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The Social-Emotional Development of your Child: Part 1 of 2 From Birth to 8 months

When I have Home Visits with families in my role as a Parenting Consultant, I’m watching and listening to see how the child is developing across four areas – Language , Intellect, Social-Emotional, and Motor skills. Imagine how much easier parenting would be if you understood why children do what they do… If you knew the ‘why’, then you may approach the situation differently…

Today I’ll share with you what I might expect to see in the Social-Emotional domain in young babies.


Social refers to how the child interacts with others and the learning of social skills.

Emotional refers to how they express their emotions.

From birth to 6 weeks, babies will observe the people in their environment, and they particularly like to look at faces – presumably because of the movement and the voices of people. At this stage the baby’s vision isn’t well developed and so what they see is very blurry. About 30cm away from their face is where things are most clear. They can usually be comforted by their parents and will show when they are overstimulated, by turning their face away or becoming fussy – check to see if they are ready for a sleep, or whether there is too much ‘busy-ness’ around them, then reduce it.


From 6 weeks to 3 ½ months, babies will smile purposefully, and show excitement when they see or hear you approaching. They will cry to let you know their needs for food, burping and sleep. (The Dunstan Baby Language can help parents to correctly identify their needs – read more about Dunstan Baby Language (DBL) here ).

Babies will attempt to copy some of your facial expressions if you take the time to wait for a response. They will often have some form of self-soothing such as sucking a dummy or their thumb.


At 3 ½ – 5 ½ months, babies will have distinctly different cries to draw your attention to their needs. The quicker parents respond to these needs, the quicker the baby settles, and trust is developed between parent and child. Babies of this age make their frustration known when they can’t quite reach something, or they have managed to roll over, but have got their arm stuck underneath themselves . They show their frustration immediately and seek help from you. They also show their excitement when you engage with them in play or talk, by smiling and laughing – eg when you blow raspberries on their belly and they giggle!


Between 5 ½ – 8 months, babies may develop separation anxiety, crying when you leave the room to go to the bathroom, or to make a cup of tea. It’s especially distressing for them, if they aren’t yet crawling, and able to follow you. You still need to do these things. One way to minimise their distress, is to play ‘peek-a-boo’ around the corner when you are about to leave, showing them you are still present. Alternatively you can talk to them in a slightly louder voice as you leave the room, so that they can still hear you and therefore know that you are there.

They may also show distress when unfamiliar people are about, even Grandparents whom they don’t see often. Their distress may be because they have built a strong attachment to you in terms of trust and in having their needs meet, and they don’t know if these ‘new’ people are the same as you. You are their security. It’s important not to force them to be held by these people, when they are upset, so talk to the visitors whilst you hold your baby.


Next week I’ll continue to share information about the Social-Emotional development of children from 8 months to 3 years.


Happy Parenting!

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