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Emotional Development

Mark and Jenny are about to have their first child. They have done everything they can to prepare for their new infant. To care for their baby's physical needs, they have diapers, formula and outfits in all sizes. To stimulate their baby cognitively, they have colorful toys and classical music. They also finally finished childbirth classes. They are ready!

But are they? Mark and Jenny are forgetting one important aspect of their baby's life – his emotional development. It's easy to overlook this important area. But by following these tips, you and other parents like Mark and Jenny can guide your children into an emotionally healthy future:

  1. Be purposeful in guiding your child's emotional life. Focus intentionally on his emotional needs. These needs are just as important as his cognitive, physical and spiritual needs.
  2. Build a strong bond by spending quality time with your child. Experts agree that parents who interact regularly with their children — beginning in infancy — develop stronger bonds.
  3. Stay emotionally in tune. Connect with your child on an emotional level. Attempt to understand what she is feeling. When she is happy, be happy for her; when she is sad, cry with her.
  4. Model healthy emotional relating. Your children will mimic the way you handle emotions and the way you relate to others. By managing your own emotions in a positive way, your children will learn to do so as well.
  5. Teach children how to handle negative emotions. Doing this well does not come naturally. Children need to be taught how to handle defeat, deal with conflict or be angry in a healthy way. Children who are taught these skills early are better able to handle negative feelings as adults.

Development of Emotions

Infants do not have the full repertoire of emotions at birth. Various emotions emerge in the following order:

  • At birth, infants experience only simple emotional states such as distress, contentment and interest.
  • Two to four months: Evidence of happiness appears as seen in a baby's "social smile."
  • Four to six months: Basic emotions emerge, including fear, excitement, anger, disgust, surprise, joy and sadness.
  • Six to 18 months: Basic emotions continue to develop and are expressed in broader ways by the child.
  • Eighteen to 24 months: Self-conscious emotions develop, such as guilt, embarrassment and pride.

Strong Bonds

According to child development expert Mary Ainsworth, parents who are strongly bonded to their children share certain characteristics. When their children are infants, these parents tend to:

  • Respond more often and more quickly to their infant's cries.
  • Guess correctly what their child needs when he cries.
  • Respond in a positive way to their child.
  • Spend more time interacting with their child.
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Next in this Series: Acknowledging Feelings

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