Supporting the Development of Expressing Emotion

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Article - Supporting the Development of Expressing Emotion
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Early in life, babies express emotions through facial expressions, vocalizations, and body language. The expression of emotion can be defined as “the developing ability to express a variety of feelings through facial expressions, movements, gestures, sounds, or words” (California Department of Education, 2009, p. xi). Understanding and expressing a variety of emotions play a key role in the development of young children’s social relationships.

A Caregivers’ Critical Role

Healthy social-emotional development for babies and toddlers occurs through warm, positive, and secure relationships with caring and nurturing adults. Emotional development begins early in life and is a critical aspect of development that is firmly tied to all other areas of a child’s growth and development. Infant/toddler caregivers play an important role in supporting babies and toddlers in child care settings to develop their capacity to positively experience, manage, and express emotions. Acknowledging and understanding that babies are not born with the ability to understand and manage their feelings is of critical importance; they need supportive adults to help them grow and develop in this area.

Caregivers may observe the following signs that babies and toddlers are developing the ability to express emotions:

In child care settings, caregivers can support babies and toddlers as they develop the ability to express emotions by doing the following:

  • Using a calm, encouraging tone of voice when speaking with babies and toddlers
  • Showing warmth and affection to babies and toddlers and providing physical comfort by holding, rocking, and cuddling them, as appropriate for each child’s preferences
  • Responding quickly and consistently to babies’ and toddlers’ physical and emotional needs
  • Offering and encouraging the use of familiar comfort items, such as a pacifier, blanket, or favorite stuffed animal (while always adhering to safety regulations) 
  • Encouraging and allowing toddlers to express their emotions and teaching them strategies to manage strong feelings (for example, deep breathing for toddlers, using a squeeze ball, or coming to an adult for help)


California Department of Education. (2009). California infant/toddler learning and development foundations.