When we think of baby’s milestones, we are often concerned with their motor skills development such as walking and talking. However, babies grow emotionally from day one ― their emotional milestones will affect their ability to learn and cope with the world in their later years.
Frances Yeo, a consultant psychologist at Thomson Paediatric Centre, notes that bonding as well as the parents’ attachment with their newborn is a vital part of a child’s social and emotional development. Nor are babies too young to learn to deal with disappointments and failures.
Yeo says, “When your newborn gets what he needs from you, like a smile, a touch or a cuddle, he will feel that the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore. This gives him the foundation for emotional well-being and the ability to cope with setbacks later in life.”
Yeo urges parents to identify their child’s emotional problems early and to check with the paediatrician. She cautions, “Kids with emotional dysregulation problems need to learn ways to cope with disappointments and setbacks. If they don’t learn appropriate ways to cope with negative feelings, they are at risk of developing problems in social relationships, and other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.”
Your child is likely facing emotional development issues if they display the following signs:
- Does not respond when their name is when called.
- Does not give social smiles.
- Does not babble.
- Does not make frequent eye contact.
- Does not follow your eyes when you look away or cry when you leave.
Learn all about baby’s first emotional milestones, plus, wise up to ways you can help to build their emotional intelligence and well-being. They have the ability to…:
The development of secure attachment comes from experiences with an available, reliable and comforting caregiver. You are also teaching him that the world is a safe and friendly place where his needs will be met.
1. … Express their feelings
Up till they are 3 months of age, baby has not much awareness of what is happening around them. They are new to their body’s sensations such as feeling hungry or full, tired or sleepy. Even though you are the one who gave birth to them, at this point, they have no idea that you are a person who can help and protect them.
Baby cries to express their feelings and show that they are overwhelmed by the things happening around them. When you respond to baby’s cries, they learn that someone will pay attention to and comfort them in times of distress.
What you can do: Respond to baby’s cries quickly. When you respond, Yeo explains, you are helping him to feel safe. From your smell and voice, baby will learn to recognise that you are the reliable one who comforts him when he cries. By reacting to your baby’s emotional expressions when you say something like “That jack-in-the-box gave you a fright, didn’t it?”, this helps your baby eventually understand and manage his own feelings. The development of secure attachment comes from experiences with an available, reliable and comforting caregiver, Yeo points out. You are also teaching him that the world is a safe and friendly place where his needs will be met.
2. … Make eye contact
Eye contact ― one of the first milestones babies masters ― tells parents that their baby can “see” and recognise them. When baby is between 6 and 10 weeks old, they will probably be able to look deliberately at their caregiver and hold that gaze with widening eyes. At around 3 months old, they should be able to follow their caregiver movements at a distance.
What you can do: Encourage baby to make eye contact by holding him at about 25 cm to 50 cm away from your face, but do it only when he is relaxed and contented. Don’t force a crying or fussy baby to make eye contact with you as he won’t able to focus.
3. … Smile at you
Encouraging your baby to smile will help them to develop self-esteem. It lets them know that their feelings are important and that they can influence their environment. From the sixth week, babies start to smile for social reasons such as getting your attention. Smiling means that they are beginning to figure out human interaction and realises that smiling back at you gets your attention.
What you can do: Yeo suggests that you play games with baby such as peek-a-boo or make funny faces or sounds. When baby grows older, you can play more sophisticated games like hiding a toy under a cup while he watches and let him “find” it, or show him how you put a lid on a container and let him try doing t.
Don’t worry if baby does not smile or react to your games as you may need to make several attempts. A note of caution, too, avoid overdoing it as babies are also learning to regulate their emotions and may not react when they are over-stimulated.
When you respond to baby’s needs promptly, he learns over time that uncomfortable situations do not last for long and he can deal with it. Subsequently, baby will learn to soothe himself as he begins to realise that he knows how to handle difficult situations.
4. … Self-soothe
The world is a scary place for a newborn. Even simple things like getting their diaper changed or getting a bath could be overwhelming and make baby feel out of control. As a parent, your role is to ensure that baby feels secure and in control. The calmer baby feels, the more in control they will be.
Babies have different ways to calm down. Some prefer physical acts of soothing such as rocking or hugging, while some like to be swaddled or laid down. When you respond to baby’s needs promptly, they learn over time that uncomfortable situations will not last long and they can deal with it. Subsequently, baby will learn to soothe themselves as they begin to realise that they know how to handle difficult situations.
What you can do: When baby cries during a diaper change or feeding, hold your baby until he stops crying. While you may worry that such actions will spoil him, your little one is actually learning that he can rely on his caregiver to help him regain control when he is uncomfortable. Giving an infant more attention will make him feel more secure and become more self-reliant in future.
5. … Display separation anxiety
Separation anxiety, which can occur as early as 3 months of age, tends to peak when they are 10 to 18 months old. You may notice that previously calm baby when someone else carried them now cries the moment a stranger comes near. They may also start crying the minute you put them down or move out of sight.
When baby becomes “clingy”, he is reaching another emotional milestone, which signifies healthy growth. Getting anxious about unfamiliar people or being separated from their primary caregiver is a sign that baby is beginning to realise that every persons and things around him are unique. It also shows that baby has formed an attachment and desires to be with you.
Being separated from you can cause baby to feel stress as they know that you are somewhere and not with him. But as baby grows to perceive the world through experiences and time, they will eventually learn that “mummy will be back”, so that they can anticipate reuniting with you.
What you can do: If you need to leave baby with another caregiver or a childcare centre, spend a few minutes with him in the new environment and reassure him that you’ll be back before you leave. However, don’t make a fuss over your departure, linger around or peep through the window to see how he’s doing. This may cause junior to feel that you are also insecure about the separation and could worsen his anxiety. Have the person staying with him create a distraction, so that he will learn that nothing bad will happen when you are gone.
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