Play It Forward Therapy

The Most Important Social-Emotional Milestones for Baby’s First Year

The Most Important Social-Emotional Milestones for Baby's First Year

Infant and toddler mental health is a critical, yet often overlooked aspect of development. Early mental health development includes a young child’s ability to experience, express and eventually manage their emotions.

Did you know that a baby’s early experiences and social interactions are a key factor in brain growth and future mental health outcomes?

If you’re a parent, caregiver or clinician who cares about nurturing the quality of a young child’s early relationships, then you will find the following information about social-emotional development helpful.

If you are a clinician, keep in mind that when working with families of young children, in order to achieve the best outcomes, it’s essential for you to provide direct intervention and training for both the parent and the child. You can also serve as a resource for other primary caregivers such as grandparents, other family members and classroom or daycare teachers. It’s important for clinicians to incorporate a family centered and diversity-informed approach.

Using an Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health framework, caregiver regulation of infant stress is crucial for infant mental health and development. Infants actively engage in emotional communication with caregivers from the early months of life. Everyone has a role to play in shaping an infant’s social-emotional skills which are important for future success in life, school and as a future citizen in society! Focusing on helping caregivers and children establish and maintain healthy relationships impacts their future mental health and well being.

Communication is a two way street

Social interactions with primary caregivers that are engaging, positive and involve back and forth communication help children by preparing them for their future relationships and more complex social-emotional skills such as learning to identify how others are feeling and showing empathy for others.

The following milestones are examples of how infants develop their social-emotional skills from an early age.

Social-Emotional Milestones for Baby’s First Year

Newborn Milestones

Newborns are able to communicate their wants and needs from the start!  

Some examples include:

  • Showing their feelings by crying
  • Using facial expressions and body language to show how he or she is feeling
  • Showing interest in watching people’s faces and expressions
  • Quiets and calms in response to touch
3 Month Milestones 

By 3 months of age, infants participate in mutual communication and interaction with their caregivers. Some examples include:

  • Quieting and calming to familiar voices and touch
  • Seeks eye contact
  • Starts to smile at people
  • Enjoys being hugged and cuddled
4-6 Month Milestones

By 6 months of age, baby’s personality and playfulness is evident! Some examples include:

  • Starts to smile spontaneously at people
  • Enjoys playing with people and can imitate facial expressions such as smiling or frowning
  • Shows exciting by waving arms and kicking legs
  • Recognizes familiar and unfamiliar faces
  • Will respond to other people’s emotions
  • Responds to own name
  • Makes sounds to express feeling happy, sad or mad
9 Month Milestones

At 9 months of age, infants seek out caregivers’ signals of safety or fear to guide their behavior in new situations.  Some examples include:

  • Tends to cling to familiar caregivers
  • Show feelings by crying, smiling and pointing
  • May start showing separation anxiety and shyness around strangers
  • Shows a clear preference for favorite toys and activities
12 Month Milestones

By the end of the first year, infants exhibit wariness toward unfamiliar people and seek comfort from familiar caregivers when upset or alarmed. Some examples include:

  • Crying when a parent leaves 
  • Tries to help with daily routines such as putting an arm or leg out when getting dressed
  • Enjoys playing back and forth games like peek- a- boo and pat- a- cake
Note:  This list highlights the key milestones during the first year.  Please note it is for general educational and information purposes only.


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