Monday, May 21, 2012

The First Two Years: Psychosocial Milestones

The last facet of baby's first two years is her psychosocial development. Put simply, it is her emotional reactions to the world.

Baby's emotions start off rather simple. At birth there is crying and contentment. By six weeks she smiles to be social and by 3 months it becomes laughter and curiosity. By 4 months she has a big responsive smile and starts to experience her first anger (more evident by 6 months). Between 9 and 14 months she'll grow a fear of social events, strangers and separation as well as unexpected sights and sounds. By 18 months she'l be rounding out her emotional spectrum with self-awareness, pride, shame and embarrassment.

While some of these emotions such as the social smile are welcomed by caregivers, others are not so pleasing. You'll notice baby's anger by six months, and it normally comes because of baby's frustration. She'll hate being strapped into car-seats or strollers and frustration will turn to anger when she can't reach something she wants. This may not be a welcome emotion, but is it a healthy one. If she reacts differently and becomes sad at her own frustration, this is an indicator of other things such as stress. Another unwelcome emotion is fear. Between 9 and 14 months you may think baby is becoming antisocial, but she's going through normal stages of growth -  stranger wariness and separation anxiety.

By age 2, baby can express the full spectrum of emotion. She has become self-aware (usually between 15 and 18 months) and her reflection isn't another baby to play with - it's herself!

Even though researchers of brain development have been unable to pinpoint many of the connections or ages involved in emotional development, it is obvious that brain development is deeply connected to emotional development. Stress is a factor that impairs the brain, particularly when it comes to emotional development, so it is important to keep baby happy. She knows when she is in a stressful environment and it affects her; research of stress in babies shows that even at 4 months, babies of teen mothers experience more stress than other babies. Even father's behavior towards mother affects baby's stress levels. Too much stress for baby can lead to emotional developmental disorders.

Psychoanalytic theory can give us some insight into baby's emotions. This theory of development emphasizes the need for maternal care, and the two major theorists of this field have two distinct stages for baby in her first two years.

Freud, although now considered a mostly defunct theorist, said that baby's first two stages are the oral stage and anal stage. The oral stage involves baby's gratification coming from her mouth. The anal stage involves the pleasure of bowel movements, particularly the gratification of controlling them. Freud said that conflicts that begin in these stages cause problems later on. For example, a child who is weaned too early may end up with an oral fixation later in life - they will eat, suck, chew, smoke, bite or talk too much trying to satisfy the lost chance of completing the oral stage properly. Similarly, a child who has trouble in the anal stage will develop an anal personality - she will become fixated on every aspect of her life seeking total self-control.

Erikson, who studied with Freud, set us his stages as life crises. The first is called trust vs. mistrust, and a child who does not learn to trust her caregiver in this stage will have trouble with trust throughout her life. The second stage is called autonomy vs. shame and doubt. If a toddler does not become autonomous during this stage, she will feel ashamed of herself throughout her life.

Some of the other developmental theories can give us further insight into what's going on with baby at this stage of life.

Behaviorism states that baby needs social learning, that she learns by observing others - especially caregivers. Watson, a famous behaviorist, said that if a child did not grow up happy, the fault fell to the parents.

Cognitive theory similarly says that babies develop a working model of how life should be, a frame of reference for future use.

Epigenetic theory states that baby is also influences by her genes, and her temperament consists of inborn emotion. Similar to baby's personality, her temperament starts off genetically and then is influenced by the way she is raised. The New York Longitudinal Study which began in the 1960s found that temperament changes frequently early on, but by about age 3 it becomes fairly stable. It classified children's temperaments as either easy, difficult, slow to warm up, or hard to classify. Another study (this time on adults) came up with the Big Five personality traits - openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Sociocultural theory argues that cultural influence is substantial in children. Ethnotheory states that even though practices may not be evident to a certain culture or ethnic group, they are particular in the way they raise children. Examples include co-sleeping and respect for either elders or youth. Proximal and distal parenting are also ethnotheories. Proximal parenting literally means keeping baby physically close, holding and touching often. Distal parenting is just the opposite, baby stays generally at some distance, plays with toys and communicates more face-to-face than by touch. A study comparing the two styes of parenting found that proximal parenting produces compliant children who are less self-aware and distal parenting produces children who are self-aware and much less obedient.

A major part of baby's emotional development has to do with her social bonds and interactions. Parents have a major effect on their child's temperament as they grow up. One study found that between the 4 and 48 months, the children who started off fearful tended to change most in temperament and those who started off exuberant tended to stay most the same. Researchers say it is because adults push the fearful children to be brave and encourage the happy children to stay that way. Regardless of the temperament of baby, parents must find a goodness of fit, that is, a temperamental adjustment to facilitate a smooth infant-caregiver interaction.

When infant and caregiver have coordinated interactions and a good relationship, it is called synchrony. It is almost like the two are a smooth machine, giving and taking according to the other's needs. You and baby should have healthy synchrony from the beginning, and baby will be come more responsive as she matures. Research shows that by 6 months, in cases using the still-face technique - the parent literally keeps his or her face unmoving in face-to-face interaction - the baby becomes upset by her unresponsive caregiver. The responsiveness of the caregiver aids in the child's development--not only psychosocially, but biologically.

By the end of the first year, face-to-face play goes away and synchrony is overtaken by attachment. When baby has a healthy attachment to her caregiver, she seeks proximity to and tries to maintain contact with her caregiver. This is called secure attachment. If she is secure, she will be comfortable and confident. If she is insecurely attached, she will either play independently without seeking her caregiver (insecure-avoidant) or refuse to leave her caregiver's lap (insecure-resistant). A final type of attachment is called disorganized attachment, in which baby inconsistently displays parts of every attachment.

Attachment is vital to baby's development in large part because of social referencing. Baby will start to look to her caregiver and other people to see how she should react to unfamiliar situations, people and even toys.

When it comes to day care, baby will usually fare fine. Studies show that day care is generally only detrimental when mother is insensitive, baby is in a poor-quality program for more than 20 hours a week, and the program has too few workers with too little training. Boys will be more affected than girls: the boys tend to become more quarrelsome and have conflicts with their teachers. If you are an employed mother, as long as you make baby's care your priority then baby will be fine. Infants whose mothers are depressed fare worse than those in day care.

So by the time baby turns two, she should be able to run, climb up things, use simple tools like utensils, combine words together, open doors, and be interested in new experiences and new children. The way you work together with baby to keep her stimulated will affect the way she develops and reaches these milestones.

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