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Social and Emotional Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood



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    Think back to when you were younger, do you remember the different emotions you had? Did you know that you learned a lot of your emotions from your parents or caregivers? Infants and toddlers go through many different stages of emotional development. Starting at birth where they show little to no emotion, up through toddler-hood where their emotions become more defined is a critical stage in there development. Infants begin to develop basic emotions at birth such as happy, sad, fear and anger. As they get older to start to understand and respond to the emotions of others whether it is their parent’s or caregiver.

    Around toddler-hood children learn about self-conscious emotions and when it is appropriate to feel guilt, shame, pride and envy. Young infants may show signs of emotions even though their emotional life consists of two arousal states, attraction to pleasant stimulation and withdrawal from unpleasant stimulation. As children get older their emotions will become clear, well organized signals, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 250). Infants are unable to describe their feelings so their facial expressions, body movements and vocalizations are the best reliable cues.

    Infants will learn their parent’s facial expressions and voice which will lead to the parents understanding of their child’s different emotions. Around 6 months of age the infants face, gaze, voice and body movement are well organized and will vary with different environmental events. An example of an environmental event would be if the caregiver was interacting with a joyful, happy face the baby would respond with laughter and smiles. As infants get older they may stop playing with a toy to show their excitement towards an adult giving them attention, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 51). After one year you will be able to see the different smiles an infant has. The biggest smile you will see is in response to their parents. If a friendly stranger is around the baby may show a small muted smile. When it comes to emotions children differ than adults in many senses. If a child is upset or angry they will only remain that way for a short period of time, their emotions are short-lived. Emotions in children change fairly quickly, I know that if I give my cousin one of her toys when she is crying she will immediately stop and start laughing and playing.

    When a toddler or infant is upset you may be able to tell by their physical gestures. They may start kicking, hitting, and throwing things and even bite. Children are not able to hide their emotions as well as adults. Emotions will appear frequently in young children because they don’t have control on their feelings. The smallest thing could excite them and you will see a quick emotional reaction towards that excitement. Every child will have a different behavior even under the same emotion.

    If a child is scared they may run away or start crying and another child may just hide behind their mother or caregiver. As an infant gets older their emotions get stronger and more intense. It may not be as easy as it was to calm a child down if they are upset or crying, (Jatin Dutta, Essay on Emotional Development in Children, http://www. preservearticles. com 10/02/2012). Happiness is one of the basic emotions that is expressed first by smiles and then by laughter. Happiness binds the parent and baby into a warm, supportive relationship that builds the infants developing competencies.

    During the first few weeks’ infants smile for a variety of different reasons; after eating, during REM sleep, gentle touches, and hearing the mother’s soft high-pitched voice, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 251). As infants pay more attention to their parents faces they move their arms and legs excitedly becoming more emotionally positive. Around six and ten weeks the parent’s communication causes a broad grin known as the social smile. Babies learn to use the social smile to promote pleasurable face-to-face interaction with his or his parents.

    After a baby learns to smile they learn to laugh which means they are learning to process information faster. Little games like peekaboo get the baby the laugh and smile. During the middle of the first year babies may laugh and smile more often when interacting with familiar people. Newborn babies respond with anger and sadness to a variety of things. If a baby is hungry, is getting too much or too little stimulation or there body temperature changes they may have a negative reaction towards it. Around two and a half years a toddlers angry expressions will become more intense.

    Toddler’s angry actions are different than infants. For example if a toy is taken away a toddler might start kicking and screaming where as an infant may just start crying. When children become aware of different behaviors they want to control their own actions and effects. Also as infants become older they are able to identify who took their toy away or caused them pain. When they identify who made them upset they will show it by using different emotions towards that person. I know if I do something that upsets my cousin she will act angry towards me but if there are other people around she will smile and show happy emotions.

    When she does that she is trying to show me that I upset her by taking her toy away or saying no to playing with makeup but because the other people didn’t say anything she doesn’t have to be mad at them. Sadness in infants and toddlers is less common than anger. When children don’t spend as much time with a familiar caregiver or parent-infant interaction is lacking they will become upset, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 252). Stranger anxiety is when a child is scared of an unfamiliar adult. Though toddlers and infants are wary of strangers a reaction may not always occur.

    A reaction from the child depends on several different factors, such as the child’s temperament, past experience with strangers and the current situation. Stranger anxiety is most likely to occur if an unfamiliar adult were to pick up or hold the child in a new situation. It is less likely to occur if the parent of the child is around while the stranger plays with the baby. Also if the adult expresses warmth, plays a familiar game or holds out an attractive toy it will reduce the baby’s fear. Research shows that infant rearing practices can modify stranger anxiety, like the Efe hunters and gatherers of the Republic of Congo.

    After birth Efe babies are passed from one adult to another. These babies spend only 40% of the day with their mothers and get switched around 8. 3 times every hour with 14 different people. This caregiving system makes stranger anxiety less common among Efe infants, (Efe People, www. parentingscience. com). Unlike Efe infants Israeli kibbutizim babies show much greater stranger anxiety because of their community. At the end of the first year they look to others to see how they should emotionally respond. Infants also learn emotions by imitation. If the mother or caregiver is scared of something the baby will start to fear the same.

