Emotional and Social Development in Children:0-3 Months


The emotional and social development in children is vital in the early days, i.e., infancy. How the baby perceives the world around her and gets treated during this phase, creates the base of her personality. Basis this, she starts to express emotions and learns to reciprocate and respond to her environment. 0-3 months is also the time where the developmental milestones become more defined and you can see the kind of personality your child can develop. Does she show interest in exploring the surroundings or engaging with people? Is she friendlier with new people? The latter is an early sign of a great social life.

et’s understand, how the Social and Emotional Development in early childhood develops as a part of baby development at 0-3 months:

  • Basic social emotional milestones your baby will reach during this stage
  • Month by month Social and Emotional Development in infants
  • Is she aware of emotions?
  • Stages of Social Development in children
  • How to help her reach social emotional milestones

“The back-and-forth interactions of babies and adults shape a baby’s brain architecture, supporting the development of communication and social skills

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007

Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood

Becoming aware of her surrounding

By the age of 2 months, your baby becomes attentive to her surroundings. She hears sounds, watches people, tries to get their attention when needed, but more often than not she is overwhelmed with the environment. Even during this early baby development stage, she starts recognising her mother as the primary caregiver as she feeds her and satisfies needs like hunger and warmth. Another emotional and social development in early childhood milestone your infant, at this stage, achieves is to express joy when you are around and respond with a sudden instinctive smile and maintain the eye contact for a longer time. Unlike a newborn, where the baby only cries to convey her needs, the baby starts experimenting with her lip movements and vocals to get different responses. She becomes friendly with her parents and tries to have a conversation with them with her limited abilities, although her mother will remain her favourite . 

Evolution of smile–a social smile milestone

The sight of a toothless baby smiling is gratifying for parents given the tough parenting journey in the early months of baby care. You will find your infant smiling at you again and again and getting upset when you don’t do the same. She learns how to detect a friendly voice, which is why baby talk is also important. It’s not the word but the tone that she becomes fond of, as she knows it when you are showing your love and affection. This is a prerequisite to meet her social smile milestone. She understands the world in black and white. She classifies situations as pleasant or unpleasant. When she is surrounded by her parents, feeling warm and comfortable, loved, and attended, she expresses her pleasant experience with a smile. Whereas in response to unpleasant experiences like discomfort in the stomach, feeling unclean, hungry or cold, she tends to cry for attention–both an integral part of the social smile milestone development.

It is important to recognise the emotional needs of a baby and attend to them. Do not worry about spoiling her; this is not the age where she is capable of even learning that. Shower love and affection and attend to her needs before she even demands. This develops deep feelings of trust and comfort. This plays a vital role in all baby development stages, something which is going to create a well-balanced personality as an adult. Be around her as much as she needs. Instead of being clingy in nature, she will actually develop into an emotionally stable and confident human being without insecurities of being neglected and abandoned. Establishing love and trust at the early baby development stage boosts her self-esteem, and this high self-esteem reflects in her adulthood, making her more confident and proactive.

Social and Emotional Development in children, born prematurely 

Also, keep in mind that premature babies may not exhibit similar behaviour as babies delivered after completion of a full, 9-month term. She may not cry when she is uncomfortable or show the positive expected signs. Please understand that it is completely normal and extremely common in babies, prematurely born. In such a case, you will have to take extra care, as she is highly sensitive to loud sound and intense light for many coming months. She gets overwhelmed easily. So please be patient and keep your doctors number on speed dial, to get fast access to correct information without fussing and panicking. If your baby is prematurely born, her emotional and social development will take more time as compared to other newborns and her understanding can be limited, which, again you have to remember, is completely normal.

Stages of Social Development in early childhood (0-3 months)

Month 1 :

In her first month, you will find that your newborn baby sleeps most of the time. She is rarely awake, and even when she wakes, she breaks out with a cry. The baby needs to be near her mother’s body so she can feel the warmth and the need for food can be satisfied quickly. Be right their next to here as soon as she cries for attention as this will help her reach the social emotional milestones. This is the time when she will start getting familiar with her father’s face too and gradually, with her siblings. She may also break into an instinctual smile every now and then. She enjoys making eye contact and listening to cozy voices. So don’t feel embarrassed to baby talk as much as you want. It is all part of baby care and baby development routines.

In the Indian community, it’s traditional to visit the newborn baby, but so many people can overwhelm her. Leave the introduction with the family for the upcoming months. Maintain a quiet and peaceful environment initally. Since she has not experienced stranger anxiety or separation anxiety, she may not mind being held by other people, though passing of baby from one person to another, or large crowds may leave her exhausted and cranky. The social and emotional development of children largely depends on the environment we provide to them during the early stages. Again, she will cry a lot, and that’s okay. She is trying to learn the new language of communicating her needs. Treat all this as a part and parcel of social development in early childhood.

Month 2 :

In the second month, you will start seeing that instead of breaking into a smile, the baby responds with a simple one, which is a more conscious decision. Crying for unpleasant and smiling for pleasant experiences will become a pattern you can predict. You can also see the development in her personality, like if she is enjoying socialising or not. The duration of her eye contact will become longer, and she will also be able to follow a moving person, mostly the mom, sibling, or a pet with her eyes. Crying remains the same, but she learns to comfort herself by sucking her thumb in the absence of her mother.

Till up to six weeks, the reflexes of a baby, like crying, grasping, rooting etc. or her ability to automatically smile upon hearing voices, encourages the caregiver to attach with her and meet her needs, while the baby is not yet attached to any one caregiver.

Attachment Theory, John Bowlby, British Pscyhologist

Month 3 :

Welcome to the third month as this is the month when you will probably get to hear the beautiful laughter of your baby. She smiles more frequently at people and recognises them faster. You will find her reaching another social emotional milestones with friendly gestures and learns to distinguish between parents and strangers. Cognitive abilities develop rapidly.  She can figure out the cause and effect factors now. For example, pushing a toy makes it move or shaking a rattle evokes a sound from it.

