From fears and moods to a sense of humor, behaviour expert talks us through your baby’s emotional development….
Your baby’s emotional intelligence, his ability to control his emotions and understand those of others is not yet developed. But he’s learning all the time and simply by watching how you, his parents, interact with others, he’ll be able to build up emotional skills for the future. A much-loved baby, growing up in a happy, loving household will have a higher chance of becoming a loving adult. Parents or siblings who are cheerful, kind, helpful and full of laughter influences the emotional learning of a baby even when he is not directly involved-he stores away his experiences of how people treat one another.
What influences a baby’s mood so that one minute she’s gurgling happily, the next she’s fractious and miserable? Studies of babies reveal they are happiest with gentle stimulation. They become bored and restless if there’s no activity of any kind and anxious if they are surrounded by intense activity. But what kind of gentle stimulation should this be? Well, a baby’s mood can be affected by something as simple as the sound of a mother’s heartbeat. Before she’s born, a baby is exposed to certain sounds and movements that she later associates with peace and security, such as the rhythmic beat of her mother’s heart, and the swing of her mother’s body as she walks. These two sensations become deeply embedded in the developing brain of the foetus, and come to spell safety and protection, even after birth.
So when a mother holds her baby close to her chest, the sound of her heart helps calm her baby. Likewise, when trying to get her baby to sleep, a mum will intuitively pace up and down holding her baby in her arms-these smooth movements help to rekindle the experience of life in the womb and help to calm her baby ready for sleep.
Having a sense of humour is fundamental to human behaviour – and it has benefits, too! Test have shown that laughter lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system and reduce stress hormones. Laughter starts some time in the fourth or fifth month. Actions most likely to get a laugh include a ‘boo!’ sound made by a smiling parent, or a raspberry noise as you blow gently against your baby’s tummy. Being bounced up and down on a parent’s lap, or lifted high in the air and gently swung from side to side are also appealing to your little ones. Before long he learns that he, too, can make others smile and laugh by manipulating his actions, vocalisations and body language. This reinforces his senses of fun and develops his social skills enormously.
Most babies’ fears stem from feeling a lack of protection, making him panic and start crying, as he tries to sound the alarm. Common fears include:
- Fear of falling A baby panics at sudden changes in position or jerky movements, which he reads as sign that an upset mother senses danger, while being held gently and peacefully, makes him feel safe and helps him relax.
- Fear of strangers Up to the age of about 6 months, a baby can’t distinguish between close relatives and strangers and is quite happy for either to pick him up. From 6 months, however, he starts to recognise his nearest and dearest and may panic and stat crying if a stranger actually picks him. Eventually, your baby will learn that even other people can be friendly, but this takes time and cannot be hurried.
- Fear of the dark. If a baby cries when left alone in his cot and the light in the bedroom is turned out, the chances are he isn’t frightened of the dark, but of being separated from his parents. It’s not until a child is about 2 years old that his imagination starts to create lurking monsters at the foot of his bed in his darkened bedroom. This is a natural phase most small children go through.
Babies have a distinct personality from a very early age. While one baby might be fairly quiet, another-even if he has the same loving parents-may be alert, active or cry other more often. So what causes the differences? Although we know very little about how genes influence personality, it seems certain that environmental differences cannot explain all the variations in character that we see among brothers and sisters. Take the quality of playfulness. It’s this that makes us so inquisitive, exploratory and inventive. However, even from an early age, we differ in this. Some of us are novelty-seeking extroverts, while others are harm-avoiding introverts, and there is a variation of a whole range of intermediates in between. Although genes play a part, parents can still make a difference. It is possible to create a more balanced personality by encouraging a nervous child to feel more confident in extrovert activities and vice versa. The key is to introduce new routines slowly and consistently.