    All infants and toddlers show fear differently some may run away or hide behind their mother. As they grow up they may express their fear of something through language. Infant’s emotions are tied to the emotions of the people around them. In the first few months of a child’s life they will act in the same way their caregiver does. Emotional contagion is an automatic process in which babies respond to others emotions. Some researchers believe operant conditioning has something to do with the way babies respond to others. Infants pick up on the timing of face-to-face interactions. If they smile or ake noises towards someone they expect a reply with the same positive emotions. This helps the infant view others as “like me”, which leads to children understanding others thoughts and feelings. By the middle of the first year infants are able to differentiate positive and negative emotions in voices and facial expressions. Soon they are able to understand face-voice pairing, with appropriate examples and inappropriate ones. A happy face with a happy voice would be an example of an appropriate face-voice pairing where a happy face with an angry voice is inappropriate. As children get older emotions start to mean more to them.

    They start to understand that an event or object may cause a specific emotional reaction. As they start to understand emotions more social referencing comes into play. Social referencing is actively seeking emotional information from a trusted person in an uncertain situation, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 253). When you bring an infant or toddler into a new situation they look to the parent or caregiver to see how they should act. The way the caregiver acts will influence whether or not the child will be scared or happy. The voice of an adult has a stronger effect on the child than a facial expression does.

    If a baby is focused on something they are able to listen for the adult’s emotion in their voice instead of their face. As parents start to show warning signs towards things they feel uncomfortable with or don’t want the children doing the children retain these emotional signals. As the child gets older their response becomes more and more delayed. By the age of one a child responds appropriately after a few minutes and by fourteen months they respond after an hour or more. Toddlers begin to go beyond reacting to other emotional messages and use them to decide how they should react and feel towards certain things. Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 253) Self-conscious emotions such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, envy and pride enhances our sense of self. Each of these emotions brings out a different reaction from a person. If you have hurt someone you are close to you may feel guilt and will want to correct what you have done. When we have pride in something we have done, we want to share it with others to show what we have accomplished. In children these self-conscious emotions appear in the middle of the second year when they see themselves as an individual.

    If a toddler is ashamed of something they will lower their eyes and head and may cover their face, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 254). Another thing that may affect how a toddler feels about something they have done is what an adult says to them after. In class we talked about self-conscious emotions and different experiences we’ve had with them. I know when my cousin asks if she is doing a good job painting my nails, I have to say yes even though she may not be because if I tell her she is not doing a good job she will be ashamed of herself.

    After I tell her she is doing a good job I can see the pride and joy she has in her face as she continues to paint my nails (Focus Group, 10/11/12). You can see the feelings adults encourage from culture to culture. In Western nations adults teach their children to feel pride in personal achievement like getting a good grade, winning a game or contest. In other places like China or Japan you don’t see children calling attention to individual success. In these cultures you should be embarrassed or ashamed if you pride yourself on your successes, (Laura Berk, Infants and Children Infants pg. 254).

    Over the years I have seen the different emotional development stages my youngest cousin, Hailey, has gone through. I remember watching her when she was only a few weeks old thinking about how hard it was to fulfill her needs without her being able to tell me. The different facial expressions, sounds and movements a baby makes really does help you to figure out what the child needs or wants. If I was playing with a toy she wanted to hold she would reach out her arms like she wanted to grab for the toy. When she wanted to be picked up or held she would reach out her arms and make small cooing noises.

    One of the main caregivers in Hailey’s life was my grandfather he would always be there to play with her and give her whatever she wanted. You would always be able to tell how much Hailey enjoyed being around my grandfather by the amount of laughter and smiles you saw. It was amazing to me that at such a young age she knew when my grandfather came in the room just by hearing his voice. She could be sitting playing with her favorite toy but if she heard his voice she would immediately turn around to see him. One specific memory I have is when Hailey would get upset.

    If she started crying the only way you could get her to calm down was if you picked her up and sang. If she ever got upset while my grandfather was there she wouldn’t let anyone but him pick her up. The book talks about how infant’s emotional expressions are closely tied to their ability to interpret the emotional cues of others and how babies match their emotions to that of their caregiver. Now that Hailey is four years old you are able to see all the different emotions and personalities she has picked up on from all the different people she has been around.

    She shows different emotions towards every person she interacts with. When I am around her I can tell she is happy and excited because those are the emotions I express when I’m with her. It’s so interesting to see she shows the same emotions I do towards certain things if we are together. As infants and toddlers manage their emotions they use the process of emotional self-regulation to adjust their emotional state to a comfortable level so they can accomplish their goals. One example of emotional self-regulation would be deciding not to see a scary horror film because you know that you will not like it.

    To succeed in controlling your emotions you must put effort into managing them. Having control of your emotions plays a role in autonomy and cognitive and social skills. Toddlers who have a harder time controlling their emotions are more likely to be delayed in mental development and have behavior problems as well as long-lasting problems. Infants depend on caregivers to distract and redirect their attention if something happens that is too intense and overwhelms them. Children who are taught to turn away from unpleasant events are less likely to show distress.

    As infants learn to crawl and walk they are able to control their emotions because they can approach or leave certain situations. Children learn how to express their feelings from their caregivers. Infants who suppress negative emotion most likely had a caregiver who showed expressions of happiness and surprise more than anger and sadness. Boy infants have a harder time regulating emotions than girls do so you will often see their caregiver suppress negative emotions. Chinese and Japanese babies tend to smile and cry less than American babies.

    Social and Emotional Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood. (2017, Jan 21). Retrieved from

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