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Social and Emotional Development
At what age does my baby's emotional development start?

  • Your baby's emotional development begins before your child is born. Good emotional health depends on a healthy mother who is well fed, well rested and relatively free of stress. (See Your Baby's Brain Development) It is at this time that your baby's brain and nervous system are being formed.
  • Once your baby is born, a strong and loving parent-child relationship is the most important factor in developing your baby's good mental health. (See Question 1 and Question 2) Your baby needs to feel loved, nurtured, safe and secure in his environment. Spend time with your baby to develop a good relationship. Get to know your baby and interact with your baby. Listen and watch for what your baby is telling you even before your baby can use words to speak.
  • Reduce stressful situations around your baby:
    • talk in calm soothing voices, avoid quarreling and fighting
    • avoid loud sounds, music and any forms of violence including that on TV
    • keep a routine of sleeping and eating that is right for your child
    • maintain a safe and predictable environment for your child.
  • Your child will learn by what your child sees. Make sure you act the way you want your child to behave. It is important for you to model being a loving and nurturing person, being fair and trustworthy. Your child will learn from what you do. Your child will develop emotional skills as he/she child grows from infancy, through childhood, adolescence and even in adulthood.
  • If you feel your child is having difficulty with his/her emotional development, click on I Have Questions about my Child's development.

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How do children learn what is right and wrong?

  • Children do what they see, more than what you say. It is important for you to provide a good model for your child to follow.
  • Children pass through different stages of moral development beginning in early childhood and advancing through adulthood.
  • Very young children do not really understand the concept of right and wrong. For them, what is "good" is what they like and what is "bad" is what they don't like. Therefore, it is important for adults to provide controls and limits for them. This is especially true for children who have no words to tell themselves, "No, don't pick the flowers."
  • At about age 4 or 5, children begin to label or identify things that are "good" and "bad." They can talk about them, but the true understanding is still outside of their own feeling. Children of this age follow rules only because they are told to do so. That is why it is very important for adults to provide consistent and gentle guidance. As a child uses words to describe self-controlling behaviors, such as "No. No. Don't touch," they begin to internalize, or understand, what those words mean.
  • By age 7 or 8, children's understanding of right and wrong seems to be based more on fear of being punished. For example, a child might feel that the reason people do not steal is that they will be caught by the police. Generally, children still have not developed true moral values. Again, it is important for adults to help children understand what is right and wrong, and why.
  • By age 9, children are beginning to understand the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This is the beginning of a true understanding of right and wrong, of guilt and values.
  • Help children develop self-discipline during the pre-school years through a lot of adult help.
  • Remind your pre-school child of the rules beforehand.
  • If your child continues to break a rule, use a problem-solving approach in which the child helps decide what is the best way to keep from breaking the rule. A critical aspect of self-discipline is a sense of personal responsibility.
  • Remember that all young children want to do the right thing and gain approval of their parents. Help them know what that is so that they feel good about themselves.


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How do I know if my child's social development is on target?

