“My baby doesn’t smile back when I smile at him/her?”
“My baby doesn’t share toys with other children?”
“My baby is very clingy these days ?”
“My baby cries whenever he/she sees strangers?”
“My little one has suddenly become very irritable and cranky?”
“My baby is taking my feed more these days?”
The above are certain generally heard phrases by parents when meltdowns and unexpected behaviors arise. What we need to realize is that ‘these’ are times of emotional upheavals that need sensitivity and patience of parents to tide over.
The previous blogs talked about foundation terminologies of the social emotional development-trust, attachment and the environment that governs the overall healthy development of the child. These terms are very critical for the social emotional development of the child. What we generally tend to think about being social is that how well the child interacts with its surroundings as well as simultaneously with its emotions. However, what we fail to realize is how the social emotional milestones evolve overtime and how critical it is for the child to understand its own emotions to function effectively in the society.
For eg: The whole phenomenon of “Terrible Twos” is an outcome of toddlers unable to fully express their needs and identify their emotions with respect to situations . This results in tantrums, meltdowns, hitting and biting, sleep regressions.
Social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005). It encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes.
Babies are born with the basic emotions of pleasure and distress, but not an understanding of them. They are equipped with one form of language that is crying to communicate whether they are hungry, in pain,or are uncomfortable.Varied emotions and understanding what they mean evolve as the child’s memory and cognitive abilities develop and their experiences become more complex. Emotional development may also appear more intense or subdued depending on a baby’s temperament (innate behaviour)or whether his environment is nurturing or stressful. According to Thomas and Chess who extensively researched on infants temperament in the 1970’s, there are three general types of temperaments in children:
- Easy- Easy children are generally happy, active children from birth and adjust easily to new situations and environments
- slow-to-warm-. Slow-to-warm children are generally mellow, less active babies from birth, and can have some difficulty adjusting to new situations
- Difficult-Difficult children have irregular habits and biological routines (e.g., eating, sleeping), have difficulty adjusting to new situations, and often express mood swings very intensely.
Don’t be scared with the last two however, even the easiest of the babies can at times be difficult but what really matters is the “goodness of fit”, or compatibility, between babies’ temperaments and caregivers’ own personalities will affect the quality of child – caregiver relationships. I highly recommend parents to maintain their calm in case of their babies anguish and gain the insight necessary to modify infants’ environments so as to better fit their natural temperaments. This what comprises of the social emotional climate of the child wherein we need to acclimatise accordingly.
At birth till about 6 months, the baby displays its ever cute smile without any cause or intent but laughs at being tickled, starts developing a sense of self by seeing itself in the mirror gradually but it is 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. This explains the sudden clinginess of very “social” babies, popularly termed as separation anxiety. 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. Like seeing something on the floor that interests him, and looking at you to gauge from your expression whether it’s okay to touch it. Or behave like a mirror imitating adult actions, hence a time to be cautious of your actions increasingly.
The point I am wanting to increasingly make here is that cognitive and social emotional development is interrelated. Without healthy emotional development, children don’t have the confidence or mental energy to learn. The National Research Council and Institute on Medicine has concluded that, “nurturing, stable and consistent relationships are the key to healthy growth, development and learning.” Hope my readers now realize why I emphasised on trust and attachment so strongly in the beginning.Some things that lead to healthier reinforcement of social emotional skills:
- They need to be felt understood at every stage: No baby is to be taken for being so little that they can’t be understood. For eg :a newborn will cry for need of security, a toddler will throw a tantrum to not being able to express fully, a pre-schooler may bite or bed wet with a new siblings entry or new environment of school. All of these are situations where we as adults need to understand the little beings.
- They need to be dealt with patience: There will be regressions in behaviour like feeding more, sleep timings and durations changing; the key is to hang in and have coping mechanism but not letting the baby being affected.
- Adults need to act as scaffolds giving the right balance between help and autonomy.
- Lending a patient ear to children once they start expressing through words. In the fast paced world, time is less, but this is not understood by little beings and they get frustrated if not able to express fully and interrupted in between. Give them time to finish themselves by adults acting as fillers for their sentences.
- Once the baby reaches the milestone of 15 -18 months, start labelling emotions in stories, daily conversations to help them recognise their emotions eventually.
- In times of meltdowns or tantrums, never stop the child to cry.Let it, eventually talking about the episode makes the transition smooth and helps th child recognise its emotions too.
With nurturing, supportive, encouraging relationships, and safe and stable environments with eclectic roles, children will develop the social and emotional skills needed to become confident, resilient and secure adults. Our children are our future workforce, thought leaders, parents and community members. When it comes to investing in a healthy upbringing, these small steps make a big difference.
— Dr. Pooja Srivastava Dewan —
EECE Expert, ProEves, Dr.(Prof.) Pooja Srivastava Dewan has a background in child psychology and that makes her a fiercely active voice of children. Having done masters and doctoral research in child psychology , the one thing she seems to really learn is children are individuals in their own respects and we as adults need to respect this.