An integrated view of early language development and socioemotional development

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          Through an integrated view, in other words, multidisciplinary approach, we understand a child’s development as inter-relation between different developmental domains rather than isolated domains. Therefore, the inter-relationship between linguistic and socio-emotional development should be understood in the same manner. In fact, studies have shown that maltreated children and low birth weight children displayed less effective early language skills.

          The primary functions of a child’s communication (non-verbal and verbal) have two main functions.

1.       Regulate others

Through communication, a child influences the behaviours, attitudes, and belief of others. e.g., The baby shakes his head and you stop feeding him.

2.       Self- regulation

He will use his inner language to reflect, solve problems and anticipate and plan. When a baby understands, “it’s almost done”, he knows the food will come soon and is able to wait for his food without emotional arousal.

           The demonstration of these two functions clearly illustrates the interface between socio-emotional development and communication development.

Other characteristics of Child Development

          Your baby’s developmental outcomes are influenced by the dynamic relationship between you and your baby. For example, due to his fragile condition, the parents of a premature baby can be excessively cautious and provide poor care. This can lead him to develop irritability and a difficult temperament. The difficulties in taking care of him may cause his parent to avoid him or have limited reciprocal interactive experiences which can result in interfering with communication development.

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          Moreover, development should be understood as a continuum rather than separate stages. The language development from infancy to early childhood is a gradual process and as time goes by, your child displays different qualities of communication skills. Due to this, it is difficult to pinpoint when your child should demonstrate specific qualities. However, using Prizant and Wetherby’s work as a reference, this framework will show you a snapshot of expected communication and socio-emotional developmental skills based on infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood. (Table 1)

Infancy (Birth to 12 months of age)

          His preverbal communication is the foundation for the emergence of language skills. Through your interpretation of his behaviours, he will start experimenting with intentional communication. This will teach him that his behaviours can affect others, help him regulate himself by transforming his negative emotions to positive ones, and develop attachment. For example, a baby makes sounds. You read his cues and you will change his diaper. He becomes happy with his clean diaper.  This initial communication will draw your attention to the same objects or events that he wants to share with you (Joint attention) which is crucial for early language development.  Moreover, his developing ability to interpret your cues will make him use you as a reference in stressful circumstances.

Toddlerhood (12 months to 24 months)

          At the beginning of toddlerhood, even though new words acquisition is very slow, he will definitely start using symbolic and referential labels. At about 18 months, you can expect a sudden surge in vocabulary growth (e.g., more words, combinations of words). His growth in the consolidation of attachment, autonomy, self-regulation, and the awareness of his own abilities will allow him to communicate with others more often and more orally from a greater distance. He will be able to initiate and maintain communication with you. Referring to himself as I, me, and mine will help him to differentiate him from others and start having his own opinions and preferences. It will introduce to him a new way of being with others. He will also be able to understand the past, present, and future so he can regulate his emotions.

Early Childhood (24 months to 48 months)

          At 24 months of age, he will begin to acquire fundamental skills related to organizing words and sentences. The way he creates sentences become more complex and purposeful. For example, he will start using declarative, negative, imperative, and interrogative sentences. With his cognitive development, he will incorporate different concepts like position, size, internal state, time, condition and causality. His sense of self-esteem, self-image and self-efficacy develop; he now begins to portrait himself as a part of a broader social network. His play will become more complex with his development.

You as a Parent

          It is important to look at language difficulties in a holistic way based on a clear correlation between communication impairment and emotional difficulties. Moreover, parents who have direct impact on their child’s development, should be emotionally available rather than reject, be angry, and be confused when their child demonstrates language difficulties.

Information summarized from Prozant, B. M. & Wetherby, A. M. (1990). Toward an integrated view of early language and communication development and socioemotional development,  Topics in language disorder,   10 (4), 1-16.

Information summarized from Prozant, B. M. & Wetherby, A. M. (1990). Toward an integrated view of early language and communication development and socioemotional development, Topics in language disorder, 10(4), 1-16.

Why are nurturing and responsive relationships critical for infants and toddlers?

