Affective Development in Infants

Your infant's affect refers to her ability to feel emotions. Involved with this is how she displays her feelings and how she reads the feelings of others. Affective development, also called emotional development, begins at birth and continues through the early years. Understanding affective development helps parents and pediatricians monitor babies as they reach milestones and make progress in the emotional realm.

What Happens

Affective development plays a role in how your infant experiences, displays and manages her emotions, according to the California Department of Education 34. Your baby's emotional development begins when she is born, but is rudimentary because she doesn't have the ability to tell you what she is feeling 3. This type of development allows her to let you know when she is upset because her diaper is wet, when she is happy being held and when she is scared during a new event. While some parts of affective development occur naturally, parents can help promote other parts of it.


Most babies display similar behaviors in regards to emotional development. These milestones are a way to watch your baby for delays as well as giving you an idea of when to expect her to do certain things. Infant affective development milestones include crying, cooing and smiling. Infants tend to stop crying when picked up. During early emotional development, infants also watch faces and show excitement 24. In later infancy, you'll see your little one exploring toys, reacting to a change in her routine, laughing and enjoying books. Babies also express an interest in other people by watching them and trying to interact with them.


At birth and beyond, parents who respond to their infant's emotional cues help build healthy affective development because your little one knows she can count on you 3. When your baby cries, picking her up and soothing her or laughing with her at a new toy are good examples of effective responses. Let your baby explore her surroundings in a safe way. Give her plenty of age-appropriate books and toys so she can play without restriction. Describing emotions is another important way to encourage proper development. Label your infant's emotions for her by asking her whether a wet diaper is making her angry or if a new book is exciting.


Don't compare your baby to your friend's kids or her own siblings. However, if you little one isn't showing many of the affective development milestones, contact her pediatrician for an evaluation. If your baby doesn't smile at you or avoids looking at people's faces, she might be delayed. Other signs of a delay include avoiding affection, trouble with communication and not laughing. Her doctor can either put your mind at ease or recommend further evaluation and treatment.