  • Use the following behaviors as a guide against which to compare your child's social and personal skills at specific ages. However, remember that each child is unique. Not all children will do the same thing at the same age. Use the following as a guide only.
  • If you feel your child may not be developing in a typical manner, click on (See I Have Questions about my Child's development)
  • Birth to 3 months - Babies usually
    • Nurse at mother's breast or sucks from a bottle.
    • Comfort to soothing, gentle sounds.
    • Smile in response to adult's smile.
    • Look at face when spoken to.
    • Tell primary caregiver from other adults.
    • Startle or cry at sudden loud noises.
  • 3 to 6 months - Babies usually
    • Smiles spontaneously.
    • Reach for familiar people.
    • Begin to choose toys.
    • Begin to comfort self by sucking or by fingering a favorite blanket or other object.
  • 6 to 9 months - Babies usually
    • Smile at self in mirror.
    • Enjoy peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake.
    • Become attached to a particular toy or object.
    • Begin to fear strangers.
  • 9 to 12 months - Babies usually
    • Recognize people as strangers as opposed to familiar persons.
    • Tug at or reach for adults to get their attention.
    • Begin drinking from a cup.
    • Demonstrate affection.
    • Begin to smile at own accomplishments.
  • 12 to 18 months - Toddlers usually
    • Enjoy having people clap.
    • Show affection or sympathy for others.
    • Play chasing and hiding games.
    • Play ball or other games with an adult.
    • Show specific wants by gestures and vocalizations.
    • Become attached to a favorite possession (blanket, toy).
    • Begin to learn skills to become independent (removing garments, using a spoon or fork).
    • May have anxiety about parent leaving.
  • 18 to 24 months - Toddlers usually
    • Like being read to.
    • Show more independence by putting on clothes, feeding self, washing and drying hands.
    • Exhibit curiosity and is "into everything."
    • Have special relationships with each parent or caregiver.
    • Enjoy playing next to another child but do not interact much with other child.
    • Enjoy touching and hugging.
    • May experience fear when separated from caregiver.
  • 24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years) - Toddlers usually
    • Say, "I love you."
    • Interact with other children in simple games (e.g., Ring-around-the-rosy).
    • Verbalize their toilet needs.
    • Continue to develop competence in self-help skills (brushing teeth, feeding, dressing).
    • Help pick up and put away toys.
  • 36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years) - pre-school children usually
    • Begin to play with other children interactively.
    • Share toys and take turns, with assistance.
    • Begin dramatic play, acting out whole scenes.
    • Test limits (When adult says "No," child acts anyway to see if adult really means "No.")
    • Interpret reality to suit personal needs. ("I don't have to share because my brother doesn't like cookies.")
    • Develop a sense of humor; tell silly jokes.
    • Dress, toilet and eat with little help.
    • May develop fears (of the dark, fire, animals).
  • 48 to 60 months (4 to 5 years)-pre-school children usually
    • Play with other children cooperatively.
    • Explore gender roles (mommy/daddy) and community helper roles (firefighter, shopkeeper).
    • Understand limits and define them for others.
    • Respect authority, though may still test limits.
    • Participate in group games (e.g., Hide-and-seek).
    • Chooses own friends.
    • Are sensitive about teasing.
    • Like silly jokes.
    • Dress, toilet, and eat independently.

Information answering this question is from Florida Department of Education, Welcome to the World: An Overview of Your Growing Child, (1999), Tallahassee, Fla.

Printed Resources

"The pre-school Years: Family Strategies That Work -- From Experts and Parents" by Ellen Galinsky and Judy David. Ballantine Books, 1991.

"Touchpoints, The Essential Reference: (Your child's emotional and behavioral development" by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Reading MA: Perseus Books, 1992

"Infants and Mothers" by T. Berry Brazelton, Mass., New York: Delacort Press/Lawrence, 1983.

"The Earliest Relationship" by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley/Lawrence. 1985.

"Know Your Child" by Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, New York: Basic Books, 1987.

"First Feeling" by Stanley Greenspan and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan. New York: Viking, 1985.

References for content:

  1. Brazelton, T. B., (1992). Touchpoints, Reading Mass.: Perseus Books.
  2. Florida Department of Education, (1990), MITCH Module 7, Behavior Management; Preventing and Dealing with Problem Behavior, Tallahassee, Fla.
  3. Florida Department of Education, (1999), Welcome to the World: An Overview of Your Growing Child, Tallahassee, Fla.
  4. Kohlberg, L., (1987). Child psychology and Childhood Education, New York: Longman.

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How much sleep does an older baby need? (6-12 months)

A baby of this age needs on average 12 hours of sleep at night and two hourly naps during the day. Close to the first year, the naps will be one each day, which could last up to two hours.

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I live with a very active child and although I hate to use this word -- he's hyperactive.

  • Some parents describe their children as "intense, demanding or difficult. This can be stressful for both the parent and the child.
  • Sometimes it is hard for parents to remember that no child wants to be "bad."
  • Very active children often have difficulty controlling their behavior. They need extra help and consideration from their parents.
  • Providing structure and helping children control their own behavior, especially when the children are very active, can be very tiring. Parents need support and help from other family members and friends.
  • Provide situations where your child can be successful and feel good about what they can do.
  • It is helpful for parents and adults to:
    • Recognize Typical Behaviors.
      Knowing what most children do at what ages will assure most parents that their young children are "normal." For example, pre-schoolers typically want other children's toys and resist sharing. They normally are very active and have a short attention span.
    • Establish Routines and Structure the Environment.
      Very active children often have a hard time establishing patterns on their own. Advance preparation helps them function better. For example, remind them before it is time to start or stop an activity, or tell them what kind of behavior is expected from them. Better yet, ask them if they can tell you. Keep the same routines as much as possible.
    • Give Limited Responsibility.
      our child's behavior is more manageable when he/she is given limited choices that allow her to exercise a degree of self-control. Don't expect more than what your child is able to do developmentally.
    • Decide Which Experiences Matter.
      Don't overwhelm children with a lot of new things at once. Carefully select the most important new experience and help your child enjoy it along with old, familiar activities that he/she has mastered, before adding others.
    • Responding to a Crisis.
      Sometimes it simply is not possible to forewarn a child or plan in advance. When this happens, help your child cope with a new situation by supporting your child as best as you can. Explain what is going on and what is expected. If necessary find a place where it is acceptable for your active child to run around and blow off steam. Try to avoid situations that you know will be too difficult for your active child to cope with because you do not want to set your child up to fail.
    • Investigate Possible Reasons for Very Active Behavior.
      Some children may have a physical reason for being very active. It might be something as simple as a food allergy or something more serious. Talk with your child's doctor and early care and education teacher. If you feel you need more help you may want to call Child Find. (See I Have Questions about my Child's development)

