Every baby is born ready and able to express basic emotions: fear, anxiety, and pleasure. Babies are also born with the capacity for empathy, feeling in tune with another's emotions. A toddler may even pick up and return a cookie to soothe a crying peer who's dropped the treat. Later, children learn more complicated and sometimes darker emotions, such as jealousy.
How can you tell your baby feels pleasure? Stroke your baby's skin with long palmar strokes while telling him how delicious he is and that he has the softest skin in the world. Babies wriggle with joy when they feel your loving touches and caressing voice tones in their ears.
Babies are well primed to hold on tight to you, the precious person keeping them safe! But if you aren't holding them firmly, babies show a fear response. Afraid of falling, they grip your hair or clothing tightly. Babies with anxious worried looks may reflect a chaotic home situation, with parents who are too rushed to provide the stable, reassuring, relaxed routines that help little ones feel nourished emotionally: fed and diapered and hugged and given personal attention when they are needy.
SELF-COMFORT, AN EARLY EMOTIONAL MILESTONE
Young babies learn to suck fingers or a thumb to comfort themselves. By the end of their first year, they endow a blanket, soft doll, plush dinosaur, or cuddly teddy bear with the magic ability to soothe. Thus, an early intellectual accomplishment of babies is to create the idea of a security blanket.
Another emotional task during the early years is learning self-control. Babies even 10 days old can learn to rest quietly during diaper changes if they are sure that their tummies will be filled up with milk right afterward. That is why caregivers need to meet babies' needs promptly. The more you establish certainty that you are prompt in providing comfort, the more babies will try to be patient and wait for you to come and help them.
BECOMING A TRUSTING TODDLER
The profound emotional milestone that is accomplished during the first year is the building of attachment with loving adults. Building a secure attachment with a special adult takes time and lots of reassuring small daily touches, diaper changes, nursing, rocking, and crooning. Gradually baby becomes securely attached to the caregiver. Fortunate is the young child who has loving parents and grandparents at home as well as a loving primary caregiver. That is why it is important to have "primary" caregiving, so that the baby can accomplish the emotional task of becoming securely attached.
Young ones need to know they can count on you! As a care provider, you are not in competition with family. Indeed, a baby is lucky when he has several loving adults to whom he can become securely attached!
The secure baby's eyes sparkle, and she grins when you come in the room. She runs to you with outstretched arms to be picked up. After tumbling off a trike, a toddler gets upset and his eyes turn right to you for help. When you comfort a distressed little one, he molds into your body and cuddles in a relaxed way.
Toddlers show this secure attachment by grabbing your hand and pulling you to a shelf as they point to a toy they want you to get down. Toddlers may feel fussy about eating with a substitute caregiver and only eat well when you are there to help with feeding. They will snuggle for a picture-book story as if your lap is a throne they love to sit on!
SECURE ATTACHMENT MOTIVATES EARLY LEARNING
Toddlers who have achieved the emotional milestone of secure attachment work harder at learning tasks and solving problems. They don't give up as easily when a toy is hard to work. They will ask for your help and accept your suggestions when doing a puzzle that is somewhat difficult. They seem zestful rather than irritated about challenging tasks, such as trying to string a large bead on a shoelace or work a busy board. They are more likely to play peacefully with peers and solve social fusses rather than get into fights.
TODDLERS who have achieved EMOTIONAL milestones of secure ATTACHMENT work harder at LEARNING tasks and solving problems.
Be proud of your toddlers for all the emotional early learning they have accomplished as they wait fairly patiently for a meal, feed themselves with a spoon (mostly), ask for your help with gestures and words, sit fairly still for a story, and point to animals and fruits in a picture book. Sharing may still be difficult, and toileting skills may be a long way off, but the emotionally secure under-three will be a more resilient, more cheerful learner and richly reward you with cooperation in return for all the patience and nurturance you provide.