The first few years: social and emotional development

We’re born social animals – from the start, babies love being held, touched, talked to, and smiled at. And it’s no wonder they crave a connection with adults – babies are completely dependent on others throughout their childhood for survival. However, in order to thrive, not just survive, a baby needs more than just food and shelter. Not surprisingly, a baby needs engagement and attention from Mom, Dad, or his or her caregiver. What is surprising, however, is that a baby needs a specific type of engagement – a serve and return relationship.

Serve and return interactions with caregivers are necessary for a baby’s brain to wire properly, and to set the right architecture for future learning. They follow the pattern in which a baby ‘serves’ though babbling, facial expressions, or gestures; and adults return the serve with a meaningful response – say another gesture, or vocalizing back. These simple interactions allow for the right connections to take place in the baby’s brain, and also create the safe and nurturing environment that babies need to develop socially and emotionally.

You’re in for a good time – it’s probably the social and emotional growth that will be the most exciting for you to witness. Your baby’s eye contact, his response to your smile, and later his own smile – it’s all part of his development, and signals the growth of you two’s relationship. Your baby will even go beserk at around nine months when you do as much as leave the room – even for a second. However, his nervous system is maturing – and he’ll eventually be able to deal with everyday stressors and entertain himself for longer.

Creating a solid brain architecture for future learning is only part of the developmental picture, albeit an important one. A serve and return relationship will help develop a secure attachment between the child and his caregiver, which has many implications for his social and emotional intelligence. In the long run, how well your child can manage his feelings, understand others’ emotions, and interact with peers will be incredibly important for forming successful relationships and maintaining emotional well-being. In other words, children need to develop the social and emotional abilities to pay attention in class and get along with their classmates as much as they need to learn math and science. Human relations usually turn out to be more important than SAT scores. But if you’re concerned about that too, there’s also pretty solid proof out there that a secure relationship in childhood has a positive effect on IQ later on in life.

Kinedu has plenty of pointers and activity ideas for boosting your child’s social and emotional development. Here’s one of our most popular social and emotional activities – let us know in the comments below if you complete it with your baby!

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