Babies are born with the ability to express certain emotions. Your little one only develops feelings in the true sense over time. However, you will be surprised at how quickly babies and toddlers develop emotionally and mentally. At the age of just a few weeks old, your baby can memorise things and develop an "emotional memory" for sensations. In this blog post we break down the emotional development in infants and toddlers.

baby and their emotions

The feelings within the first three months of life

Newborns initially feel emotions rather than differentiated feelings. Researchers speak of a few basic emotions that depend on the mood and are careful to avoid unpleasant situations. Research assumes that your child is initially more likely to show emotions such as well-being or discomfort. For example, your child can scream or whine if they feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, babies in particular react very "contagiously" to sensations, where they perceive or mimic your emotions. So if you’re stressed and restless, your baby may also be very nervous.

Babies intuitively "derive" the emotions of their caregivers

After just two to three months, many babies are able to "derive" emotions from the voice and transfer them to their face. Therefore, they prefer smiling and happy faces, which they associate with positive emotions. At the same time, your baby can already feel fear, sadness and anger. By whining or crying, they want to share those emotions with you.

In addition to these "basic emotions" your child will also develop a basic understanding of feelings from the second month of life. For example, you will experience that your little one smiles at you when they’re happy or when you tickle them. Between the sixth and eighth week of life you will see that your baby smiles back for the first time, but this is not (yet) to be seen as a social signal.

The first strong feelings arise after about six months

After about six months your baby can tell if you are happy or sad. Likewise, they gradually develop their own specific feelings, such as those felt by adults. These include, for example, emotions such as shyness or suspicion. This can make your newborn scared and uncomfortable around strangers. Typically the “stranger danger" can be different in each child. It usually occurs from the sixth to eighth month of life and is an indication that attachment behaviour is strengthening. Some young children also suffer from severe separation anxiety. Positive emotions are also more pronounced at the beginning of the second year of life. Your child now consciously smiles at you to share positive emotions with you or to fool around. In any case, smiling is a social interaction, no longer just a reflex.

However, there are also limits to the development of emotions. Young children are not yet able to fully regulate their emotions in the first twelve months of life. In most cases, your baby cannot yet "fix" their feelings with themselves, but still needs external support from you and other close caregivers. It’s therefore important that you continue to offer your child emotional reassurance as well as security and protection. Stay close to your little one, even when things get uncomfortable. Even if your little one nags, over time they will learn to deal with their strong feelings. As long as they experience your encouragement and feels born, they will continue to develop emotionally.

Emotions continue to develop in the second year of life

In the second year of life, small children experience their feelings in a more differentiated and varied way. Although they cannot yet fully differentiate between their own feelings and those of others, they are gradually learning to empathise emotionally with other people. Since they also increasingly perceive themselves as independent persons, they now also experience feelings such as shame, pride or envy. Nevertheless, small children still want to be "protected" which is why they can experience strong emotional outbursts, especially in the second and third year of life. You should look forward to these “phases of defiance” full of temperament with ease. Try to avoid an argument and try to comfort and reassure your child instead. Even in these situations, your child still needs a "guide" to get to know their limits and express their feelings correctly.

baby milestones