Babies start forming attachments with the important adults in their lives from the moment they are born. They learn to trust their parents, child care providers, and other important adults, and learn that other people will meet their needs. During the infant years, child care providers can help babies build a sense of trust and security by being responsive to each individual infant. Responding consistently to babies' cries, spending one-on-one time with each infant, observing and responding to babies’ cues, providing a safe space for babies to explore, and helping babies begin to recognize and handle their own feelings are important ways that child care providers can promote infants' social and emotional development.
The following lists describe some common social and emotional skills that most babies achieve at different ages. This list is just a guideline. Every baby is an individual and develops on his or her own schedule.
By 4 months, most babies…
- Cry with tears to communicate hunger, pain, fear or loneliness
- Love being touched and held close
- Turn their heads to look at a shaking rattle or bell
- Smile regularly and return smiles from others
- Make cooing sounds, especially when looking at other people
- May begin to laugh
- Respond to peek-a-boo games
By 8 months, most babies…
- Respond to their own names and the names of family members
- Show fear of falling off high places, such as a table or stairs
- Watch and imitate the people around them
- Respond differently to strangers than to family members or regular child care providers
- May start to be afraid of people they don’t know
- Imitate the sounds, actions and facial expressions made by others
- Show distress if a toy is taken away
- Smile at their own reflection in the mirror, but may not recognize it as themselves
- Raise their arms as a sign they want to be picked up
- Respond to the distress of others by frowning, fussing or crying
- May show distress when a parent or trusted child care provider leaves the room
By 12 months, most babies…
- Respond appropriately to simple requests, such as “Go get your cup”
- Copy adult actions such as drinking from a cup or talking on the phone
- Enjoy watching themselves in the mirror
- Show clear fear or anxiety around strangers
- Want their parent or trusted child care provider to be in constant sight, especially if they are in a new place
- Offer toys or objects to others, but expect them to be returned
- May become attached to a favorite toy or blanket
- Push away something they do not want
Tips for Child Care Providers to Nurture Babies’ Social and Emotional Development
Hold babies while feeding. Even if the baby holds the bottle, being held and cuddled during feeding helps develop a strong nurturing relationship with the child care provider. Never prop a bottle in a baby’s mouth; it may cause choking.
Respond every time a baby cries. Crying is the only way young babies can tell you what they need. Help babies learn to trust you by picking them up, talking to them and taking care of their basic needs. Be consistent so your baby knows what to expect. You cannot spoil a baby by responding to her cries.
Stay close to babies when someone new is around. As babies get older, they are wary of strangers. This is sign of a strong, positive attachment. Encourage strangers to approach babies slowly. Introduce the babies to the new person. Give them a chance to become familiar with the new person in the safety of your presence before that person picks them up.
Help families handle separation anxiety. Around 8 to 12 months, many babies cry when parents drop them off at child care. Help parents understand that this means their baby has a strong bond with them. Be sure parents say goodbye before they leave their child. Provide gentle reassurance when babies cry. Talk about babies’ families, and reassure them that the parent will be back later.
Stay with the same group of infants as long as possible. Babies need a consistent, reliable child care provider to build a strong attachment. Avoid moving babies from room to room or teacher to teacher.
For More Information
To learn more about how child care providers can support infants' development, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:
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