Studies have shown that infants are sensitive to emotions expressed through facial expressions since their first year of birth. In fact, a study published in PLOS ONE, suggests that fetuses actually practice their facial expression while in utero.
In their first year of life infants begin to extract a large amount of information. However, in order to be able to accurately understand feelings and emotions from faces, infants must first attend to them. The quality of early mother-infant interaction therefore plays a crucial role in developing their emotion recognition skills.
A large body of evidence suggests that newborn has a bias to attend to faces and face-like stimuli. Being able to mimic facial expressions right after birth (also known to be part of their survival skills), is a good example. The most important activity between mothers and infants which encourages face to face interaction is breastfeeding, where infants eyes are fixed on their mothers’, provided that the mothers look back at them.
By 4 months, infants learn how to contingently coordinate their behaviors with their mothers’ including
- On/off mutual gaze
- Facial mirroring
- Serve and return and
When interacting on the floor at the infant’s level, the infant has many expressive ways to interact with the mother. The infant’s brain is wired through connection and attachment.
Tips on how parents encourage face-to-face mutual exchanges
1. Always get down at the infant’s level
Never force an infant to interact or make eye contact. Eye contact is very short in infants so do not expect a long and focused look so don’t be discouraged. The developmental importance of eye gaze is both emotional and intellectual – it has special significance in early attachment and bonding, and plays an important part in the process of obtaining information about the world and emotions.
2. Facilitate eye contact.
In the first 2 months of life, while the infant’s eyesight is still developing, always hold the infant at about 10-20 inches away from your face to facilitate eye contact.
3. Interact, smile, sing, talk and gesture.
When the infant is staring directly at you it is an opportunity to interact, smile, sing, talk and gesture. Parents are infants’ best toys and so no special toys are needed during interactions.
4. Embrace your infant and find the place that works best for you.
Instead of silently moving your arms and body, look into the baby’s eyes/face and actually smile and say, “Is this okay?” or “Is it comfortable?”.
- Observe the baby’s facial expressions.
If your baby smiles, that is the right position for him/her. If you find it difficult, try to adjust yourself and say “How about this?”, “Isn’t it still good?” or “It doesn’t work for you?”.
It is essential for mothers and infants to interact with each other immediately after birth. Although all infants are born with interest in faces, the interest will soon fade if not encouraged by mothers or caregivers. In addition to emotion recognition skills, infants who received quality interactions from their parents are known to have more complex emotions than the simple emotions of comfort and discomfort.
According to the Kestenberg Movement Profile theory, all infants are born with various Tension Flow Rhythms, which are directly connected to their emotions. While infants’ motor development (crawling, sitting, walking and running) reflect their motor development, Tension Flow Rhythms reflect infants emotional development.
Face-to-face interaction and diverse rhythmic experiences (interactions between mothers and infants in various positions) will further enhance infants’ social development skills.
Guest Blog written by
Alisa Lohitnavy, Ph.D, Movement Profile Analyst, Executive Presence by Image Matters Asia (Humintell Affiliate)
Yukari Sakiyama, Ph.D, BC-DMT, KMP Certified analyst Associate Professor at Mukogawa Women’s University.
The post 4 Tips to Improve Infant Emotion Recognition Skills first appeared on Humintell.