Social-Emotional Milestones to Watch For: Months 4-6

The healthy development of your child sets the stage for their future success in school and in life. Many factors will contribute to his or her development and interest in learning—health, nutrition, vision, and hearing—but above all will be your and other caregivers’ support and stimulation, starting at birth.

As Dr. Harold Ireton acknowledged decades ago when he first identified a child’s developing skills from infancy to school age, children are social beings. They have a strong interest in being with and being accepted by others.

A child’s social-emotional development creates the context in which they develop and exercise all of their other abilities, e.g., motor skills and language skills. That’s why it’s so important for parents and caregivers to help foster their child’s social-emotional development whenever and however possible.

We’ve identified four important social-emotional milestones for you to watch for, promote, and celebrate during months 4 through 6.

4 months: Baby is interested in his/her image in a mirror

It’s time to attach a baby-safe mirror to your little one’s play mat. That’s because one of an infant’s greatest sources of enjoyment at this age is looking at human faces. Baby won’t realize that the image in the mirror is his or her own for nearly another year. For now, your little one is just happy to stare at another baby’s face, and may even try interacting with that baby by reaching out.

As well as attaching a baby-safe mirror to your little one’s play mat, you might take such a mirror and prop it on the floor beside baby during supervised tummy time.

4 months: Your little one smiles and is playful

Life is good for your little one. Not only is baby smiling profusely, those smiles are genuine and strong expressions of happiness. With such a happy demeanor, baby is quick to engage in play—with you, with his or her hands and feet, with a rattle or other toy—and is showing deep curiosity about and interest in the expanding world around him or her.

Don’t fret if smiling is delayed—just keep smiling at baby, and soon that smile will be returned.

5 months: Baby reacts differently to strangers

Baby is becoming more self-aware, and growing more attached to you and other familiar adults. So now, when someone new comes along, baby realizes the difference between you and that stranger—and lets it be known that he or she prefers you. The stranger may be greeted with crying, fussing, scared looks—or baby may just go completely silent. Such stranger anxiety is normal and a sign of healthy emotional development.

Respect baby’s feelings; but, when possible, try to expose your child to new people so that he or she gets used to these interactions.

6 months: Your child is beginning to reach for people

Your child has been practicing reaching for several weeks. At first, baby reached for toys; now, baby is realizing that he or she can reach for familiar people, too. And, why not? They offer comfort, companionship, and caregiving. Still, a baby’s reaching for a familiar person isn’t a sign of attachment to that person…yet. True emotional attachments don’t emerge until about 7 months of age.