Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

I. Your Baby's Earliest Feelings

The earliest feelings of infants and children.

The purpose of this blog is to help develop great kids and great parents. I hope to do this by discussing information about infancy and childhood—and especially about the feelings of infants and children. Why the focus on feelings? Because feelings lead to behaviors—our actions or inaction stem from our feelings.

Over the next several months, we'll be looking at infant and child development, parenting, and the role of feelings. If you understand what your child is feeling, everything else falls into place.

Some of the topics I'll take up include your baby's earliest feelings, how they are expressed, what feelings are and how they work, and how understanding feelings can make sense of not only early childhood, but adolescence and adulthood as well. We'll take a look at pictures of babies, and we'll explore specific issues, such as self-esteem, corporal punishment, recent research, and the views of experts in a variety of fields.

For the moment, let's just take a brief look at your baby's earliest feelings. You might ask, "How do you know my baby even has feelings?" Great question! After all, the baby is not using words yet to tell you how he/she is feeling! I'll explore this question later when discussing how feelings work, but for now, the answer lies primarily in the facial expressions of your baby.

Current research shows that your baby is born with about eight to 10 built-in feelings, as shown by the facial expressions. Although there are some interesting controversies in this area, the best information available now suggests humans are born with nine feelings:

  • Interest (curiosity)
  • Enjoyment
  • Surprise
  • Distress
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Disgust (a reaction to noxious tastes)
  • Dissmell (a reaction to noxious odors)

Believe it or not, these are your baby's earliest feelings! Most of them are apparent within the first few days of your baby's life. Over time, they will combine with experience and with each other to form our more complex emotional life. This is the embryology of feelings!

These feelings operate on a low-to-high scale so that the range of feelings looks like this:

  • Interest-Excitement
  • Enjoyment-Joy
  • Surprise-Startle
  • Distress-Anguish
  • Anger-Rage
  • Fear-Terror
  • Shame-Humiliation
  • Disgust—lower to higher levels
  • Dissmell—lower to higher levels

"But," you might say, "What do all these look like? How does my baby communicate these feelings? And, most importantly, what do I do with them?!"

Again, great questions! And if you use these feelings to understand your baby, parenting—and your life—becomes a lot easier... so, that's where we'll start next time!


Suggested Readings
1. Ekman, Paul. Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2003.
2. Stern, Daniel. The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
3. Tomkins, Silvan S. Affect Imagery Consciousness (Volume III): The Negative Affects: Anger and Fear. New York: Springer, 1991.