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Is it important that I communicate with my very young baby? How can I do that before my baby talks?

  • It is important to communicate with your baby as soon as your baby is born. Some people even begin to talk with their babies before they are born!
  • Communication takes many forms: Talking, holding, hugging, looking at, and being with.
  • This communication stimulates an automatic response in your baby to interact with you. It is because of this interaction that your baby grows to know who you are, learns to trust in you, feels safe and secure, and begins to learn language and other skills. This process is called the attachment process. The child "attaches" to the primary caregiver, usually the mother or father, and the primary caregiver bonds with the infant. A good parent child interaction involves an understanding between infant and adult about needs of the infant and how the parent can meet those needs. It is the basis for all future patterns of interacting with other people and to learning.
  • Things you can do to bond with your baby and help your baby attach to you are:
    • Mimic (copy) your baby's facial expressions, sounds and movements
    • Talk with (speak and listen to) your baby
    • Keep your baby with you, not alone in another room or playpen
    • Read to your infant and young child
    • Move to soothing music with your child
    • Play, talk and sing to your infant and young child while diapering, feeding, bathing, riding in the car
    • Listen and watch your baby for cues your baby is giving to you about how he/she feels or what he/she needs.

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Is it normal to have a favorite toy?

There is nothing wrong with a toy. Make sure that it is safe for the baby's age and preferably a quiet one. It is common for an older baby to develop a dependence on a particular blanket, teddy bear or toy. It may be a good idea to have two identical ones if you possibly can, just in case the unexpected happens. Make sure that any "comfort toy" meets all safety standards.

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People talk about a baby's temperament. What does that mean?

  • A baby's temperament has to do with the way the baby responds to what goes on around your baby. Just as all babies don't have the same color hair or eyes, not all babies are not born with the same temperament. There is a wide variety of ways children respond to sounds, touching, the need for quiet or activity and other events in the environment. Sometimes children are described as being either active, moderate or quiet.
  • Examples of different types of temperaments include:
    • Babies who are hypersensitive while others are quiet and watchful.
    • Babies who are fussy and difficult to console while others are relatively easy.
    • Babies who like to be cuddled, but others who do not.
    • Babies who seem passive while others seem tense and irritable.
    • Babies who are easily startled, and others who appear calm.
    • A baby's temperament or disposition also determines how the baby responds to adults and the way that the baby wants adults to interact with her. It is important for the parent to watch for the cues that a baby gives about what he/she needs or wants, and what is the baby's particular style.
  • Things to watch for to help you learn about your baby's temperament include:
    • How active is your baby?
    • How distractible is your baby? Does his/her attention go swiftly from one thing to another?
    • How persistent is your baby? Does he/she keep at something or give up easily?
    • Does he/she handle new situations by approaching them or withdrawing?
    • Is your baby intense or relaxed?
    • How does he/she adapt to going from one activity to another?
    • How predictable is he/she in sleep, bowel habits and other routines during the day?
    • Is he/she easily overstimulated or very difficult to stimulate?
    • What is his/her general mood -- positive or negative?
  • For more information read, Brazelton, B.T., Infants and Mothers. New York: Delacorte Press/Lawrence, 1983, or Chess, S. and Thomas, A. Know Your Child. New York: Basic Books, 1987

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What are the “terrible 2s?”

Two year olds are the most misunderstood people in the world. They do use the word “No” quite often because they are just learning language, and a word they hear often is “No.”

Two-year-old Matthew was seen sticking his fingers into the light switch. The baby shook his head, said “No, No” and continued to put his fingers in the dangerous place.

What should Mother have done? A spanking might be remembered, but a 2-year-old will not make the connection between the spanking and the behavior. Removing him from the dangerous situation and redirecting him to another activity is the best solution.

