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Foundation: Emotion Regulation

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing ability to manage emotional responses, with assistance from others and independently
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children use simple behaviors to comfort themselves and begin to communicate the need for help to alleviate discomfort or distress.

At around 18 months of age, children demonstrate a variety of responses to comfort themselves and actively avoid or ignore situations that cause discomfort. Children can also communicate needs and wants through the use of a few words and gestures. (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000, 112; 15–18 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 270; Coplan 1993, 1)

At around 36 months of age, children anticipate the need for comfort and try to prepare themselves for changes in routine. Children have many self-comforting behaviors to choose from, depending on the situation, and can communicate specific needs and wants. (Kopp 1989; CDE 2005)

For example, the child may:

  • Turn away from an overstimulating activity. (3–12 mos.; Rothbart, Ziaie, and O’Boyle 1992)

  • Vocalize to get a parent’s attention. (6.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 126)

  • Lift arms to the infant care teacher to communicate a desire to be held. (7–9 mos.; Coplan 1993, 3; 5–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 121)

  • Turn toward the infant care teacher for assistance when crying. (6–9 mos.; Fogel 2001, 274)

  • Cry after her hand was accidentally stepped on by a peer and then hold the hand up to the infant care teacher to look at it.

  • Reach toward a bottle that is up on the counter and vocalize when hungry.

  • Make a face of disgust to tell the infant care teacher that he does not want any more food. (6–9 mos.;
    Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

  • Bump head, cry, and look to infant care teacher for comfort.

  • Suck on a thumb to make self feel better.

  • Look at the infant care teacher when an unfamiliar person enters the room.

For example, the child may:

  • Use gestures and simple words to express distress and seek specific kinds of assistance from the infant care teacher in order to calm self. (Brazelton 1992; Kopp 1989, 347)

  • Use comfort objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed toy, to help calm down. (Kopp 1989, 348)

  • Seek to be close to a parent when upset. (Lieberman 1993)

  • Play with a toy as a way to distract self from discomfort. (12–18 mos.; Kopp 1989, 347)

  • Communicate, “I’m okay” after falling down. (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000, 112)

  • Indicate her knee and say “boo boo” after falling down and gesture or ask for a bandage.

  • Approach the infant care teacher for a hug and express, “Mommy work,” then point to the door to communicate missing the mother.

For example, the child may:

  • Reach for the mother’s hand just before she pulls a bandage off the child’s knee.

  • Ask the infant care teacher to hold him up to the window to wave good-bye before the parent leaves in the morning.

  • Show the substitute teacher that she likes a back rub during naptime by patting own back while lying on the mat.

  • Play quietly in a corner of the room right after drop-off, until ready to play with the other children.

  • Ask the infant care teacher to explain what’s going to happen at the child’s dental appointment later in the day.

  • Communicate, “Daddy always comes back” after saying good-bye to him in the morning.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Suck on hands, focus on an interesting toy, or move the body in a rocking motion to calm self. (3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

  • Cry inconsolably less often than in the early months. (6mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

  • Calm self by sucking on fingers or hands. (4 mos.; Thelen and Fogel 1989; 3–12 mos.; Bronson 2000b, 64)

  • Be able to inhibit some negative emotions. (Later in the first year; Fox and Calkins 2000)

  • Shift attention away from a distressing event onto an object, as a way of managing emotions. (6 mos.; Weinberg and others 1999)

  • Fall asleep when feeling overwhelmed.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Move away from something that is bothersome and move toward the infant care teacher for comfort. (6–12 mos.; Bronson 2000b, 64)

  • Fight back tears when a parent leaves for the day. (12mos.; Bridges, Grolnick, and Connell 1997; Parritz 1996; Sroufe 1979)

  • Look for a cue from the infant care teacher when unsure if something is safe. (10–12 mos.; Fogel 2001, 305; Dickstein and Parke 1988; Hirshberg and Svejda 1990)

  • Fuss to communicate needs or wants; begin to cry if the infant care teacher does not respond soon enough. (11–19 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 77)

  • Repeat sounds to get the infant care teacher’s attention. (11–19 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 79)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Continue to rely on adults for reassurance and help in controlling feelings and behavior. (Lally and others 1995)

  • Reenact emotional events in play to try to gain mastery over these feelings. (Greenspan and Greenspan 1985)

  • Use words to ask for specific help with regulating emotions. (Kopp 1989)

  • Express wants and needs verbally; for example, say, “hold me” to the infant care teacher when feeling tired or overwhelmed. (30–31.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 130)

Next Foundation: Impulse Control

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 17, 2021
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