Following on from last week’s Scéalta on supporting emotional development in babies and young children, I continue to explore emotional development and highlight some tips from practice.
From years of research on babies, we now have so much evidence and knowledge and we know that babies come into the world ready for relationships. Non-verbal and verbal communication play a huge role in the development of relationships. Babies tell us how they feel and what they need through their expressions and body movements. They cry to tell us what they want or need – a nappy change, a bottle, a nap, or a hug. By observing and getting to know the babies in our care, we recognise that each baby has his/her own personality and style of communication. This is why it is so important for us to listen and understand and then we need to respond to them as individuals who are different.
A drive to learn
Babies love to hear language and respond by cooing, babbling and making sounds that gradually become words. Throughout the first two years and beyond, children are attaching meaning to words and understand a lot more than they can say. Peter Grey (2013) tells us that ‘Children come into the world burning to learn. They are naturally curious, naturally playful, and they explore and play in ways that teach them about the social and physical world to which they want to belong’.
Harnessing babies’ drive to learn and supporting their emotional development can be achieved by modelling healthy emotional expression, creating a safe and supportive environment for children to share their feelings, and providing opportunities for children to practice self-regulation and empathy.
Thinking about a baby’s environment
Nurturing emotional development in babies involves creating a warm, responsive and supportive environment that promotes healthy attachment and emotional regulation. It is important to remember that each baby is unique and may have different needs, so it is vital to be responsive and adaptable in your approach.
Here are some strategies used by educators which may help support healthy emotional development in babies and young children:
- Respond to the baby’s cues: Infants communicate through crying, facial expressions, and body language. Responding promptly and consistently to the baby’s cues can help them feel secure and develop a sense of trust
- Provide physical comfort: Holding, cuddling, and soothing the baby can help them feel safe and nurtured, and can also promote the development of emotional regulation skills
- Talk to the baby: Talking, singing and engaging in back-and-forth interactions with the baby can help them develop language skills and emotional connections. It’s important to use a warm and positive tone of voice and to mirror your baby’s expressions and sounds
- Show affection: Hugging, kissing, and showing physical affection can help babies develop a sense of security and emotional bonding with their caregivers
- Use responsive feeding practices: in Early Years settings, bottle-feeding can provide a nurturing opportunity for educator-child bonding and communication. Babies may feel more secure and relaxed when feeding in a calm and soothing environment
- Engage in playful interactions: Peek-a-boo and other simple games can be fun and engaging for babies and help them learn about the world and the people around them
Promoting quality loving interactions with babies
Veronica Lawrence (2019) from the Northamptonshire Baby Room Project says that “Babies are amazing. Their brains are incredible. It’s all about relationships.” The statements below and the practice ideas come from the Northamptonshire Baby Room Project, the essence of which is promoting quality loving interactions with babies.
To support and nurture relationships and emotional development in babies:
- Smile and greet each baby by name as they arrive
Being acknowledged and affirmed by important people in their lives leads to children gaining confidence and inner strength through secure attachments to these people
- Make time to simply be with and talk with babies
Children need adults to set a good example and give them opportunities for interaction with others
- Provide an effective key person approach
For children, being special to someone and well cared-for is vital for their physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing
- Form genuine, caring attachments with babies in your care
Exploration within a close relationship leads to the growth of self-assurance, promoting a sense of belonging which allows children to explore the world from a secure base
- Acknowledge babies’ feelings and empathise with them
Children who are encouraged to feel free to express their ideas and their feelings, such as joy, sadness, frustration and fear, can develop strategies to cope with new, challenging or stressful situations
- Provide mirrors to support babies’ awareness of themselves
Through play, talk to babies about their physical characteristics helping them to realise that they are separate and different to others
Remember babies grow up so fast. They learn a lot from the people around them and you could be the role model today that the baby looks up to as he/she learns more about the world and how people behave. So don’t underestimate your influence!