"Hello, families! It has been a long time since my last posting. My life has been non-stop but now I am here to share my latest post. This article represents my passion, the reason I am in this industry as well as my belief and scope to see the relationships between babies and their primary caregivers"

          The views of human development have evolved over the last few centuries. Previous views of children’s development held by many theorists such as Darwin, Chomsky, Bandura, and Skinner were believed to be a result of nature or nurture influences. These views have more recently been replaced by a more balanced point of view (Berk, 2012). Especially, Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) social-ecological systems theory, which considers multidimensional influences that impact a child’s development and experiences. Discovering epigenetics (1) is another platform which has opened our eyes to see complex, constant interaction between multiple factors on human development (Gonzalez-Mena, 2007). The theories of human inborn nature and mind have also changed. We have seen new born babies as good, evil, not determined, incapable, and finally capable (Berk, 2012). Looking at newborn babies as human beings who are capable and ready to learn has a tremendous impact on the early childhood education area as well as human rights realm (Komulainen, 2007). In fact, many studies have uncovered their incredible ability to learn. This shift of our perceptions brought our attention to this youngest citizen in our society about how they learn and how they develop. In this paper, based on these contemporary views on development and human nature, I will explain the importance of nurturing and responsive relationships with primary caregivers and its connection to developmental characteristics of infants and toddlers.

          During the first three years of life, infants and toddlers experience significant milestones in their development (Berk, 2012). Sensitive periods, also known as “prime times” occur in this timeframe (Shore, 1997). During prime times, both positive and negative experiences have a greater chance of affecting the development of infants and toddlers in a serious and sustainable manner (Wittmer & Petersen, 2006). One of the strongest factors which shape their experiences is the caregivers around them. According to Bowlby (1969), infants develop relationships with their primary caregivers immediately after birth. Nurturing and responsive bonding experiences with their caregivers lead them to achieve secure-based attachments. Although infants or toddlers respond differently to their caregivers (Bernier & Meins, 2008), secure-based attachment is positively correlated with social and emotional development, as well as learning (Bowlby, 1969). Several studies (Bohr & Tse, 2009; Schore, 2001; Sroufe, 2003) have also addressed the notion that the formation of attachment in children’s early years has a direct correlation to their future self-reliance, emotional regulation, and social competence. For these reasons, developing attachment is the most crucial emotional milestone for children in this age group. In fact, we have to focus on the correlation between the characteristics of caregivers and different types of attachment that can occur with infants and toddlers (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970). According to this study, caregivers need to have the following characteristics to promote secure-based attachments among infants and toddlers: empathy, openness, warmth, dedication, carefulness, sensitivity, and responsiveness. 

          During the first two years of life, children experience significant changes in their body size and proportions. Even though many variables such as heredity, emotional well-being, nutrition, sleeping patterns, childhood injuries, and infectious diseases all affect children’s physical growth (Berk, 2012), children typically grow approximately 75%, and their weight quadruples from birth to their second birthday (Karpowitz, 2008). Brain development is another attribute that increases rapidly during the first three years of life (The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). In fact, ‘serve and return (2)’  is one of the most essential experiences in brain architecture. Healthy brains develop based on stable, responsive relationships with caring adults. In other words, based on positive or negative relationships, the brain will form accordingly (Center on the Developing Child, 2017).

           Piaget (1952) conceived cognitive development from infancy to adulthood into four stages: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. According to this theory, infants and toddlers are in the sensorimotor stage, and they construct their knowledge primarily through motor activities (Karpowiz, 2008). Similar to other areas of development, differences in cognitive development among individuals can vary greatly (Karpowiz, 2008; Whitebread, 2012). Whitebread (2012) argued that this may be due to innate differences in brain functionality, as well as early social interactions with caregivers. For example, different parenting behaviors (Pino Pasternak & Whitebread, 2010; Karreman, van Tuijl, van Aken & Dekovic, 2006), maternal interaction styles (Fivush, 2007), and different types of maternal stimulation (Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1989) impact children’s development and their performance of cognitive processes. 

          In terms of language development, Tomasello and Farrar (1986) revealed the vital role of joint attention (3) in the acquisition of language. Joint attention can be presented in various forms, such as mutual eye gazing, pointing, and gestures. Positive and frequent joint attention experiences can scaffold early mother-child linguistic interaction (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986). 

           We often sub-categorize child development into five closely linked areas: physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language. However, DeGraffenreidt, Gransmick, Grafwallner, and O'Malley (2010) argued that children are born with tremendous potential and capacity for learning across all developmental domains. Not one area of child development is more important than another. However, we have learned that developing nurturing and responsive relationships with caregivers provides a crucial basis for healthy development in all domains among infants and toddlers due to their developmental characteristics. Unfortunately, we are still at the beginning stage of unveiling the mystery of infant mental health area. Therefore, more research is required.  