In addition to endless activity and curiosity, 2 year olds have a strong urge for independence. Only a short time ago the baby totally depended on the caregiver. This baby needed to be carried from place to place, to be fed by someone else and to have help retrieving things. Now, seemingly miraculously, at 2, this baby is mobile and can do all of these things. This baby is intoxicated with power of its own – for example, pushing away the spoon when Daddy is trying to feed. Daddy might try giving the baby another chance to let the child use the spoon alone. In between the baby’s attempts, Daddy usually can slip the required nourishment into his mouth.

The toddler is torn between the desire to please trusted loved ones and a strong urge to become a separate person with individual wants and desires. This conflict may lead to feelings of guilt. Thus, the child seeks reassurance from loved ones, and the child’s behavior alternates between self-assertion and dependence. Two year olds need to be told how much you love them. Encouragement for good behavior will work better than many “No’s” on the part of adults. The more “No’s” you give out, the more “No’s” you are likely to get back.

-- Dr. Betty Rowen

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What can I do to understand my pre-schooler's behavior?

First, you must realize and accept that pre-schoolers are going to have unacceptable behavior. At this stage in their development they are growing from being a toddler to a young child. They need your praise and encouragement. Young children are naturally self-centered so it takes time for them to learn to treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. When your pre-schooler does something that is unacceptable, make it clear that it is the act not your child that you find unacceptable. The consequence of the action should be suitable for the child's development and age and should quickly follow. Don't punish a child for something that he/she could not help from doing, such as wetting the bed or vomiting.

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What should I do to develop my child's trust?

1. Be There.
Let your child talk. What was his or her day like? Ask, "How did that make you feel?" Allow your child to openly express ideas, feelings and worries. Be available and listen.

2. Be Consistent.
Establishing a clear and consistent routine helps a child feel safe and secure. Clear-cut rules help a child learn what is right and wrong.

3. Let Your "No" Be No.
If you say "No" to your child, make sure you both understand what that means and keep to the rule. Act quickly (within seconds) and firmly.

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When and how do children learn to share?

  • It's an uphill battle with very young children. Children younger than 3 do not understand the concept of sharing. To share, children must be developmentally ready and trust that if they let go of something, it will return and not be gone forever.
  • Young children are capable of spontaneous cooperation and sharing. You can see this when toddlers roll a ball back and forth between them or play "chase" and then reverse roles.
  • With toddlers you can indicate the idea of sharing by simple games. For example, take turns putting one block at a time in a pail; if another child is present, encourage him to participate. Another idea is to exchange toys: You have a toy and your child has a toy. Pass them back and forth.
  • Offer concrete solutions. One example: "One of you can ride the tricycle and pedal, and the other can ride on the back. Or you can take turns riding around and then switch off. Which would you like to do?"
  • Always offer children the opportunity to help solve the problem. How could you both play together with the ball, bike, and so on.


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Why are routines important?

A routine – that is, a predictable activity or behavior -- encourages cooperation by providing an understanding of what will happen. When we understand the order in which things happen, things are less scary and we have more control over the situation.

Routines provide safety and security for us all. Reflect on what you enjoy and take these steps to make those a regular part of your life:

1) Decide what is important to you as an individual. For example: Exercising.

2) Develop ways to nurture your personal priorities. This might happen on daily weekly or even monthly. For example, every Friday morning, before your workday starts, you might spend two hours reading.

3) Respect your routines and rituals as important to the overall health of your family. Children feed from the energy you give them. For example, you might arrange for a neighbor to watch your child while you exercise.

In children, providing this sense of control helps develop self-esteem. Routines give children something to trust and to count on. Routines help children feel good about who they are and what they are doing. Giving a child a sense of control is key to gaining cooperation. Allowing children to feel in control gives them the power to make choices.

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Why does my toddler say "No" all of the time?

Toddlers are undergoing major changes in body, mind and emotions. They are still learning about limits and power and tend to feel intensely about nearly everything, especially saying, "No." This emerging ego and independence will lead to occasional or not so occasional conflict with you. It can be extremely trying at time when your toddler says "No" to you over and over again. Try to avoid frequent battles of wills by making your requests reasonable and said in positive terms. When you give your toddler a choice, make sure that both choices are ones that you can accept. When toddlers say "No", they are trying to tell you that they want to do it themselves. It is the first steps to your toddler's gaining independence.

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Will I spoil a crying child by holding him or her?

Children who are held and comforted often during the first year of life demand less attention later on because they have learned to trust the adults in their environment to meet their needs and comfort them when necessary. Helping children learn to meet their own needs provides the foundation for emotional security. Holding a child who is upset will not spoil him or her; it will help the child become emotionally secure. Emotional security is the basis for a strong, socially competent child.

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