17 Aug 2011

First Feelings

2 Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants
Infants (0-24 months)

2.1 Expression of Emotion

  • expressing comfort and discomfort
  • expressing pleasure and displeasure
  • expressing anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, joy, excitement
  • showing affection with hugs
  • showing anxiety at separation from parents
  • showing clear attachment to parents
Observe infants to determine what senses and motor skills they enjoy and use for exploring.

Sensory and motor skills form the basis of individual differences in how infants calm themselves (self-regulation).

If an infant uses his visual sense to calm himself or pay attention, provide interesting visual stimulation to (your face or the infant’s favorite toy) to support self-regulation.

It can be easy to think that babies have two modes; babies who are happy smile and coo and play while babies who are sad cry. However what we forget in this assumption is that babies are people too with the same range of emotions that we experience as adults, although they aren’t yet able to express these emotions in the same ways that we do. Infants and young children are only just beginning the process of learning and understanding what emotions are, while at the same time experiencing them in a big way. This is why it’s so important that we acknowledge and label an infant’s feeling so that they can begin to learn to understand them and to manage them. This is also why it’s important to take the time to determine what a child is feeling before intervening. We are often quick to swoop in and try to “fix” a crying baby but how can we appropriately engage with an infant if we don’t know what they’re feeling.

If an infant begins to cry because of the frustration she is experiencing in her engagement with a toy and we pick her up and take her away from the toy, we remove the opportunity for her to work through her frustration. What message does that send? That if something frustrates you, you should give up? Will we further mislabel the feelings this infant experienced as “sad” or “tired” because we weren’t paying attention in the first place? Even worse will we send this child the message that it’s not alright to feel frustrated or to cry? For infants, crying is still the primary way that they are able to communicate their needs or express their negative emotions and we certainly don’t want to discourage that. We need to be respectful enough to allow the expression of all types of feelings.

We want infants and young children to express their emotions and to understand them. This means we need to pay close attention. As caregivers we should always respond to a crying baby in an observant and thoughtful way. This does not always mean picking a child up, but perhaps simply responding to them verbally. We should take the time to determine why they are crying so that we can respond appropriately. Further, although it’s easy to focus on the negative emotions and the act of crying, we also need to respond to and label the infant’s positive emotions, such as excitement or pride. Supporting an infant to understand and express their emotions is beneficial for both baby and caregiver.

Photo by Eric Fleming (Flickr).
written by
A registered Early Childhood Educator and former President of the Halton Branch of the Association for Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.

2 Responses to “First Feelings”

  1. Reply Diana says:

    Hi! Love this concept. Can you provide everyday examples?

    • Reply Shannon says:

      Hi Diana,
      When responding to a crying baby, before you rush over to pick them up, take a moment to think and to survey the scene. Why are they crying? Are they frustrated with a toy? Have they hurt or startled themself in some way? Are they overwhelmed by too much activity in their environment? Or is it something more instrumental? When was the last time they were changed, fed or slept? If we take the time to discern the reason that they are crying before we intervene, we’ll be able to respond to their specific needs right away. They might not need to be picked up, they might just need their caregiver to be close by, to acknowledge their feelings and provide encouragement.
      It’s simple to acknowledge and label feelings, all it takes is observation. If we’re putting an infant or toddler in a car seat and they become upset from being confined, we can tell them “You’re angry. You don’t want to be in the car seat”. We can further explain that they need to be in the car seat to keep them safe. Another example would be if a child is becoming upset waiting for a meal. “I know you’re hungry. Dinner is almost ready”. Simple statement of the facts is all that we need to do. It’s not difficult, just a habit that we need to get into.
      I hope that helps.

Leave a Reply