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Foundation: Expression of Emotion

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing ability to express a variety of feelings through facial expressions, movements, gestures, sounds, or words
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children express a variety of primary emotions such as contentment, distress, joy, sadness, interest, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear. (Lamb, Bornstein, and Teti 2002,  341)

At around 18 months of age, children express emotions in a clear and intentional way, and begin to express some complex emotions, such as pride.

At around 36 months of age, children express complex, self-conscious emotions such as pride, embarrassment, shame, and guilt. Children demonstrate awareness of their feelings by using words to describe feelings to others or acting them out in pretend play. (Lewis and others 1989; Lewis 2000b; Lagattuta and Thompson 2007)

For example, the child may:

  • Exhibit wariness, cry, or turn away when a stranger approaches. (6 mos.; Lamb, Bornstein, and Teti 2002, 338; Fogel 2001, 297; 7–8 mos.; Lewis 2000a, 277)

  • Be more likely to react with anger than just distress when accidentally hurt by another child. (later in the first year; Lamb, Bornstein, and Teti 2002, 341)

  • Express fear of unfamiliar people by moving near a familiar infant care teacher. (8 mos.; Bronson 1972)

  • Stop crying and snuggle after being picked up by a parent.

  • Show surprise when the infant care teacher removes the blanket covering her face to start a game of peek-a-boo.

For example, the child may:

  • Show affection for a family member by hugging. (8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995; Greenspan and Greenspan 1985, 84)

  • Express jealousy by trying to crowd onto the infant care teacher’s lap when another child is already sitting there. (12–18 mos.; Hart and others 1998)

  • Express anger at having a toy taken away by taking it back out of the other child’s hands or hitting her. (18 mos.; Squires, Bricker, and Twombly 2002, 115)

  • Smile directly at other children when interacting with them. (18 mos.; Squires, Bricker, and Twombly 2002, 115)

  • Express pride by communicating, “I did it!” (15–24 mos.; Lewis and others 1989; Lewis 2000b)

For example, the child may:

  • Hide face with hands when feeling embarrassed. (Lagattuta and Thompson 2007)

  • Use words to describe feelings; for example, “I don’t like that.” (24–36 mos.; Fogel 2001, 414; 24–36 mos.; Harris and others 1989; Yuill 1984)

  • Communicate, “I miss Grandma,” after talking on the phone with her. (24–36 mos.; Harris and others 1989; Yuill 1984)

  • Act out different emotions during pretend play by “crying” when pretending to be sad and “cooing” when pretending to be happy. (Dunn, Bretherton, and Munn 1987)

  • Express guilt after taking a toy out of another child’s cubby without permission by trying to put it back without anyone seeing. (Lagattuta and Thompson 2007)

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

During this period, the child may:

  • Get frustrated or angry when unable to reach a toy. (4–6 mos.; Sternberg, Campos, and Emde 1983)

  • Express joy by squealing.
    (5–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 125)

  • Frown and make noises to indicate frustration. (5–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 125)

  • Be surprised when something unexpected happens. (First 6 mos. of life; Lewis 2000a)

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

During this period, the child may:

  • Become anxious when a parent leaves the room. (6–9 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Knock a shape-sorter toy away when it gets to be too frustrating. (10–12 mos.; Sroufe 1979)

  • Show anger, when another child takes a toy, by taking it back. (10–12 mos.; Sroufe 1979)

  • Express fear by crying upon hearing a dog bark loudly or seeing someone dressed in a costume. (10 mos.; Bronson 1972)

  • Express sadness by frowning after losing or misplacing a favorite toy. (9–10 mos.; Fogel 2001, 300)

  • Smile with affection as a sibling approaches. (10 mos.; Sroufe 1979; Fox and Davidson 1988)

  • Push an unwanted object away. (12 mos.; Squires, Bricker, and Twombly 2002, 114)

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

During this period, the child may:

  • Communicate, “Mama mad” after being told by the mother to stop an action. (28 mos.; Bretherton and others 1986)

  • Use one or a few words to describe feelings to the infant care teacher. (18–30 mos.; Bretherton and others 1986; Dunn 1987)

  • Express frustration through tantrums. (18–36 mos.; Pruett 1999, 148)

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Friday, May 17, 2019