Infant Social and Emotional Development

Infant Social and Emotional Development

Babies begin to develop socially and emotionally as soon as they are born through their interactions with parents and other caregivers. For infants to be socially and emotionally healthy, they need to develop a strong, secure attachment to their primary caregivers (Mom, Dad, child care provider) and learn how to trust. When parents and caregivers provide nurturing and responsive care to their babies’ needs (like food or a clean diaper), they not only create a sense of security but also help to make the children feel good about themselves.


Birth to 3 months

  • The baby is learning to trust based on how well her basic needs are being met. 
  • The baby starts forming an attachment with her primary caregiver.
  • The baby begins to develop a social smile.
  • The baby is more communicative.
  • The baby is more expressive with face and body.
  • The baby imitates some movements and expressions.
  • The baby enjoys playing with people. Respond consistently, quickly and lovingly to her needs so she will learn to trust you and the world around her.

Smile, laugh, snuggle and talk with her to let her know she is important to you and to help  her form a secure attachment with you.

Reflect back the faces and expressions you see in your baby like a mirror to show you are trying to understand her.

4 to 7 months

  • The baby responds with baby sounds when caregivers talk and smile.
  • The baby smiles directly at her primary caregivers and begins to laugh.
  • The baby enjoys social play.
  • The baby is interested in mirror images.
  • The baby responds to expressions and emotion.
  • The baby appears joyful often. Talk, sing or read stories often.

Use animated facial expressions and voice tones when talking  to encourage more interactions and to model varied emotional expression.

8 to 12 months

  • The baby becomes strongly attached to the primary caregiver and only wants that person for most things.
  • The baby is shy or anxious with strangers.
  • The baby gets very upset if the primary caregiver leaves or if a stranger is near.
  • The baby enjoys imitating people in play.
  • The baby shows preference for specific people and toys.
  • The baby tests parental response. When strangers are near, reassure babies that everything is okay by using gentle, encouraging words and gestures. 

For more tips see Stranger and Separation Anxiety

If a parent has to leave a baby with another caregiver to go to work or run errands, the baby may get upset.  When this happens, try soothing the baby by giving her a comfort object to hold, like a favorite blanket or toy.  Also, try to establish a “leaving routine” so that your child knows what to expect when you are leaving. Do not try to slip away when your child is not watching! Your child needs to feel confident that you will come back. While it may be tempting, disappearing when she is distracted or engaged in an activity may damage her sense of security in not being able to predict important events in her life.

The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut generously donated its expertise to create this content. For more information please go to