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   infant social development

Infants are quite remarkable in that they demonstrate more potential and ability at birth than
anyone ever thought possible. Infants, like adults, learn by taking information in through their
senses. The primary senses are taste, smell, touch, hearing, but there are many more
sensory input sources as well. You might want to check out an article on this website under
sensory integration to learn more about these senses. The primary sense used by infants
is sight, followed by hearing, and touch.

Once the infant begins taking in information through the senses, s/he must begin the process
of interpreting and giving meaning to that information. This is called perceptual development and
the four primary concepts used to describe the information in a visual sense are contours,
patterns, forms, and configurations.

A contour is a transition in brightness or hue. A pattern is any visual field with contours. Forms
are those aspects of a pattern or object that remain constant during transformation. Finally,
configurations are arrangements of contours, patterns, and forms into some perceptual hole.

One of the first patterns or objects that becomes the focus of interest, and thus, an instrument
in learning is the human face. Infants are fascinated with human faces and before the infant
can even understand language or the environment, s/he begins to understand the meaning
of certain expressions on the primary caregiver's face. These visual social cues give the infant
information about how s/he should be perceiving the world, whether it be with laughter, fear,
apprehension, or another human emotion that is being expressed by the caregiver.

During the second year of life, these perceptions of objects and patterns in the world begin
to solidify into mental representations that are stored for later use in interpreting new objects of

Up until recently, most child development specialists did not take infant social and emotional needs seriously, taking a "wait and see" approach. But there are milestones in an infant's social/emotional development that are important to recognize. Some of these include:

One to Two Months of Age:

  • During the first 3 months, an infant's socialization is based around activities of feeding, sleeping, elimination, and body positioning. The infant also begins early stages of learning to self-regulate. In other words, to tune out when there is too much stimulus and the arouse when something of interest comes about.
  • The infant will do such things as react to paper being put over his or her face and show recognition to mother or other familiar and favorite caregivers.

Three to Four Months of Age:

  • Reaches for familiar people.
  • Identifying self in mirror.
  • Plays actively with small toy.
  • Plays by pulling something over face (peek-a-boo).
  • Plays while propped with toys for 10-15 minutes.

Five to Six Months of Age:

  • Sometime between 4-6 months, the infant begins exchanging interactions with the caregiver. The child may smile in response to being smiled at, as well as begin to play simple back and forth games, such as peek-a-boo. The infant also begins cooperating with spoon feeding, dressing, and other daily activities. Common behaviors you might see include:
  • Smiles at self in mirror.
  • Discriminates strangers from familiar people.
  • Works for toy out of reach.
  • Reaches for self in mirror.

Seven to Nine Months of Age:

  • During the 7-9 month time period, the infant begins to initiate activities. The infant will work to gain the caregiver's attention, will strain to reach an object out of reach on the floor, and to perform other behaviors to manipulate the environment. Some common behaviors include:
  • Clings to familiar people and hides face.
  • Plays with or reaches for self or object in mirror by 12 months.
  • Cooperates with adult in games.
  • Bites and chews toys.

Ten to Twelve Months of Age:

  • During the ten to twelve month period, the infant begins checking self need against caregiver availability. In other words, the infant will look to the primary caregiver and cry when hungry, or look for the caregiver to comfort a hurt or when bored. Common behaviors at this age include:
  • Recognizes familiar people from a distance of 20 feet.
  • Beginning to demand independence.
  • Demands personal attention.
  • Mouthing toys and items less.

Remember, no two infants develop exactly the same, but infants do tend to follow a fairly predictable course of social development.

When to Be Concerned:

You might be concerned about your child's development if your child does not:

  • Show alarm or startle in response to loud noises.
  • Suck and swallow with ease.
  • Show gains in height or weight and head circumference.
  • Grasp with equal strength in both hands.
  • Make eye-to-eye contact when awake and being held.
  • Quiet soon after being picked up.
  • Roll head from side to side when placed on stomach.

Adapted from: Allen, K. E. & Marotz, I. (1989). Developmental profiles: Birth to six. Delmar Publishers Inc.

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               A baby is an angel whose wings decrease as his legs increase.   - French proverb

Revised: 10/19/2008.