Did you know that babies come wired to be able to understand their feelings– and the feelings and perspectives of others?
They learn, with experience, little by little, how to regulate their emotions– which is an important set of life skills! This includes the ability to calm down from being upset and to inhibit impulses, such as the impulse to hit or bite someone when they’re angry or frustrated.
Babies and toddlers also learn little by little, by doing it, how to communicate with other people—how to communicate what they want, how to understand what the other person’s behaviors mean, and how to work things out with other people.
The ability to care about and get along with other people also has important roots in infancy. Survival among humans and primates requires social organization, and that requires developing an understanding of the actions of others.
Have you heard about “mirror neurons?” Researchers have found mechanisms in the brain (mirror neuron systems) that allow babies to develop an understanding of other’s actions and an ability to learn by imitation. When a baby watches us throw a ball, the same part of their brain lights up as ours does– they can kind of know what throwing the ball feels like just by watching us do it!
These very important social and emotional human skills are wired in and only need experience to bring them to life!
Babies who do not have rich access to human interaction in infancy fail to develop important foundational social and emotional skills. You may have heard about the unfortunate children reared in Romanian state-run orphanages who failed to develop in very important ways. In addition to gross delays in language, motor, and mental development, they were found to have very poor stress responses, and were socially very clumsy. Ultimately, without having the chance to develop these skills in the early months and years of life, they were unable to form permanent attachments with other people. A lack of connection and attachment in infancy alters development of emotional areas of the brain among humans in ways that make it difficult for them to live successfully as people.
Interestingly, we find comparable problems in development among monkeys who, separated very young from their mothers, develop severe emotional and behavioral problems.
So, interact with your baby and watch him developing these social and emotional skills. Notice how he learns from watching you, and take the time to learn from watching him, too!
You can also help him develop emotional skills, such as the ability to sooth himself. First, you help by addressing his needs at the early stages– feeding him when he’s hungry, before he’s absolutely famished and so distressed he can’t eat. Or putting him down for a nap before he’s too overstimulated to be able to sleep.
Little by little, also let him have some opportunities to soothe himself. This is a skill that takes practice, but adults don’t need to swoop in and soothe every frustration. For our part, it requires being aware when he is developing a little more skill and when his upset is in an early enough stage that he can successfully soothe himself.
The more successful experiences he has, the more emotional skill he develops! So, don’t do it all for him– let him do a little more for himself all the time.
Finally, I must share some interesting research about infant morality. Did you know that babies as young as 3 months old are moral? Researchers have found the foundations of altruism and selfishness and a moral value for fairness in infants—far before they have had the opportunity to learn the moral rules of their families or communities. Babies are young as three months old show a preference for helpful/ nice characters over unhelpful/ not nice characters. Three months old! There’s a lot more going on in those little heads than meets the eye!
If you would like to see a CBS news story on infant morality research– it’s so interesting– check out the link below.
Isn’t it amazing to realize how much is going on in the mind of a baby?! Let us love, support, and protect them, and never condescend to them!
Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., www.bornforbrilliance.com, 303-975-6103