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Your Baby's Emotional Development

As a parent, you play an important role in your child's emotional development. You can help determine how your child learns to express and manage his feelings. Here are some ways to get your baby off to a healthy emotional start:

  • Be sensitive to her needs. Sensitivity to your baby -- in the form of attending to her needs in a timely way and spending one-on-one time with her -- helps build feelings of security and a healthy attachment between a child and her caregivers.
  • Soothe him when he's distressed. During the first six months of life, it's important for babies to discover that when they're hungry, wet, tired, or otherwise uncomfortable, these problems will get fixed. "This gives the baby a sense of security and helps him to form a sense of attachment to the people who do the 'fixing,'" explains Pamela Cole, PhD, a researcher and professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University.
  • Consider your child's individual temperament. "The first signs of emotions that we see in a child are partially based on temperament, or the individual differences that babies seem to be born with," says Dr. Cole. Some babies, for example, are more active and some are less active; some are easy to soothe when they're distressed and others are more difficult to soothe. Temperament accounts for why some babies don't mind being passed from one set of arms to another, while others are more sensitive to this. Keep your baby's temperament in mind and respond sensitively to situations that might make her uncomfortable.
  • Get plenty of "face time" with your baby. An important emotional milestone is a baby's ability to have face-to-face "conversations" with his caregiver, so spend some time engaging your little one. How to do it: When your baby coos, respond by smiling and talking to him. He, in turn, will likely continue the exchange by smiling and cooing some more. "This very turn-taking is a sign of healthy emotional development," says Dr. Cole.
  • Recognize when she's had enough. "Young babies are sensitive to face-to-face interactions," says Dr. Cole. "So watch for signs that your baby has had too much stimulation and needs a break." A common signal: When you're playing with your baby, and she looks or turns away -- that's her way of saying "enough." What you can do: Just back away a little and wait for her to look back at you to signal that she's ready to play again.
  • Seek out childcare providers who are attentive and sensitive to your baby's needs. When looking for a babysitter or daycare provider, opt for someone who has the time and desire to be attentive to your baby's needs and who will engage in some one-on-one time with him.

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