Social and Emotional Development.

Social and Emotional Development.

A good friend of mine, Leanne Cantwell is a Family Therapist and Infant Mental Health Specialist with The Oak Tree Practice in Kilkenny Oaktree is a Child and Family Therapy Service . I hope you enjoy Leanne’s blog , Jo .

Oak Tree Practice

Watching and supporting your child’s development is one of the greatest joys of parenthood – you won’t want to miss a thing. During the first year many parents learn a lot about their baby’s growth and developmental milestones such as sitting up, walking, talking, weaning and so on. Today I would like to bring your attention to one of the most important yet least spoken of developmental milestones-Social and Emotional development.

Social and Emotional development is often referred to as ‘infant mental health’ by early childhood professionals. In essence it is the baby’s developing capacity to recognise, experience and regulate emotions and form secure relationships.

The early development of emotional responses are highly influenced by the baby’s environment. This area of development is highly reliant on relationships, it is through these relationships with significant adults that children develop emotional wellbeing. These nurturing relationships are crucial for the development of trust, empathy, compassion, generosity and conscience. All of these qualities are lifelong assets.

It is during those moments when a parent is present with their baby in a meaningful way that the development is activated. For example when a baby has an emotional initiative such as a smile and their caregiver recognises it and tunes in by perhaps mirroring the action and putting words on it “oh you like that” the baby overtime begins to register such emotions, learn emotional language and develop an awareness of their internal emotional state – the language of mental health. This support will help her build healthy relationships and a positive sense of self as she grows.

In the first year of life, a baby’s brain grows at a remarkable pace. By the time baby is three, his brain will reach 80 percent of its adult size. That’s why the time from baby’s birth to when he turns three is so important. His brain is wired to learn and you, as parents, can be an active part of this development.

Here are some examples of daily activities that don’t cost a thing but have invaluable developmental benefits:

  • Talk to your baby. She will find your voice calming.
  • Answer when your baby makes sounds by repeating the sounds and adding words. This will help him learn to use language.
  • Read to your baby. This will help her develop and understand language and sounds.
  • Sing to your baby and play music.
  • Praise your baby and give her lots of loving attention.
  • Spend time cuddling and holding your baby. This will help her feel cared for and secure.
  • Play with your baby when she’s alert and relaxed. Watch your baby closely for signs of being tired or fussy so that she can take a break from playing.
  • Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Parenting can be hard work! It is easier to enjoy your new baby and be a positive, loving parent when you are feeling good yourself.
  • Touch your baby often, caress those tiny toes. Cuddle her in your arms. Even before Baby’s sense of smell or taste develops, she knows touch, so touch is the most important thing in their young lives. Infant massage is not only enjoyable but has a strong evidence base for supporting your baby’s development. Think of actions when you touch your baby as sensory nourishment & food for the brain.

Enjoy this special time, this stage doesn’t last forever but your investments into your child’s social and emotional wellness will last a life time.

Leanne Cantwell

Family Therapist and Infant Health Specialist



Oak Tree Practice

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