A Basic Explanation of Emotional Development in Infants and Toddlers
This is how infants and toddlers emotionally develop during their first years of life.
Emotions are a response to an event. They come from within an individual, although they may be triggered by an external event. Feelings refer to a physical sense of or an awareness of an emotional state. They involve the capacity to respond to an emotional state.
Newborns’ emotions are related to immediate experiences and sensations. Evidence exists that infants react to harsh stimulations with tenseness. In the first weeks of life, infants’ emotional responses are not refined.
Toward the end of the first year, infants link information about another person’s emotional expression with environmental cues. By the second year, toddlers may express pride, embarrassment, shame, and empathy.
Social referencing is “checking in” in the emotional domain. Infants check the trusted caregiver’s emotional expression. Infants also use the emotions of others to guide their own emotions.
All feelings are good. They carry energy, have a purpose, and provide people with messages that are important to their sense of self-direction. Some are “yes!” feelings, while some are “no!” feelings. “Yes!” feelings are joy, pleasure, delight, satisfaction, and power. “No!” feelings are fear and anger.
As children get older, teach them what they do with their feelings is good or bad. For example, if a child is angry, they should not be hitting anyone or anything. Recognize their anger and help them deal with the situation in a better way.
Temperament is an individual’s behavior style and way of responding to the world. This involves a set of personality characteristics that are influenced by genetics (nature) and interactions (nurture). Recognizing and appreciating individual differences can help adults respond to the challenges of young children’s temperament in caring, supportive ways.
According to Chess and Thomas and their temperament theory, there are three basic temperament types- an easy and flexible baby, a slow-to-warm baby, and a feisty, spirited, and difficult baby. A significant percentage of children have a blend of these three temperament types.
Chess and Thomas believed that temperament was well established by three months of age. Temperament itself may develop with age, but early behaviors change and reorganize themselves into new, more complex reactions.
Resiliency is the ability to thrive despite adverse environmental conditions. Fostering resiliency in a person and showing respect are approaches that share the same goal of healthy emotional development. Resilient children have an active approach to life’s challenges, an understanding of cause and effect, an ability to gain positive attention, and an ability to see the world as a positive place.
Caregivers can help infants and toddlers cope with their fears (one of the “no!” feelings). The causes of fear change as infants grow into toddlers. A common fear in the first year is stranger anxiety. Other fears in toddlerhood include animals, the dark, imaginary creatures, and the threat of physical harm.
Caregiver acceptance is vital to helping children recognize, identify, and accept their own feelings. Sometimes it helps if an infant can “relearn” a situation that was once frightening, known as conditioning.
Caregiving strategies for helping young children to cope with fear include accepting the children’s fears as real and valid, giving the children support and showing confidence that they can find ways to cope, using foresight to prevent fearful situations, preparing toddlers for potentially frightening situations by telling them what to expect, breaking frightening situations into manageable parts, coupling the unfamiliar with the familiar, and giving young children the time to adjust to something new.
Caregivers can help infants and toddlers cope with anger by recognizing that a child’s anger is real, paying attention and reflecting on what you perceive is coming from the child, being honest about how they feel, being able to decide when it is appropriate to express their feelings, being sure that infants and toddlers do not become too frustrated throughout the day, allowing infants to cry in anger and redirect angry toddlers’ energy to pounding clay or telling people how they feel, and providing time and a trustworthy environment for the child to learn to regulate difficult emotions.
Self-calming devices are varying degrees of emotional abilities that a child is born with. The most commonly seen self-calming device is thumb-sucking. Some self-soothing behaviors are learned and others, such as thumb-sucking, appear to be innate. The growth of self-calming behaviors is a process influenced and supported by social relationships. Children often imitate how their parents handle their anger.
Self-actualization is a result of self-calming techniques and recognition of their feelings by adults in young children. Responding to and respecting young children’s basic needs sets the stage for them to coordinate their own sense of self-direction and self-regulation.
This can only occur after other physical, intellectual, and emotional needs, which are recognized by Maslow, are met. According to Maslow, self-actualized people perceive reality clearly, are open and spontaneous, have a sense of aliveness, are able to be objective and creative, have the ability to love, and above all have a strong sense of self.
Strategies for fostering self-direction and self-regulation in young children can include helping young children pay attention to their perceptions, allowing quiet time so that they can reflect on their own experiences, providing an appropriate environment with stable relationships, giving choices to enable the child to become more competent and confident in decision-making, encouraging independence, and helping young children understand the perspectives and feelings of others.
Emotional and social development are connected to cognition and language. Too much stress and the release of related hormones over a long period of time can lead to problems with self-regulation, learning, and adapting to everyday circumstances.
Brain specialization in the first three years plays a significant role in self-regulation and emotional growth. Brain growth and neural development are able to inform and support developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood.
Early emotional exchanges between infants and their parents or caregivers foster brain growth. Young children with warm, nurturing care are less likely to produce high levels of cortisol in times of stress. Respectful relationships are prerequisites to healthy emotional growth.
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