Iowa Specialty Hospital

Pediatrics: Cognitive and Social Development

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Cognitive and social development occurs from infancy through teen years.  They are key milestones to determine a child’s mental and emotional growth and well-being.  Your child’s pediatrician will review his or her progress in these areas as part of the normal well-child visits.  If you have concerns about your child’s development in any area, schedule an appointment to discuss them with your physician. 

Cognitive Development 

Cognitive development focuses on a child’s growth in terms of thought processes including remembering, problem solving, and decision making.  Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory.

Some cognitive development examples during the first 12 months include:

  • One month – Watches person when spoken to.
  • Two months – Smiles at familiar persons.  Begins following person with their eyes.Baby boy, sitting up and smiling while playing with toys
  • Four months – Shows interest in a bottle, familiar toy, or new surroundings.
  • Five months – Smiles at his or her own image in a mirror.  Looks for fallen objects.
  • Six months – May imitate sticking out tongue.  Laughs at peekaboo game.  May act shy around strangers.
  • Seven months – Responds to own name.  Tries to establish contact by coughing or other noise.
  • Eight months – Reaches for toys out of reach.  Responds to “no”.
  • Nine months – Shows likes and dislikes. Shows excitement and interest in foods or toys that are well-liked.
  • Ten months – Starts to understand some words.  Waves bye-bye.  Holds out arm or leg for dressing.
  • Eleven months – Repeats performances that are laughed at by someone else.  Likes repetitive play.  Shows interest in books.
  • Twelve months – May understand some “where is…?” questions.  May kiss on request. 

Cognitive development and motor development may be closely linked.  Often when cognitive disorders are present, motor skills are affected also.  Again, it’s important for your child to have routine well-child visits with their pediatrician to monitor his or her growth in this area. 

Social Development

Social development involves a child learning to express their feelings and emotions, as well as learning to understand other people’s feelings.  While it was originally believed that emotions are learned through human interaction only, newer research shows that some emotions are naturally occurring and instinctual from birth.  Overall the environmental experiences during growth and development are important influences in a child’s emotional and social development.

Babies can feel interest, distress, and disgust and happiness from birth.  These can be communicated through facial expressions and body posture.  Infants begin to show “social smiles” around 2 or 3 months of age, and begin to laugh and distinguish other’s emotional expressions around 4 months.  In addition, between ages 2 and 6 months, infants express anger, surprise, sadness, and fear.  Between 5 and 6 months, stranger anxiety may be exhibited.  Around 8 to 10 months, infants may develop powerful attachment to primary caregivers.  Around 9 months, a baby may show displeasure or sadness, and they will also begin to show their temperaments or individual personality styles.  From 9 to 10 months, babies express a wide variety of emotions and can go from happiness to sadness or frustration within seconds.  Regulating of their emotions begins around 11 months of age.  Around 12 months, they start to exhibit a bit of jealousy, and they become aware of other individuals’ emotions, especially distress. 

While the above only covers the first year of life, emotional development continues throughout a child’s toddler, adolescent, and teen years.  These milestones or concerns are important to discuss with your child’s pediatrician during well-child visits.

To find a provider, please visit our Pediatric Providers page. 

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