Emotional Expression in the First Two Years of Life

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  • 0:01 Emotional Development
  • 1:18 Self-Understanding
  • 3:34 Understanding Others
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

In the first two years of life, a baby goes through many big changes. In this lesson, we'll look at some of the emotional changes that occur in infants, including important milestones in socioemotional development.

Emotional Development

Cece is a new mom. She loves her daughter Ro, but Ro is still pretty boring. She eats and sleeps and messes up her diaper, but she doesn't really interact with Cece yet. Cece wonders when Ro will start acting like a person and responding to Cece.

Development is the process of change that a person goes through during a life span. There are many types of development. Ro will learn to sit up on her own, and then crawl and then walk. This is part of physical development.

Ro will also learn to babble nonsense words and then to say one or two words at a time and then to talk in complete sentences. This is language development. She will learn to distinguish different colors and shapes and then to understand counting and basic math. This is intellectual development.

And, of course, Ro will learn to interact with Cece. She will learn how to respond to the people around her and learn that everyone has feelings. Emotional development, also called socioemotional development, is growth in the area of understanding the feelings of oneself and others.

Let's look closer at the changes that Ro will go through in terms of emotional development in her first two years of life.


Remember that emotional development involves understanding the feelings of oneself and others. There are really two elements to emotional development, then: understanding oneself and understanding others.

Emotional development begins with self-understanding. At about three months old, Ro, and babies like her, will start self-soothing activities. These are actions that are meant to make the baby feel better. Sucking a thumb or pacifier is a good example of a self-soothing activity. When Ro begins to feel hungry or tired, instead of crying, she might begin to suck her thumb. This activity, which feels good, negates any negative feelings.

Self-soothing is an important first step in self-understanding because it involves recognizing the difference in what feels good and what feels bad. When the baby feels bad, she will do something that feels good.

The next step for Ro's emotional development occurs a couple of months later. At around five months old, Ro will develop self-awareness, which involves understanding that the self is separate from others. This might seem kind of silly and obvious; after all, Cece knows that she and Ro are different people, just like you know that you're separate from your parents, siblings and friends.

But babies don't understand that they are separate entities. Instead, for the first few months of life, they don't have a conception of 'self.' But when Ro begins to understand that she's separate from other people, she can also begin to explore how she is different, including her feelings about others, their feelings about her and how her feelings and that of others differ. Of course, these are complex concepts of emotion, and Ro will not fully understand these things for a couple of years, but self-awareness is the first step.

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