Emotional Development in Babies: What You Should Know

10 July, 2020
Affection is very important in the development of babies. Below, we explain the different stages of emotional development in babies.

Emotional development in babies is a process that begins at birth. Thus, the first emotional relationships and bonds will determine the way in which the baby expresses and interprets their feelings and others.

From the first months of life, babies progressively acquire various skills and competencies related to intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. This is decisive for them to grow up healthy and happy.

“Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages.”

– Daniel Goleman –

Emotional development in babies

Emotions are states of agitation that activate when a relevant stimulus appears in the environment, such as a person, an object, a situation, a memory, etc. Thus, when faced with these sensations, one responds through three routes:

  • Cognitive.
  • Motor.
  • Physiological.

This is closely related to affectivity, as this last concept refers to the set of emotions that are experienced throughout life.

Emotional Development in Babies: What You Should Know

“Nowadays, many children grow up in unhappy homes. If they do not receive proper affection, in later life they will rarely love their parents and, not infrequently, will find it hard to love others. This is very sad. As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers.”

– Dalai Lama –

Stages of emotional development in babies

Emotional development is a gradual and complex process that can be divided into several stages:

  • Survival. The newborn, from the moment of birth, due to physiological needs, experiences emotional states such as:
    • Newborn crying.
    • Neonatal smile.
  • Interaction with the environment. When the baby begins to perceive affection and react to it. In this regard, we can mention:
    • Social smile. Appears in the third month of life.
    • Laughter. Begins approximately in the third or fourth month.
    • Crying. The baby cries with the intention of communicating from the third month, making demands and warnings of discomfort.
  • Experimentation of more complex emotions. Anger begins to develop more frequently in the third or fourth month, while fear in about the fifth or seventh month.
  • Development of interest. The child acquires the ability to initiate and maintain contact with the environment. This approximately occurs in the fifth month of life.
  • Recognition of other people’s emotions. It begins in the first year of life, when the baby, to assess whether a situation or environment is safe, observes the behaviors and reactions of a trusted adult. And, at a year and a half, the baby is able to understand the feelings of others and respond with complementary emotions. In other words, at this age, empathy begins to develop.
  • Experimentation of emotions related to self-awareness and self-control. These manifest from the age of two and are:
    • Shame.
    • Pride.
    • Guilt.
Emotional Development in Babies

Emotional regulation in babies

Learning to regulate emotions must also be considered in the emotional development process. It can be divided according to the baby’s age:

  • First months. They’re easily exalted and their emotions depend on the attachment figure’s attitude.
  • From two to four months. They better tolerate the manifestation of relevant stimuli and start face-to-face contact.
  • Towards the end of the first year. They express their feelings and emotions better, doing it with greater intention.
  • Between a year and a half and two years. They try to control other people’s actions and try to avoid bothersome stimuli.

“There is no separation of mind and emotions; emotions, thinking, and learning are all linked.”

– Eric Jensen –

  • Enesco, I. (Coord.) (2003). El desarrollo del bebé. Cognición, emoción y afectividad. Madrid: Alianza.
  • López, F., Etxebarria, I., Fuentes, M. J. y Ortiz, M. J. (Coords.) (2005). Desarrollo afectivo y social. Madrid: Pirámide.