A Child's Emotional Development at 4 to 8 Months

Your baby's been growing fast during the past few months, making you fall in love with her in all kinds of different ways. According to Nancy Martin, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Austin, Texas, "All of the amazing things she's done to get your attention so far have been reflexive responses, 'built in' to get you to respond to her needs. She's already got you hooked, and she's just getting warmed up!"

Now your youngster is starting to do things on purpose, learning about her environment and the special people in her life—like you! Says Dr. Thomas Seman, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass., "You cannot spoil a child before 4 months of age. After that they will try to keep you tied around their little finger." Though every baby is one of a kind and develops at her own pace, there are some general guidelines to go by for emotional development in these second four months.

Smiles and More

While those baby smiles during the first few months were adorable, they were reflexive responses. Now, after watching you respond with smiles of your own, laughter, and a whole lot of baby talk, she's figured out that her actions can elicit a reaction. Martin explains that "a baby's smiles are just the beginnings of her social interactions. By 4 months of age, she knows just how to get you to smile and coo at her with just one little smile.

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By 6 months of age, she's added that full-belly laugh to her repertoire of social talents to get you to engage and laugh right along with her." And by 8 months, that's not all she can do! She'll clap her hands when she's excited, and maybe even throw you kisses or wave goodbye. This early social behavior helps her learn about her environment and, according to Dr. Seman, "with socialization comes attachment formation."

Curiosity

"Babies are curious by nature and by 4 months of age, that curiosity has propelled him to begin exploring his environment and everything in it," says Martin. There's a whole lot of world for a baby to discover, and he's beginning to develop an interest in finding out what there is to explore and what things can do. Now is when you'll see him do a lot of banging, shaking, poking, chewing, squeezing and even dropping. Yes, he's going to drop the same object on the floor over and over again just to watch you pick it up. Don't worry—he isn't trying to drive you crazy or help you get your aerobic exercise in, he's actually fascinated by the action and reaction. Just think of it as his very first lesson in physics. Martin says, "This period is when infants acquire a rudimentary understanding of an object's purpose.

After watching you all this time, he'll try to comb his hair just like you, 'talk' on the phone, and even try to imitate drinking from a cup." He's going to get you to help out with his explorations, too. Martin explains that "his curiosity will compel him to engage you in his exploration activities to further his understanding of his environment. At first, he will point to an object and wait for you to tell him what it is. After he's had an opportunity to take in this new information, he will begin to respond when you identify an object by name by turning or pointing to the item."

Separation Anxiety

You're an important figure in her life now, but your little one has a hard time understanding that when she can't see you, you're still there. She hasn't fully developed an understanding of object permanence yet—an understanding that something remains even when it can't be seen. Martin explains that "around 6 months of age, infants often begin to show early signs of separation anxiety, increasing in severity until about 14 months.

After that, the severity generally decreases gradually until the child is about 24 months old." She adds, "It's fairly well known that infants can become distressed when a parent leaves the room, but this distress also compounds in an unfamiliar environment." Strangers often elicit that same shy or anxious response, and it becomes particularly pronounced when your youngster is tired and cranky. Don't be surprised if she gets upset and even starts to cry as you leave for work. Martin stresses the importance of "helping your infant become familiar with a new care provider and the new environment whenever possible." While it'll be tough at first to see her upset, every time you return, it will help reinforce to her that you always come back. Now is a good time for peek-a-boo and hiding games with a special toy.

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Nighttime Separation

Up until now, your infant probably roused on a fairly regular schedule throughout the night for feedings. Now that he's become more aware of you as a fixture in his life, he may not be so content with this routine. The same anxiety that pops up when you leave the day care center may start to appear at bedtime. According to Martin, "Separation at nighttime is often no different to an infant than separation during the daytime. He's not going to be any more pleased to see you go when you tuck him into bed than he is when you leave the living room in the afternoon." Martin explains that "the bedtime routine you've established so far can go a long way in helping him to adjust to nighttime separation. When your infant drifts off to sleep in your arms, that's where he expects to be when he awakes. When he wakes up in his crib and you're nowhere around, anxiety ensues, nighttime waking increases and he'll be more difficult to settle back down."

That's why it's important to start establishing a bedtime routine if you haven't done so yet. Dr. Whitney Roban, a New York-based clinical psychologist, pediatric sleep specialist and sleep coach, says that, "Sticking to a brief bedtime routine (no longer than 15 minutes) is helpful in that it does not prolong the inevitable task of going to sleep and does not allow too much time for anxiety levels to increase … and keeping a very consistent bedtime routine every night is calming to a child." Start with an evening bath to announce that bedtime is approaching, and then spend 10 to 15 minutes cuddling and reading a story or singing a few soothing songs. Next it's time for bed, where he can fall asleep on his own, comfortable with the calm and consistent routine.

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