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Posted By Gloria Vanderhorst on 01/25/2018

Infants and Emotional Intelligence

We are born with a fully functioning sense of the world around us and the emotional tone of our environment can be read immediately and constantly. 

Too often adults assume that infants are naïve and that they do not get impacted by the emotional environment around them.  Even though their hippocampus is not on-line, they are nonetheless fully capable of processing the emotional tone in the environment and responding to it appropriately.  Once the hippocampus begins to function around 12 to 18 months, they begin to store memories of the emotional detail in their environment.  These memories are stored in non-verbal ways at first and then later in verbal details.

Have you ever wondered why the baby seems to cry every time you are getting irritated with your spouse or partner?  AHA!! Now you understand.  The child has a fully functioning processor for the emotion in the environment.  This makes perfect sense as a survival mechanism. 

If a well-fed baby with warm clothing is left in a box outside of a church or synagogue or welfare facility on a beautiful warm day, why would it need to cry?  The only reason for the crying is the awareness of being alone!  Babies know that they depend on others for their survival.  When they are abandoned or have not been attended to, they cry to bring a caretaker to attention.  When the caretaker is distressed, they cry to cause the caretaker to shift attention away from their own distress toward the needs of the infant.

So now you may be wondering:  So What?  If they can’t form memories that they lay down as thoughts, then what is the big deal.  No memory; No impact.  Wrong!  Experiences prior to the hippocampus coming on line are laid down as body memories and can be triggered again and again.  The trigger may be voice tone, body posture, movement or any number of other experiences from the adults around them.  Think of your infant as an experiential sponge only the experiences absorbed do not get wrung out.  

Of course, they hold on to the positive experiences as well.  We want to fill our infants with a sense of security, safety, love and care.  These are the building blocks for later development when they have to persist in order to memorize the multiplication tables and discern the adult who is safe from the one that is trying to fool them.   They learn to use their emotional intelligence to feel when someone is going to take advantage and they develop that internal compass that helps them avoid the bully or abuser.

Infants are emotionally smart and as we become more aware of this skill set, we can do a better job of caretaking and creating emotional strengths that will serve them well in the future.

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