Infants and toddles are little sponges, absorbing the interior worlds of the adults around them as their try to make sense of it all. In attempting to shelter small children from adult emotions, some parents try to hide their feelings and put on a happy face, even when their world feels out of control. Bad move.
As it turns out, babies have a sixth sense and see through faking adults very easily. As young as 18 months, babies know what feelings and reactions should go with which events. In fact trying to shield them from the truth, can confuse them rather than comfort them.
In a new study in Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, researchers Sabrina Chiarella and Diane Poulin-Dubois were able to show that toddlers can tell when a person’s emotions make sense to a given situation. They accomplished this by hiring actors to create appropriate or misfired facial expressions in reaction to certain stimuli, say, a sad face in response to a new toy or a happy face in response to physical pain. By 18-months of age, the babies cleared showed confusion by checking back with the face often and not mirroring the emotion displayed.
The take away for parents? Don’t be afraid to show your true emotions, but do take the time to explain what’s going on to your child and always assure your child that everything is going to be okay. Babies can understand most of their home language by the age of ten months, even though they can’t talk themselves.