Emotional Learning Starts in Infancy: Giving Your Child the Best Start

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Emotional learning is a lifelong process that begins at birth and continues throughout your child’s entire life. It’s common knowledge these days that children with high EQ have better lifelong outcomes, from school to work and beyond. The benefits include increased life satisfaction, better relationships, and higher stability. Who doesn’t want that for their child? Give your little one the best start possible by encouraging his emotional development starting in the very first months of his life.

The first year of life can be broken down into four quarters of development. Here’s what you can do to supplement your child’s emotional development in each quarter:

From 0-3 Months: Reliance

Starting in the first three months of life, your child learns to rely on her caregiver. The caregiver-child relationship is the very first one that your child forms, and it’s the most crucial when it comes to setting the stage for interpersonal relationships later in life. In these months, focus on teaching your child that she can rely on you when she needs you.

At this age, children respond well to:

  • Physical touch and comfort
  • Smiling and laughing
  • Soothing voices
  • Familiar faces providing social stimulation

As a parent or a primary caregiver, it’s important to respond to your child when she cries out. Letting your child “cry it out” in the first three months of life can teach her insecure emotional behaviors early in life, which are hard to overcome later.

From 3-6 Months: Socialization

At this stage, your child knows and trusts that you’ll come when he needs you. He’s learned to recognize his caregivers’ faces, and might start expressing distrust around strangers. Now that your little one can recognize faces, it’s important to start socializing him by spending more time around family friends, extended family members, and even taking him on public outings. The more socialization your child receives at this stage, the easier it is for him to continue healthy social development as he ages out of infancy.

From 6-9 Months: Self-Comfort

Now is when your child has the best capability to start learning self-soothing behaviors. Infants at this age are very clear about being upset when they can’t get their own way, and you may be experiencing tantrums for the first time.

By this time, your child knows that you’re around when you need her, so you can start teaching her to self-comfort without worrying about it affecting her ability to trust. Don’t leave your child alone for extended periods of time, but start giving your child short (5-10 minute) periods in her playpen with a favorite toy or teether when she starts getting upset.

If she seems incapable of soothing herself with the toy, show her by helping her cuddle the toy or chew the teether. Self-comfort takes time to learn, and your child might not learn it right away, so be prepared to take the process at her pace.

From 9-12 Months: Modeling

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After 9 months, your child starts to pick up social behaviors from his caregivers and other adults and older children. This is an excellent time to encourage social development. Give your child “pretend” toys that he can use to model social situations, such as talking on the phone or picking out groceries. Your child might show interest in playing with dolls at this stage. Take the time to act out play situations with your child, and praise him for imitating your social behaviors.

From 12 months onward, your child is considered out of infancy and is now a toddler. Toddlers have their own emotional learning milestones, so you’ll need to adjust your educational approach as your child develops and grows.

An SEL-oriented preschool program is an important consideration as your child gets closer to preschool, so start researching potential programs now before your child needs to enroll. Giving your child the best start in infancy is only the beginning of his continuing EQ development.

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