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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 8: Emerging Emotions

Baby’s Brain in Week 8

You’re likely seeing smiles emerge on your baby’s face these days. Since her birth you probably have noticed partial smiles—you know, the ones Grandma claimed were just gas—but maybe you didn’t know how to elicit a smile consistently.

Now, your baby is beginning to show a full, deliberate, social smile. One of the earliest triggers is the high-pitched voice that all adults seem to use naturally with infants. (Just try to be around Baby and suppress it, Mom.) After a few more weeks, Baby will also smile in response to a smiling face—particularly yours.

What the Research Shows

While there is really no way to know what emotion a baby actually feels, researchers judge babies’ feelings by watching their bodies and faces.
Researchers have done this by confronting babies with various kinds of events likely to prompt emotions—like presenting an interesting object or an offensive smell—videotaping those encounters, and then asking adult judges to say which emotion the baby’s face expresses.

From this, researchers have found that some rudimentary emotional expressions are visible at birth:

  • The first is “interest.” When a baby sees something new or an object moving, he’s interested, which actually is an emotion.
  • Newborns also express distress, which is an emotion that accompanies pain, discomfort, or hunger.
  • You’ll see disgust on a baby’s face when he’s presented with an offensive substance. (In the research studies, babies expressed this when given pacifiers dipped in bitter-tasting water.)

Between months 2 and 3, you may witness Baby expressing:

  • Sadness from a painful medical procedure
  • Wariness (a precursor to fear) caused by a strange face
  • Frustration when prevented from performing some established action, such as batting an object overhead
  • Surprise when seeing Jack pop out of his box

By age 7 months you’ll see:

  • Fear written all over your baby’s face, caused by an extremely loud noise
  • Anger if she can’t retrieve a ball that’s rolled under the sofa
  • Joy—immediate delight—when you return from work or when she plays peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake

Week 8 Brain Booster

Acknowledge and name Baby’s emotions when you see them: “Oh, you’re sad that Daddy’s leaving” or “You’re so happy to see your bunny! So much fun!” By doing so you’re practicing the art of empathy, a skill that will develop emotional strength in your child while validating whatever it is that your child is feeling. (At 8 weeks, they will begin to associate emotion with facial expressions, bu empathy is not a concept yet.)

Make empathy for emotions part of your parenting repertoire now and always: It’s a true expression of love and builds your child’s emotional intelligence.

Your Week 8 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include…

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