Emotional Development


Emotional development is how your baby begins to develop the capability to experience, express, and understand emotions.


Chad is in his crib sleeping when all of a sudden he breaks out in a very loud cry. Mom hears his cry on the baby monitor and goes into the nursery to see what is wrong. Mom says, “Chad, what’s wrong, buddy? You were sleeping so well.” Mom picks up Chad out of his crib, holding him close to her chest. Mom then discovers that he is wet straight through his diaper and his onesie.


Crying is how Chad is expressing feelings, and he should be allowed to do so. Rather than using distractions to try to stop your baby from crying, try to figure out why the crying is occurring so that you are able to help. Here, Chad is signaling his discomfort to Mom through his cry, letting her know that something needs to be addressed so he can get back to enjoying his sleep.

Babies learn emotions through interaction with parents and caregivers. Parents have a significant influence on how their children turn out, including their personalities, emotional development, and behavioral habits. For instance, one important emotional reaction is crying, which is part of a baby’s emotional development.

Before your baby is four months old, you must build trust and a sense of security by attending to his basic needs, which are feeding, comforting, and cleaning.

It is important for you to know the different types of cries your baby might have so that you can determine what type of comfort he needs. Understanding your baby’s cry also includes understanding his temperament.

Your crying baby can be consoled with motion, cuddling, singing, massage, or a toy. But this will only last so long; at some point, these techniques will have to be added to the child’s taking a more active role in feeling better. Some babies self soothe by sucking on a thumb or a pacifier, gazing at objects, or using other sensory experiences to calm down. Your infant will learn to self-soothe if you give him a chance. The most important concept to understand is you must listen to your baby and learn to understand his cries to determine the root cause first, then move on to one of the techniques mentioned.

An emotionally available parent will have the following characteristics:

Sensitive—is conscious of the infant’s cues, understands those cues, and provides support;

Structured—creates a sleep environment that is positive, quiet, and soothing on a consistent basis;

Nonintrusive—recognizes that a baby needs quality sleep and does not create or allow distractions;

Non-hostile—does not display frustration or anger when engaged in routines with the baby such as changing or going to sleep.

A crying baby can be emotionally draining for a parent. It is important to understand that your baby is influenced by your emotions, tone and volume of voice, gestures, and facial expressions. Your baby needs to feel affection and caring despite how you are feeling emotionally or physically.

Being physically present is not enough. When parents are just nearby and not emotionally invested in their babies or are not responsive, they are raising children who will be distressed and less engaged with their play or activities or other people. It is important for the overall development of your infant to be present enough to support him emotionally; this support will foster confidence and growth in all aspects of the whole child.

A critical time to be emotionally available is at bedtime. Babies from one to 24 months sleep better when parents are emotionally available at bedtime. When you are there to address needs it is easier for your baby to fall asleep and sleep through the night.

An emotionally available parent makes the baby feel safe.

As a parent, you need to adapt to your baby’s temperament, because it is his unique emotional makeup. Take time to see what temperament your infant is developing; it will enable you to adapt to your baby’s emotional makeup and support his needs.

A key aspect of emotional development in babies is learning how to regulate emotion. Your baby was born with little self-control, so he acts and reacts without the ability to stop himself.

When you have an understanding of the kind of temperament your baby has, you can provide better guidance to help him begin to manage his emotions. Furthermore, how you address the emotions of your infant and respond to him affects how expressive your baby will feel he can be later in life. The temperaments of parents and caregivers and the emotional climate of the home will influence emotional development. Therefore, make sure you have all the support you need to be emotionally present for the needs of your little one.

Let’s explore some temperament traits your baby could have.

Intensity—Highly intense babies have powerful responses. They will cry loudly. Less intense babies tend to be calmer and quieter.

Persistence—Very persistent babies take on challenges. They do not like to be stopped in the middle of something (e.g. stopped during a feeding to get a diaper changed). Less persistent babies can be persuaded to move on and come back to an activity. Persistent babies can accept only a little modification in their schedule. They are bothered by surprises or changes in plans.

Sensitivity—Highly sensitive babies have their feelings hurt easily. Have you ever observed someone make a face at your baby, and he started to cry? You may think he was crying without a reason, but the sight obviously bothered him. Less sensitive babies are not as concerned when others act in an unusual or surprising fashion.

Perceptiveness—Highly perceptive babies get distracted easily. Less perceptive infants notice less of what is going on around them.

Feeding Your Baby

It is very important that you are emotionally present during your baby’s feedings. This is a routine time for your baby, and it lends itself to bonding experiences between you and him. You can explore the many feeding options that are available to you: you can breastfeed, use formula, or do a combination of the two. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to nutrients, cost, and convenience, but what is sometimes overlooked is the bonding parents and primary caregivers have when feeding their babies.

Bonding While Bottle Feeding

Emotional bonding will also occur if you are a parent who has chosen to bottle feed. Bonding actually occurs in many of the same ways as with nursing. The simplest thing you can do when you feed your baby is engage in skin-to-skin contact. By taking off your shirt and feeling your baby’s skin against yours, you are boosting levels of the love hormone oxytocin between you and your baby.

The most important thing to remember when bonding with your baby is to be present and in the moment while feeding him. Don’t engage in distractions such as the TV, reading, or talking to another person. Make eye contact with your baby, and bring him close to you while you talk gently and smile at him.