Module 1: Promoting Mental Health in Infancy

Emotional BabyEmotions

Baby’s Social and Emotional Needs

Babies have emotions right from the start. At first there are a few basic emotions, but as babies develop, they begin to experience a varying range of emotions.

Questions to Ask

  • What are the best times of the day with your baby? Does she seem happy?
  • Are you beginning to know what your baby wants? Is it easy or hard?
  • What do you think she is trying to tell you when she cries? Looks at you? Turns away? Smiles?
  • Does she have a fussy time each day?
  • Is she able to calm herself? If so, how?

Provider Tips

  • Using the guidance below, point out the social and emotional connections the baby is making with her parents. Their physical and verbal responses will support the baby’s ability to continue and strengthen her connection with them.

Guidance for Parents

  • Your baby can’t use words to tell you how she is feeling. Instead she often shows her emotions in her facial expressions and her reactions to the world around her. Her eyebrows, forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, and mouth can all provide “clues” to how she is feeling. If you watch her closely, you will learn to interpret her emotions through her expressions, the sounds she makes, and the other signals she gives you.
  • When your baby is very young, you will need to help her handle her emotions by holding her, singing to her, walking with her, or by using other soothing methods. As she gets older, she will begin to try to manage her emotions on her own by sucking her thumb or fingers, rocking in her crib, or clinging to a comfort item.
  • As your baby grows, the kinds of emotions she feels will grow too. In addition to contentment and joy, she will display interest, surprise, distress, sadness, disgust, frustration, anger, and fear. Each time you show your baby that you are aware of how she feels, you will increase her sense of trust and of being understood.
  • Spending time with you is your baby’s favorite thing to do. She loves to watch you and “tune into” your feelings. Each time your baby makes eye contact, coos, smiles, and reaches with her arms, she is forming connections with you. Relax and enjoy her. Smile and laugh and show her your love. When you are cheerful, your baby will feel content and happy.

At 9-12 months

  • Your baby may begin to get worried when you are away from her. This is called “separation anxiety” and it is a normal part of your baby’s development. She may be uncomfortable meeting strangers or even being with people she already knows. You can help her through this stage by:
    • Allowing her time to get to know a new caregiver while you are still there
    • Spending a few minutes with her before leaving her with someone else
    • Giving her a familiar comfort item (stuffed animal, blanket, toy) to hold onto while you are away
  • A change in routines may also cause your baby to be upset. This can happen as a result of a move, your return to work, or changes in the people living in your home. Your baby will take her “cues” from you in new situations and with new people. You can help your baby feel secure by staying close to her, touching her, and talking to her in a comforting and supportive way.

Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Infancy