September 25, 2012

Social-emotional development in infants and babies

The process of social emotional development begins when an infant develops trust in and around their place in the world. When your baby is secure in her relationship with you, she knows that no matter what, you’ll be there to help her settle, to get her out of scary situations and to help her learn how to be a friend, what to say and what to do.  This sense of safety provides her with the security to then begin to reach out and explore the world, to actually decide to live, grow, thrive !

In the first three years babies are working all day, every day to develop the four components of social emotional development: trust and emotional security, self-awareness, self-regulation and relationships with other children.  For Young Infants (birth to eight months), the first of these four components is developing Trust and Emotional Security.  That means that your baby spends most of his waking time gazing into your eyes and falling in love with you.  During these first eight months, first his eyes, then his head and finally his whole body will follow you wherever you go; the expression on his face making it clear that he wants to be with YOU.  She will love cooing back and forth with you, listening to your voice and listening to stories.  Be sure to include her at meal time; talk to her, tell her what you are doing.  She’ll love watching.

Each month you will notice that your child is becoming more wary of people who are not her familiar family and friends.  This development tells you that you are your baby’s trusted adult and he will count on you to ensure that he is always safe.  Take your lead from his cues and allow him to warm up to family members and guests.  Introduce him to new people and let him know that you trust these people.  When she’s ready, she’ll reach out to be held by others. This is trust and emotional security. 

Self-Awareness is the second part of social emotional development.  Babies are born learning and your little one will be fascinated discovering her hands, fingers and feet.  Your baby will also become delighted with her reflection in the mirror.  She will also be discovering her own feelings: comfort, discomfort, joy and sadness, as well as how to manage those feelings.  You will be her model and teacher.  When you acknowledge and name her feelings she will feel valued and respected.

The next part of social emotional development is Self-Regulation (or Infant Self-Regulation).  Self-regulation starts out as a physiological process of the maturing of the central nervous system and quickly becomes a part of your baby’s awareness about how to respond to and manage all of the input she is getting from the outside world.  In the early months, your baby is entirely dependent upon you to help her learn what she needs to do to soothe herself.  Baby will thrive on the predictability of schedules and routines to help him predict what’s coming up next and how he needs to respond.  Critical during these early months, are parents who are sensitive to and intentional with their care-giving.    

The final component, a Relationship with Other Children, starts out slowly in these first eight months and builds rapidly as your baby matures and becomes interested in others, especially others their size!  Around three months your baby will begin to watch other children from a distance.  You will notice that she is particularly interested in their voices, especially when they say her name.  She will enjoy vocalizing with other children and will imitate their facial expressions.  Siblings love this game!  Be sure that your baby is safely positioned so that she can see what other children are doing and help them engage in talking, cooing and making faces with your baby.  As your baby gets older teach the older children how to show the baby a rattle, hand her soft toys that she can grab and put in her mouth.  To their delight, she will soon be offering toys to the older ones!  Respectful, trusting relationships are learned over time right from birth.

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