(1) Epigenetics. Gene expression based on people’s experiences. Some genes are turned on or turned off based on their experiences (Gonzalez-Mena, 2007) 

(2) Serve and return. Constant back and force interaction between adults and children while adults response to child’s cues and actions (Center on the Developing Child, 2017)

(3) Joint attention refers to mothers’ and infants’ shared experiences on the same object or activity (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986). Infant joint attention is largely related to language acquisition, and social and behaviour outcomes (Vaughan Van Hecke, Mundy, Block, Delgado, Parlade, Pomares, & Hobson, 2012)


Ainsworth, M. D., & Bell, S. M. (1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41, 49-67.

Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants and children: Prenatal through middle childhood (7th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Bernier, A., & Meins, E. (2008). A threshold approach to understanding the origins of attachment disorganization. Developmental Psychology, 44(4), 969-982.  doi:10.1037/0012-1649.44.4.969.

Bohr, Y., & Tse, C. (2009). Satellite babies in transitional families: A study of parents'  decision to separate from their infants. Infant Mental Health Journal, 30(3), 265-289.  doi:10.1002/imhj.20214.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment: Attachment and loss. London: The Hogarth Press and the  Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Center on the Developing Child. (2017). Serve and Return. Harvard University. Retrieved  April/17, 2017 from

DeGraffenreidt, J. H., Gransmick, N. S., Grafwallner, R., & O'Malley, M. (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting development and learning from birth to three years of age. Maryland State Department of Education.

Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2007). Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers. 7th Edition.

Fivush, R. (2007). Maternal Reminiscing Style and Children’s Developing Understanding of Self and Emotion, Clinical Social Work, 35, 37–46.  
Karpowitz, D. H. (2008). Child psychology. Retrieved 01/03, 2014,  from

Karreman, A., van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M. A., & Dekovic, M. (2006). Parenting and self-regulation in preschoolers: A meta-analysis. Infant and Child Development, 15(6),  561-579.

Komulainen, S. (2007). The ambiguity of the child's 'voice' in the social research. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 14 (1), 11-28. 

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working Paper 1. Retrieved September/26, 2014 from working_papers/wp1/.

Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press.

Pino-Pasternak, D., & Whitebread, D. (2010). The role of parenting in children's self-regulated learning. Educational Research Review, 5, 220-242.

Schore, A. N. (2001). The effects of early relational trauma on right brain development, affect, regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2), 201-269.

Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the brain: New insights into early development. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Sroufe, L. A. (2003). Attachment and development: A prospective, longitudinal Study from birth to adulthood. Attachment and Human Development, 7(4), 349-367. doi:10.1080/14616730500365928.

Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., & Bornstein, M. H. (1989). Habituation and maternal encouragement  of attention in infancy as predictors of toddler language, play, and representational  competence. Child Development , 60, 738-751.

Tomasello, M., & Farrar, M. J. (1986). Joint attention and early language. Child  Development, 57(6), 1454-1463.  

Vaughan Van Hecke, A., Mundy, P., Block, J. J., Delgado, C. E., Parlade, M. V., Pomares, Y.  
W., & Hobson, J. A. (2012). Infant responding to joint attention, executive processes,  and self-regulation in preschool children . Infant Behavior & Development, 35, 303 311. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2011.12.001.

Whitebread, D. (2012). Developmental psychology and early childhood education: A guide  for students and practitioners. London: Sage.

Wittmer, D. S., & Petersen, S. H. (2006). In Peter J. (Ed.), Infant and toddler development  and responsive program planning: A relationship-based approach. New Jersey:  Peterson Education, Inc.   

Looking at the very busy lives of toddlers : A new perspective

          Toddlers… Too busy? Can't sit still? Is it true that your toddler cannot focus on just one thing? Is your little one’s attention span so short that it’s impossible to have him/her sit down for more than three mins? Are you worried when your friend's child sits still and names the alphabets from a book while yours has played with more than five toys, three books and now he/she is looking at the zipper of your jacket? The following quote will transform what you have thought about your toddler. 

"We often say that toddlers have trouble paying attention. What this actually means is that they have trouble NOT paying attention. So, what they are doing is being very, very sensitive to all of the patterns of information, everything that is happening around them. Moreover, then they are taking that information and putting them to use by trying to solve problems and figure out what's going on in the world"

From "the beginning of life."

          They just focus on too many things, so it is easy to misunderstand them. Letting them explore the details of the world in their own timeline may be the best way to teach them how the world works. Your toddlers may seem too busy, can't focus and be a bit slower than others; they may be learning more things. Who knows! One day, your busy little may surprise you with what he/she has learned! 


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