Emotional Development in Children: Is your baby aware of emotions?

During this early baby development stage, your child has just started exploring her emotions which is why the expression is limited. Your baby in her earlier months can smile at faces that are familiar, for example, parents and siblings. So yes, your baby’s emotional development has started but to a limited extent. Though, she will take a few more months to identify others emotions, she can express negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear etc by crying and pleasant emotions like joy, happiness and comfort by smiling at others. You will find her using facial expressions like moving her eyebrows and an instinctual spread of an involuntary smile. You will find her making eye contact for a longer time as she prefers looking at people more than objects. She also tries to mimic the expression of people around her , and this game of imitation is what will help her learn behaviour fast in future. 

Understanding Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood

Social and emotional development is how the child learns to react and interact with their environment over a period of time and baby development. Social emotional milestones includes many different areas of growth.

temperament of the child: the way a child responds and acts towards different situations and people including both known people and strangers. Most children fall into either easy, or slow-to-warm-up, or difficult category. For the latter two category babies, keep the home and outside environment as predictable as possible. At the same time, gently expose the child to new experiences. This may help foster the child’s social and emotional development in a way that supports the child’s unique needs. (Extracted from: urbanchildinstitute.org)

attachment: refers to the emotional bond between a child and caregiver. A secure, positive attachment is essential for decreasing the risk for social and emotional problems later in childhood and adulthood; encouraging healthy relationships outside the home; for fostering positive, trusting relationships in middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

social skills or social competence: is the ability of the baby to get along with other people. Did you know that play gives children an opportunity to try and put into practice different social skills. They learn that others’ have feelings too, and learn to play “nicely,” share, and resolve conflict amicably. As children get older, play becomes more interactive. This improves their social skills and prepares them for more fruitful social interactions both inside and outside the home.

emotion regulation: the ability of a child to control her emotions and reactions to the environment. The child does not need to be happy, brave, and calm all of the time. It is okay for the baby to cry to communicate needs or push boundaries. Some children can regulate their emotions better and calm down faster than others. This together forms the emotional development in children.

What happens in the first years of life is directly related to children’s long-term cognitive, emotional, and social outcomes through adulthood.

Child Development, 2010

Tips to encourage your baby meet her social emotional milestones

  1. Hold the baby as much as possible as it creates bonding and helps the baby in establishing trust. This is crucial for social and emotional development in early childhood.
  2. Talk to your baby. There is a reason why we “baby talk”. It helps in teaching her to pay attention to your words while your tone conveys love and comfort. This is why the baby often laughs or smiles when you baby talk. Smiling is an important social smile milestone for the baby to achieve.
  3. Refrain yourself from classifying your baby as a good or a bad baby depending on how much she cries. Crying is just a way to communicate the emotional needs of a baby, not a temperament.
  4. Play soft music or white noise audios as that keeps her auditory sense activated.
  5. Introduce new objects to your baby and talk about them. This builds intimacy, and the baby starts recognising you as the primary source of knowledge.
  6. Sometimes she cries, simply because she is bored or needs your attention. Don’t be surprised if she stops crying the moment you hold or cuddle her. The warmth of mother’s body itself fulfils the emotional needs of a baby and makes her feel loved and cared.This is important for the appropriate social development in early childhood.
  7. Introduce your baby to new people, but one person at a time. The social and emotional development in infants depends on how much she is exposed to people. But at this stage, too many stimulation is not good for her. Make sure you are not crowding the baby with a lot of people. 
  8. Tell people how to introduce themselves to the baby i.e., no loud noises, grabbing the baby tightly, show the proper way of holding and swaying, etc. All these points will make the baby comfortable and more willing to socialise with strangers. These small measures ensure a healthy social development in early childhood itself.
  9. Do not hold the baby in front of a T.V. or any screen as it can cause stress, and she won’t be able to communicate that. Though music can be calming and soothing. Sing lullabies to her, or read to her to help her relax and also boost her communication development.
  10. The emotional needs of a baby can vary to a great extent. Your baby can be extremely needy, and she will cry a lot for her mother. As frustrating as it can be, please don’t start judging and yelling at her. Some babies just need a lot of reassurance. The more you comfort and assure her in the beginning months, the happier and secure she will become as an adult. It’s going to be difficult. So take as much help as you need from people for chores and other responsibilities but keep spending time with your baby as of utmost priority.
  11. Make sure that you are getting a decent sleep. A cranky mother is the last thing to help your baby reaching her social emotional milestones. A happy mother makes a happy baby.
  12. If you have pets at home, keep their living area separate as the baby’s immunity system is vulnerable at this age. It can cause infections, though don’t take extreme measures as leaving your pet forever. Keeping them in a different room will just work fine, and as the baby grows, having a pet at home will only ensure proper development in empathising with others.
  13. Find out what makes your baby laugh or smile. Use it as a trigger during things that are unpleasant to them like bathing, massaging or even while changing her diapers. If it’s your voice that she likes, use it; a toy? Use it.
Baby Care of a newborn baby

The point is that the baby should feel emotionally good about herself. You can build trust and reassure her of your presence communicating that “I’m here for you.” Increase the scope of socialising by introducing more people gradually. Communicating trust, love and care is a recipe for raising a happy baby.

On a closing note, remember that each baby is different and develops at her own pace…the social emotional milestones mentioned here are just a broad reference point–some babies maybe ahead of those, while some may catch up slightly later and make up for the missing ones. Speaking generically, these are the founding stones of social and emotional development in early childhood of babies. So, all in all, enjoy your time with your baby and happy parenting.

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