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Babies sense parents’ emotions to help understand their world

We often say that babies are born learning, but what are they really capable of picking up on? What about something as subtle as their parents’ emotions? While infants vary in their sensitivity, research shows that babies do, indeed, sense and react to their parents’ emotional cues. Generally speaking, they’re picking up on what you’re giving off.

“From birth, infants pick up on emotional cues from others. Even very young infants look to caregivers to determine how to react to a given situation,” says Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, a professor with the Social Science Research Institute and the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.


Can babies tell when you’re stressed? It may be time to breathe | Duke University Social Science Research Institute


Together with all parts of brain development, (physical, cognitive, language, etc.),  a baby’s emotional development begins early, and babies look to their parents’ emotional responses to help them interpret and react to the world around them. Studies have shown that infants as young as one month-old sense when a parent is depressed or angry and are affected by the parent’s mood.

Understanding that even infants are affected by adult emotions can help parents do their best in supporting their child’s healthy development. Parents and caregivers who express positive emotions and who respond to babies’ needs in a positive and loving manner are helping promote feelings of security in their child, and that’s what young children need most.

 

Dan Puglisi is senior director of marketing + strategic initiatives at First Things First. Reach him at dan@firstthingsfirst.org.

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