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Your baby's emotional development 9 to 12 months

9 to 12 Months
Respond to your baby’s reactions with calm and sensitivity

Your baby at a glance

Your baby is showing all the basic emotions, and tuning in to others’ actions and emotions. During this stage you are likely to see your baby:
  • Understanding others’ emotions and enjoying imitating others’ actions in his play
  • Experiencing and showing all the basic emotions, one at a time or often in combinations (e.g. displaying both surprise and interest during play)
  • Understanding people’s actions and starting to direct emotional responses at someone (rather than just responding to the situation)
  • Exploring new things whilst needing reassurance from you as well as help to understand whether something is safe or not
  • Showing strong preference to be with you and other familiar caregivers
  • Developing stranger anxiety, responding with fear, anxiety or ‘retreating’ behaviour (shy or serious) around unfamiliar people and crying if you leave her side
  • Showing a growing independence and taking pride in being able to do things herself

Your baby's story

Mum cuddling babyYou may notice that your baby is in tune with others' emotions; he will be reading their expressions and understanding how they are feeling, and has been practising this from his early days. He enjoys copying others' emotions and gestures, but will also be able to show his own emotions through body language and facial expressions. At this age your baby is able to show all the basic emotions, which include: interest, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, disgust and fear. He may experience and show one emotion at a time; however you may often see different emotions in combination. For example, if you hide and then jump out from behind the sofa he may display both surprise and interest, and may then show joy by smiling or laughing. A loud, sudden noise may make your baby startle and look scared as he experiences both surprise and fear.

Also, as she is reading your body language and facial expressions, she will know when you dislike something or if you are anxious or sad (e.g. when you take him to childcare). This is called social referencing, and is important learning for your little one. Similarly, your baby looks to you and tries to read your emotional reaction when he is wondering if something is safe or not. Increasingly independent and exploring new things, she will often look to you for reassurance.

Stranger anxiety develops around this age, with your baby's ability to tell the difference between familiar and unfamiliar people and her experience of fear. She may already have started to behave differently with strangers, and this tends to become more pronounced now. Babies respond differently, so your baby may just become more serious and quiet or she may show very apparent fear and discomfort, clinging to you or other familiar people. She has developed a strong attachment to you, and this is comes out strongly when she is distressed, frustrated or in pain.

You will notice that your baby looks to you and tries to read your emotional reaction when he is wondering if something is safe or not. Also, as he is becoming more independent and trying out new things, he will be unsure about what he is doing at times and looks to you for reassurance.

With your baby's independence growing towards the end of her first year, she will want to and take pride in doing things herself, such as brushing her teeth or trying to put on a sock. You may also see the start of finding ways to regulate or coping better with her emotions in certain situations (beginnings of self-control). She is starting to learn what works for her, for example seeking reassurance from you rather than crying or becoming overwhelmed when something frightens her. Remember though, that it’s early days and she has a lot of learning and development to do in terms of regulating emotions and behaviours.

What you can do to encourage your baby's development

As your baby picks up on your emotions through your facial expressions and body language, check in on how you are feeling about something and what emotional reactions you may be teaching him in various situations.

Little girlWhen your baby becomes fearful, sad, frustrated or in pain she will want to stay close to you and other familiar caregivers. At times this may be tiring for you, but remember that it is important to respect your baby's feelings and help her calm down and learn to deal effectively with emotions. You are helping your baby to regulate his emotions (self-control) when you are responding to his communication signals in a calm and reassuring manner; e.g. soothing him when he is distressed or toning things down when he becomes overexcited.

If you need to leave your baby with someone he doesn't know, you can help to ease his discomfort by giving him time to get used to the person. Let him know that you are comfortable around the new person, and it will help reduce your baby's anxiety. Also, remember that stranger anxiety is a phase and when your baby shows her preferential attachment this is a healthy sign of her social and emotional development.

Although it sometimes requires a bit of extra patience on your part, support and encourage your baby to do things for herself as she is showing a growing need for independence. In the long run, feeding time, playtime and self care will become easier (quicker and less messy) if she is allowed to practice. And you will no doubt enjoy the moments when your baby shows pride and joy as she is managing something herself.

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