Emotions, behaviour & play

What you need to know:

This refers to the development of your child's personality and how they form relationships with people they they interact with. They will mostly learn from this from play and also by watching you and how you interact with people in various situations, e.g. if they see you are angry and shout at them, then they will learn to shout when they are angry, whilst if they see you pause to calm yourself and then try to explain the situation then they will learn to deal with challenging situations in a more positive manner.

What might my child be doing?

Newborns 0-3 monthsfrom 6 weeks of age, your baby will smile back when their main carer smiles at themYour one month old will know your voice and by 6 weeks of age they will recognise you and respond to your voice and smilein the early days, your face is the most interesting thing to your baby
They might also like looking at toys with contrasting colours e.g. black and white
Babies 3-12 monthsYour baby is starting to show more emotion and can laugh, smile, show excitement when happy or grimace with frustration when denied what they want.
From 9 months old, your baby might show signs of separation anxiety where they might cry when away from their carer and stranger anxiety when they get upset around people they don't know.
Your baby knows your voice and has a stronger attachment to you.
By 6 months, they know other people can also look after them and can recognise and enjoy spending time with them.
At 6 months they will start to show enjoyment when you play with them e.g. tickling, playing peek-a-boo, singing to them etc.
From 6 months your baby will explore objects by reaching to grab them and tasting them.
Toddlers 1-3 yearsYour toddler is going through a lot of emotions without knowing how to express it. This may come out as tempers tantrums when they don't know how to put into words that they are feeling frustrated, sad, angry etc.From 2 years old, separation anxiety should settle, as your toddler will understand that you will come back when you leave them.At 12 months of age your toddler will love to explore their surroundings with you close by, e.g., by crawling towards a cupboard and pulling out all the hidden items in it.
From 18 months of age, they might start to do 'pretend play' where they will pretend to drink from a toy cup, or put a phone to their ear and start talking.
At 2 years old they will start playing games with other children and having friends.
Preschool 3-5 yearsAt 5 years old, children develop a sense of awareness such as worrying about not being liked and knowing how to be funny in order to make people laugh.By 4 years old you child might enjoy tricking you such as pretending to be asleepBy 4 years old they understand how to share and take turns and their imagination becomes quite dramatic in their play e.g. playing mums and dads.

How can I help?

  • give your child lots of hugs and kisses to provide your child with a sense of comfort, safety and confidence.
  • being nearby when they are trying new things out, to help them develop their independence and self-confidence.
  • play together and give them your full attention when doing so by smiling at them, giving eye contact, e.g. messy play, outdoor play, art-based play and roleplay.
  • if changing your child's activity is regularly met with protests, try giving successive warnings to your child that an activity is going to stop imminently e.g. 'we are going to turn off the TV in 10 minutes', followed by 'we are going to turn off the TV in 5 minutes/when the cartoon ends'.
  • be you child's role model on how you would like them to behave with others e.g. if you have a child who interrupts persistently - be mindful of actively listening to the and allowing them to finish what they want to say before getting your own point across or focusing on something else. If you have a child who snatches - be mindful of asking for things politely and not grabbing things yourself.
  • be more aware of how you speak to your child - if you are struggling with a child who says 'no' to everything - try to avoid using the word 'no' yourself and explain in short sentences why you are not giving permission now and when you would reconsider their request. Tell them what you would to do as opposed to telling them what no to do e.g. say 'please use kinds hands' instead of 'don't hit!' or try saying 'please use your quiet voice' instead of 'don't shout!'
  • encourage your child's imagination by reading together, telling stories, singing songs etc.

When should I be concerned?

When your baby:

  • cries persistently without you being able to settle them
  • doesn't appear to like cuddles
  • doesn't pay attention to faces
  • doesn't smile back from 6 weeks old

By 2-3 years old, when your toddler:

  • seems to be in their 'own world' with very little interest in their general surroundings
  • can be very particular and infatuated about certain things
  • when they persistently and continuously can not listen or pay attention to adults requests/instructions

By 4-5 years old, when your pre-schooler:

  • doesn't look you in the eye to communicate with you
  • isn't interested in other children
  • doesn't do any pretend or imaginative play
  • enjoys obsessive, repetitive things e.g. lining things up, wanders around aimlessly, throws things
  • does not have a strong bond with their carers. Things that you may notice could include; not looking for comfort when upset, but will expect you to approach them, not appearing to enjoy praise for doing a good job, not running up to you after a period of separation, when they have routines that are near impossible to break or have purposeless rituals that they must do in order for them not to have a meltdown, etc.

You should be concerned at any age if your child stops doing what they were previously able to do.

Where can I get help?

If you think you are having trouble with your child's behaviour and emotions or finding it difficult to know how to play with them, discuss your concerns with a professional like a health visitor, GP, or a nurse/school teacher who can provide advice and consider what support might be appropriate.

Click here for information about ADHD

Click here for information about autism

Click here for a few tips from other parents

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