Your baby's emotional development 3 to 6 months
You are your baby's 'emotional coach' from the start; modelling behaviours and reactions to various situations
Your baby at a glance
Your baby is increasingly initiating interaction and play with you through smiles, gurgles and body language. During this stage you are likely to see your baby:
- Initiating, smiling, and at some point laughing for the first time
- Absorbing and imitating your facial expressions, tone of voice and body language
- Showing how well he picks up on the emotional atmosphere around him
- Displaying a wider range of emotions, showing her likes and dislikes
- Preferring to be with you and other familiar people, and may (towards 6 months) become more restrained or serious around strangers
Your baby's story
Your baby learns from you, and she is now starting to take more notice of the emotions you express. Your facial expressions, tone of voice and body language are increasingly being picked up. She may imitate and respond directly to these emotional displays – smile when you smile, cry if you show anger, become fearful if you show that you're scared. Your baby will also pick up on the emotional 'climate' around her, e.g. how people interact and are with each other, and react to it.
You will notice your baby doing more of the initiation to interact and play with you during this stage. Along with spontaneous smiles, at some point during this stage you will hear him laugh out loud, and he will get very excited when you then laugh with him.
Your baby's own emotions are becoming clearer through his facial expressions and body language. As much as you enjoy his displays of joy and pleasure, try not to take any frustration or anger personally. He is attempting to tell you what he likes and what he doesn't like, and you may not always understand exactly what it is. It may be the start of showing frustration at not being able to do something. Just remember that it is all important communication for him; try to solve his problem and comfort him.
Your baby has probably not yet entered a phase of experiencing stranger anxiety, but may during this stage start to show that she knows the difference between familiar and unfamiliar people. She may even start to show a different behaviour around strangers, e.g. becoming quieter and looking at the person rather than interacting with them. Her preference will be to be with you and others she knows.
What you can do to support and encourage your baby's development
Remember that your baby is absorbing more and more of what is going on around her, including your body language and emotional expressions. From early on, you are the "emotional coach”; your baby needs to learn about appropriate behaviours and reactions to situations from you.
It is important that you meet your baby's emotions with calm and understanding. If you are feeling frustrated with her crying or distress, try to find a way to calm yourself first so that you can be there for your baby and soothe her effectively. Showing sensitivity to her feelings means you are teaching her to be able to cope with negative emotions later on.
Learn to read your baby's displays of emotions. When you understand sources of joy and sources of frustration, talk about and label the emotions he is likely to be feeling. This provides a great foundation for learning about emotions.