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15 Oct

20050aDuring your baby’s first year, his emotions grew from simple reactions to how he was feeling in the moment to beginning to understand the meaning of emotions and how to recognize them in others.

Months 13-24 bring your baby’s emotional development to a new level and are part of the crucial first 5 years that will wire his brain for how he will experience and manage his emotions and those of others for the rest of his life!

How Do Emotions Evolve During Your Baby’s Second Year?

During his first year, your baby learned that he was separate from you. This budding sense of self and other takes the stage during his second year of emotional development. The understanding that comes with self-awareness makes your baby’s emotional experience complex and intense. Get ready for a wild ride!

From 13-18 months, your baby displays a variety of emotions, like love when you are cuddling him, or jealousy when a sibling is the focus of your attention. His self-control hasn’t caught up with his self-awareness, so it’s hard for him to deal with his emotions, both negative and positive, on his own. Whether he is frustrated because he can’t fit a puzzle piece into a frame, or proud because he finally did it, he will seek you out to share these experiences with him.

He also learns at this stage that emotions can elicit reactions from others. He will use them to entertain (laughing hysterically) or get your attention (throwing a tantrum). He relishes shows of positive emotion from you, and if you laugh at something he does he may do it over and over again to get a similar reaction.

Months 19-24 are even more emotionally charged. Both episodes of frustration and pride become more pronounced. Tantrums may lead to behaviors like hitting or biting, simply because they feel so overwhelming to your little one. Declarations of happiness become more animated as your baby learns to use dancing and sophisticated facial expressions, and he shows affection in new, heartfelt ways.

The onset of awareness of self and others also sets the stage for empathy, a central aspect of emotional health. Although empathy will continue to evolve over the next several years, the beginnings of feeling what someone else is feeling and caring about it start now.

How to Support Your Baby’s Emotional Development

Researchers have established that more than anything else, your relationship with your child during the first years of his life affect his overall development. This is especially true when it comes to recognizing, understanding and coping with emotions. Focusing on a healthy attachment is the primary way to nurture his emotional development.

Emotional development is intertwined with social development, so interacting with your baby as often as possible is key. Doing BabySparks activities with him, especially those in the social emotional area, will nurture his understanding of emotions and their role in his interactions with others. As you talk and play with your baby, you can label and model emotions: “Oh, look. Bear is sad (make a sad face). Let’s give him a hug.”

During his second year, your baby will begin symbolic play. Those pretend phone calls and play dates with stuffed animals are your baby’s way of acting out and making sense of the complex world of emotions and social interactions. Allow him plenty of time to play, unrestricted by baby equipment and away from electronics.

Helping your baby learn to cope with emotions is a big job. Here are some great tips to guide you as you teach him how to handle his big feelings.

12 Oct

20049aThe topic of emotional development is gaining popularity as researchers, child development professionals and parents are paying increasingly more attention to its role in children’s wellbeing and future success in all areas of life. The Harvard University Center for the Developing Child published a report stressing that the first 5 years of a child’s life are crucial for emotional development, which starts at birth!

Are Babies Born with Emotions?


Pinning down exactly what a baby is feeling is difficult, simply because they can’t explain it to us. Still, researchers have used observation and interpretation to study infant emotions and most agree that babies are born with the basic emotions of pleasure and distress, but not an understanding of them. Varied emotions and understanding what they mean evolve as the child’s memory and cognitive abilities develop and their experiences become more complex.

How Does Emotion Evolve During Your Baby’s First Year?

Just as in every area of development, babies’ emotions may not follow this timeline exactly. Emotional development may also appear more intense or subdued depending on a baby’s temperament or whether his environment is nurturing or stressful.

For the first 6 months, your baby will express emotion based on how he is feeling in the moment, without understanding why. At first his emotions are simple: Pleasure and displeasure. When he is content he may coo, or when he hears your voice he may wave his arms and breathe heavily. If he’s wet, cold, tired or hungry, he will cry. His face will reflect his mood as he moves his mouth, eyebrows and forehead depending on how he’s feeling.

By month 3, he’ll be smiling, showing pleasure in response to you or toys, and by 4 months his shows of positive and negative emotion intensify as he starts laughing or crying in response to your actions (you tickle him, he laughs or you stop playing with him, he cries).

As he nears 6 months, he’ll likely be moody, jumping from pleasure to displeasure from one minute to the next.

At 7 months a shift occurs with a leap in cognitive development. Baby realizes for the first time that he is separate from you. This leads to a new emotion: Fear. He may express fear in the presence of strangers, or when he’s away from you or other caregivers. Another new emotion emerges as well: Anger. Until now, if he appeared angry, it was simply an expression of displeasure with no meaning behind it. Now that he has an understanding of cause and effect, he learns that anger can be useful: He drops a toy, you don’t pick it up, he gets angry, you respond.

