From crying to using facial expressions, your baby begins adapting to her new world from Day One. These early exchanges are an important part of her social and emotional development as she grows; skills that will include interacting with others, establishing relationships with family and friends, learning to work with others, and responding to others' feelings.
Year 1: Social and emotional development
In her first month, your baby will start playing with grins and grimaces. Around month 2, she’ll have mastered the social smile, realizing it gets attention. The more your baby engages with you, the less she’ll feel bothered by internal sensations such as hunger, gas, or fatigue.
By a few months old, your baby should enjoy playing with familiar people and become more communicative and expressive. She might smile at a reflection, scream to show annoyance, and show preferences for certain people and specific toys. Additionally, she might be fearful of new situations, but with your help, she will be able to learn and accept new settings.
Tips for supporting social and emotional growth
Respond quickly to newborn needs.
Research shows that responding to your baby's needs builds trust and helps your baby feel secure. This strong bond and confidence can help her settle herself without your help.
Observe, understand, and embrace your baby's unique personality.
It's important to understand your baby's character traits and behavioral style as completely as possible so you can best respond to her. For instance, an irritable baby might need cuddling or distraction to refocus energy, while a shy infant might need time to watch from a distance before becoming directly involved with others.
Let your baby set the pace.
When your baby turns away or gets fussy, take a short break from the activity you were just doing.
Fear of strangers? Fear not.
Around month 5 or so, your baby will recognize certain people, yet may fear those who are not familiar or regularly seen. To ease her apprehension, plan new introductions only when she’s well rested, healthy, and full. A comfort object such as stuffed animal or blanket can help her feel secure.
Reduce separation anxiety with games at home.
This common fear typically appears at 6 to 8 months old, when your baby becomes aware that you can walk away at any time. You can help make her more secure by turning the concept of separation or absence into a game. Start with a few seconds away, lengthening the time apart each time. As another practice activity, allow her to crawl into another room that's safe, but wait a minute or two before following. If you do leave your baby with someone else, ease the transition by not leaving immediately when the other person arrives.
Grow self-awareness with mirror games.
Around 12 months, stand beside your baby in front of a mirror and point out different body parts, such as your nose or arm. Have your baby do the same. Move in and out of the reflection for mirror peek-a-boo. You and your baby can make faces to display various emotions you suggest.
Introduce your baby to brief play dates for group play practice.
Although there won't be much interactive playing yet, time spent with other children establishes a strong social foundation for the years to come.