learn to understand what their infant is trying to convey by crying, screaming or smiling.

    In general, infants can demonstrate a range of positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions include smiling, laughing, showing joy and excitement; negative emotions are crying, showing anger, becoming anxious, feeling guilty or sad and becoming withdrawn. Some emotions are biologically pre-determined and some emotions are culturally and socially specific. An infant will cry, for example, when it is hungry or tired or uncomfortable, and it will often react to a stranger or a strange situation by taking a cue from its caregiver's reaction.

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    Bonding With Baby

    Infants need plenty of care and attention in the first two years of their lives. A baby that has had all its needs fulfilled by its principal caregiver will develop a bond of attachment and trust with the caregiver and will be more likely to develop into an emotionally secure child/adult than a baby that has been neglected or abused. Emotionally secure infants grow into emotionally strong children who do well in school, build healthy social relationships and do well later on in life.

    Let's take a look at how the emotional development of an infant takes place. The list that follows is derived from broad milestones developed by researchers. It is important to keep in mind that emotional infant development, much more than physical development, is unique to each child and all babies will not follow the exact same developmental process. Parents and other people in the baby's life can help by talking and singing to the baby, cuddling with it often, and playing with it.

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    Emotional Development: The First Few Months

    One month to around four months - At this age, baby mostly cries and smiles and makes smacking movements with its mouth. He or she learns to identify the touch and face of the person or persons looking after it. He or she also learns to convey when it is hungry and when it wants to be comforted as well as to quiet down when it is offered a bottle or when it is picked up. Babies will also show excitement when someone makes a funny noise.

    Four to eight months - The baby is now able to recognize family and friends and its surroundings. It learns to follow movements and is curious about everything around it. As the sense of touch and taste develops further, it will constantly try to grab things and put them in its mouth. It recognizes itself in a mirror and gurgles happily when tickled. It now tries to make speaking sounds. According to its temperament, it will smile more or cry more.

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    1 to 2 Years Old

    From eight to twelve months - The baby learns to crawl, sit up and stand up on its own. It begins to further develop a sense of self. It laughs when someone makes funny faces and tries to mimic them. It enjoys picture books, bright toys, songs and simple games. It learns more about its surroundings and explores as much as it can. It starts to learn to talk more clearly.

    From twelve months to eighteen months - The young one becomes more independent of its caregivers. It begins to develop more self-consciousness. It will shy away from people it doesn't know.

    From eighteen to twenty-four months - The child now starts to understand the concept of a daily routine and to remember things it did yesterday and to look forward to things it will do tomorrow. It begins to view other people are distinct entities with their own personalities. It starts to show empathy and will try to comfort you if it thinks it ought to. It's come a long way from the bundle of joy that only blew bubbles at you not so long ago.

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    These emotional infant development milestones are only the beginning steps to a long journey of growing up. You are the most important factor in your baby's emotional input and output on life in the future. Enjoy it while you can!

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