“Social referencing” also appears, as your baby gains the ability to recognize others’ emotions and consciously react to them. He may see something on the floor that interests him, and look at you to gauge from your expression whether it’s okay to touch it. Or he may see you laughing and start laughing too.

From 8-11 months, your baby’s awareness of and ability to express a variety of emotions will increase. He’ll become more sensitive to approval and disapproval of others, including feeling guilty when he does something he’s not supposed to. Separation anxiety usually peaks now, and may remain for the next several months.

At 12 months your baby’s emotional development enters a new phase as his expressive language becomes dotted with true words and he can label how he is feeling.

How to Support Your Baby’s Emotional Development

The evolution of emotions is a complex interplay of temperament, cognitive development, and direct experiences. This last area is where you play an important role.

According to the report we mentioned above, “Emotional development is actually built into the architecture of young children’s brains in response to their individual personal experiences and the influences of the environments in which they live.”

This means that building a healthy attachment, responding to your baby’s cues to interact, and having conversations with him—long before his first word, are all crucial ways to teach him about expressing and reading emotions.

To read about what’s next, see our articles about how your baby’s emotions continue to evolve during his second year and how to help him learn to cope with emotions.

18 Sep

20048aOne day your teenager will debate you on the logic of your rules, using words, facial expressions and gestures to communicate his thoughts, feelings and ideas. That’s expressive language in action—skills he began using the moment he was born and cried to let you know he needed you.

Expressive language is one of three branches of language, along with receptive language (what we hear and understand) and pragmatic, or social, language (how we relate to others, including understanding and using nonverbal cues).

What are Expressive Language Skills?

Expressive language skills allow us to:

• Communicate Feelings, Needs, Ideas & Intentions

• Label and Describe Objects, Actions, Events & Concepts

• Form Sentences & Use Correct Grammar

• Retell Events

• Answer Questions

• Develop & Tell A Story

Children who have trouble with expressive language may not be able to speak clearly or form sentences with an age-appropriate number of words. They may get frustrated easily because they can’t communicate their feelings, needs or ideas, or because they have a hard time retelling events. It may be difficult for them to play with peers. When they start school, tasks like answering questions, talking about what they’ve learned, and creating and writing stories can be challenging.

Ways to Support Your Baby’s Expressive Language Development

Nurture His Receptive Language
Research shows that the more words a child hears during the first years of his life, the better his vocabulary and other language skills will be at age 3. Here are some great tips for promoting his receptive language skills.

Model Speech
When your little one sees a car and says “ca,” you can say “yes, that’s a car,” stressing the “r” at the end. When he begins to form sentences, they will be short and grammatically incorrect. He may say, “Me want cup,” and you can respond by modeling: “I want my cup, too!”

Play Imitation Games
Imitating your baby’s speech sounds is a great way to motivate him to practice expressive language. Chances are if he babbles “ba!” and you say “ba!” back, he’ll keep going. When he starts to say words, you can use imitation to model correct pronunciation. He will love imitating the lyrics and hand motions of songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, which also support his executive functioning skills.

Ask Questions and Give Prompts
Touch your nose and say, “What’s this?” Or ask your little one what sounds different animals make. If you know he can say a word, prompt him by making the first sound. For example, if he’s gesturing towards his cup, you can point at it and say, “Cuuu.”

Offer Choices
Choices like “Do you want an apple or a banana?” at mealtime, or “Is this a cat or a dog?” during playtime build vocabulary and encourage labeling.

Create Fill-In-The-Blank Games
When your baby is familiar with a song, leave out a word here and there so he can jump in and fill in the blank.

Give Him Opportunities
Even when he’s just five months old and reaching for a toy beyond his fingers, you can give him an opportunity to communicate by not jumping in immediately to help. Giving him a chance to vocalize that he wants the toy before you push it within his reach reinforces that he can use expressive language to get his needs met.

If you browse the speech section of our BabySparks program, you will find dozens of instructional videos showing you fun ways to use these strategies with your baby.

18 Sep

20047aBy the time your child begins speaking, her receptive language development—what she hears and understands—is already well under way. Receptive language is often described as one of three areas of language, along with expressive language (expressing thoughts, feelings, ideas and concepts) and pragmatic, or social, language (relating to others, including understanding and using nonverbal cues).

What are Receptive Language Skills?

Receptive language skills allow us to make sense of and respond to the information we hear and see. Children who have trouble with receptive language struggle to understand words and concepts, answer questions, follow instructions, comprehend stories, and retell events.

Your baby gains receptive language skills through:

• Routines: She understands that when you give her a bath, put on her pajamas, and sing a lullaby it means you are preparing her for sleep.

