By Raising Children Network
spacer spacer PInterest spacer
spacer Print spacer Email
Mother showing toy to smiling baby

Your baby’s emotions will often be expressed through play. Learn how you can help your child explore her feelings and the world around her.

What to expect

Your baby is likely to:

  • laugh aloud (at 2-4 months)
  • begin to withdraw from strangers (at about eight months)
  • prefer you to any other adult and be clingy towards you (from about eight months)
  • experience increased anxiety with new people, called stranger anxiety (from about eight months)
  • give loving cuddles (from 10 months)
  • experience increased separation anxiety, even when you just walk out of the room in your own home (from 10-18 months)
  • experience fear for the first time (from 12 months)
  • start to verbally express how she feels, such as saying ‘sore’ for pain or ‘yay’ for happy (from about 14 months).

Play ideas to encourage the exploration of feelings

Play is one of the best ways for young children to find out about and express their feelings. There are some great ways to encourage your child to express his emotions – but keep in mind that play is mostly about having fun!

  • Messy play with sand, mud, paints and other gooey substances can help your baby get used to the way different things make her feel.
  • Messy play can also help your baby express upset feelings. He can slap mud around, slosh water angrily and stamp on it all if he wants to.
  • Your baby can act out her feelings with puppets or toys.
  • If you take your baby to a park or an open space where he can crawl, roll and explore different things, he’ll be able to release his emotions. This is something he’ll want to do more and more as he becomes a toddler.
  • Playing music and singing to your baby (and, later, dancing with your child) is a form of expression many children love.

Play is most valuable for your baby when she gets the chance to lead. If you step back and let your baby be the boss, it will help her learn to make decisions and use her own imagination.

Your young child might also learn to show feelings such as hurt or confusion through play. Playing aggressively around a new sibling, for example, can be an expression of feelings of confusion and hurt that someone has ‘taken his place’.

The fact that children can act out their emotions through play means it can be a form of therapy for even very young children.

When to seek help

If your baby has reached 18 months and still shows no sign of separation anxiety, or has no preference for familiar faces, you might want to have her checked out by a health professional. You might also want to seek advice if:

  • your baby’s feelings are difficult to understand
  • your baby’s feelings aren’t appropriate or seem at odds with the situation
  • your baby rarely uses emotional expressions to communicate feelings.
Babies all grow and develop at their own rate. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your baby’s development, it’s a good idea to visit a health professional.
  • Last updated or reviewed 30-12-2010