The first three years of a child’s life mark a period of remarkable growth, according to Zero to Three. Through interactions with parents, infants learn about who they are and the world around them. Infants and toddlers require parental interaction to learn social and emotional skills, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Parents have the responsibility and challenge to ensure their children’s healthy growth and development.
Emotional Development in Infancy
Edward Tronick designed the “Still Face Paradigm,” which explores an infant’s reaction to parent’s interaction or lack thereof. When a parent looks at the baby and responds to her sounds or pointing, the baby interacts happily; however, when the parent looks with a straight face and does not interact, the baby becomes upset and responds with negative emotions and crying. Zero to Three suggests this experiment displays clearly an infant’s need for parental interaction, and with proper response from parents, infants learn trust and a sense of caring.
Toddler Emotional Development
The sense of security developed in infancy continues through toddlerhood. With parental interaction, toddlers learn familiar people and respond favorably to them, according to PBS.org. By age 1 or 2 years, toddlers learn to recognize their emotions but they often have difficulty managing them, which results in tantrums. Through the toddler years, children develop more independence, but they still need to sense parental supervision as they explore and play. Parents helping toddlers label their feelings and practice emotional regulation helps them develop in a healthy way.
An infant's or toddler’s sense of being loved and feeling safe is essential to stimulate other areas of development. In the Tronick study, when parents did not respond to their baby, the infant did not want to explore his environment. When parents do show interest in a child’s curiosity, it gives that child the motivation to discover. Through discovery and play, infants and toddlers meet developmental milestones, which are skills most children gain by a certain age. Infants often “speak” before they use recognizable words; infants at 6 months will respond to a sound a parent makes by making their own sounds. Toddlers might find things you hide or name pictures in a book, but they do not learn these skills on their own -- parental interaction is necessary for meeting milestones.
Responding to your infant’s needs is one crucial step to developing security. This task can be as simple as feeding your infant when he cries, according to Education.com. Encourage language development by talking to your infant and helping your toddler learn vocabulary by naming objects or reading. Stimulate physical development by helping your toddler walk or play games with a large ball. Play peek-a-boo with your infant. In general, demonstrating behaviors, giving your child eye contact and attention, playing with your child and showing affection are ways parental interaction stimulates infant and toddler development.
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