• Visual Information: She associates you preparing a bottle with being fed.

• Sounds and Words: She connects the jingle of your car keys with leaving the house. She learns that the name of the family cat is a label for the little furry creature in the house.

• Concepts: She learns the meaning of concepts like size, shape, color and location.

• Grammar: She develops an understanding that words can be used differently to express different things: Cat means one cat, and cats means more than one cat.

• Written Information: This begins with finding meaning in pictures, like seeing a picture of a dog and understanding that it’s a dog. Eventually this will include reading and understanding words and symbols.

Ways to Support Your Baby’s Receptive Language Development

Talking to your baby in engaging, meaningful ways is important for many areas of her development, including receptive language. A famous study looked at children growing up in professional, working-class and poor families and found that at age 3 the children from the professional families had heard an average of 30 million more words than those from the families on welfare. The children who heard more words had better overall language skills and success in school. The takeaway? No matter your level of education, talking to your baby as much as possible is one of the best ways to nurture her receptive and overall language skills.

Label & Describe
The more you can label and describe things, the better! At mealtime you can comment on the food and her actions: “That’s a blueberry. You’re eating blueberries. Are they squishy and cold?” During bath time: “I’m washing your arm. Now I’m washing your belly. Look at the soap, it’s making bubbles!”

If your baby points to a ball, instead of simply saying, “That’s a ball!” you can say: “That’s a blue ball! It’s under the table.”

Follow Your Baby’s Lead
Research shows that if you talk to your baby about things she’s focused on, her language learning is heightened. Pay attention to what she looks at, points at, and chooses to play with and talk to her about those things.

Reading is great for your little one’s receptive language, as it gives meaning to words, pictures, symbols and concepts.

Sing Songs
Singing and other musical activities have been linked to better language skills. Your baby will love the classics, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and she’ll love silly songs you make up, too.

Give Simple Directions
As your baby gains the ability to do things independently give her simple directions to follow. For example: “Please put this in the trash.” Or, when getting dressed: “Can you bring me your socks?”

If you’re curious about exactly what your baby understands and when, check out our article about receptive language milestones.

In the speech section of our BabySparks program, you can find dozens of brief, instructional videos to guide you in using the strategies described above.

11 Sep

20046aHere at BabySparks we talk a lot about interacting with your baby. In fact, we designed our entire program around back-and-forth between you and your little one. Research shows that engaging with your baby in meaningful ways, whether you’re helping him learn to walk or playing peek-a-boo, changes the shape of his brain and sets him up for success in all areas of his life. One of these areas is language.

What is the 30 Million Word Gap?

Over 20 years ago, researchers at The University of Kansas embarked on a now-famous study: Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children. Their work highlighted the crucial role verbal interactions between babies/toddlers and their caregivers plays in language acquisition and later success in school.

The researchers recruited 42 families with children roughly 7-8 months old. 13 of the families were professional, 23 were working-class, and 6 were living on welfare. For one hour every month, the researchers observed the children and their parents, tracking their verbal interactions.

The results showed that children from the professional families heard an average of 2,150 words every hour, while those from the working-class and welfare families heard an average of 1,250 and 600 per hour, respectively.

This means that by age 3, children from the professional families heard an average of 30 million more words than children from the families on welfare. What’s more, follow-up studies showed that the children who heard more words had superior language skills, higher IQs, and better academic outcomes in elementary school.

More Than Words

The 30 million word gap suggests that it’s important for babies and toddlers to hear a lot of words, but the study’s authors as well as other researchers agree that simply saying words to a child isn’t enough. The quality of the verbal interactions also plays a role.

The authors of the Meaningful Differences study noted that in addition to the number of words children heard, better language and academic outcomes were also associated with the amount of encouraging and discouraging feedback they received. Children from professional families received an average of 32 affirmations and 5 prohibitions per hour, while those from welfare families heard an average of 5 affirmations and 11 prohibitions.

Findings from other researchers also point to the importance of conversational qualities such as shared focus (your baby is interested in a toy, you also show interest), using body language along with words (you make eye contact with your baby and use facial expressions and gestures while speaking), conversational turn-taking (you engage in back-and-forth communication with him), and building on what he says (if he babbles or talks about a cat you say, “Look at the black cat! She’s so furry!”).

What This Means for You

The key take-away is that no matter your financial status, engaging in warm and meaningful verbal interactions with your baby as often as you can will boost his language development (and countless other areas of development as well).

Your baby depends on you to teach him language, and it’s never too early to start! From the moment he’s born, thoughtfully responding to his sounds, expressions and gestures counts as conversation and lays the foundation for all language learning.

You can read more about language development in our articles on expressive language, receptive language, and pragmatic language.