The development and appearance of your baby’s emotions follow an orderly process that goes from simple emotions, all the way to the complex ones we all know too well.
According to Michael Lewis, PhD, when your baby is first born he is able to demonstrate three basic emotions: interest, distress and satisfaction. Your newborn will show these emotions due to internal processes, physiological changes or as a response to sensory stimuli. As your little one continues to grow so do his emotional responses. Over the next 6 months these primary responses will evolve into happiness, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger and fear. These emotions, such as the ones stated above, develop in conjunction to the neurological and cognitive maturity of babies.
Once your baby is around 9-10 months of age he will go through a new set of cerebral development that will allow him to be pretty good at expressing a wide array of emotions. You might see your little one go from frustration to anger or sadness to happiness in a manner of seconds. This is completely normal and expected, so don’t stress out about it; you’re are doing a great job. When dealing with these intense moments remember to breathe and try to be the “container” that helps your kid regulate his emotions.
As your child continues to grow so will his emotional repertoire. Within 15-24 months of age, your little one will begin to become conscious of himself. This cognitive milestone allows your toddler to separate himself from the rest of the world as an individual. With this new skill, your little one will be able to demonstrate the self-conscious emotions of embarrassment, empathy and envy. Along with these new feelings and during your toddler’s second year of life, you’ll notice how he will get better at emotional regulation too thanks to his capacity for self-awareness and the improvement of his physical skills.
Finally, at approximately 3 years of age your little one will endure a fourth mayor change in cognition and hormonal secretion that coincides with a second bout of self-conscious emotions: pride, shame and guilt. Your child will now be able to understand rules, standards and social norms. Knowing this, he will be able to plan his actions and wishes according to what is considered socially appropriate.
As you can see, the development of emotions gets more complex as your little one acquires more cognitive abilities. Emotions are neither good or bad, they just are. Therefore, our jobs as parents is to accompany our children as their inner world gets more sophisticated with an unconditional acceptance of who they are. Emotions are transient and, although we can get triggered by our child’s emotions, we as adults can bypass this trigger in order to teach our children how to regulate and manage this wide array of feelings. If we model the correct way to behave when dealing with big emotions, our little ones will too learn not to succumb to their emotions and act out.
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