During 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.