Moral & Social Development in Infants

From the moment baby arrives in the world, he is learning social and moral skills by observing his surroundings and deciding what feels good to him. These skill sets are rudimentary at birth, but they develop rapidly through the course of baby's first year of life. Parents are a critical element in helping baby develop these important life lessons.

Moral Development

Moral development is the process of defining the difference between right and wrong. Baby is not born with these intuitions, though. According to, a baby does not have the capacity to understand morals outside of how he relates to what feels right and wrong to him. For example, an infant quickly learns that hungry is "wrong" because his belly hurts when he's hungry. Likewise, he learns that being held and comforted is "right" because it feels good to him, as opposed to the scary feeling of being left alone in his crib. Later in life, his moral development shifts from self to others.

Social Development

Activities for the Emotional & Social Development of Infants

Learn More

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, baby's first three months include important skills such as the development of a social smile, becoming more communicative and expressive with face and body, enjoying playing with people and beginning to imitate some movements and expressions. By 4 to 7 months, baby can respond to expressions of emotions, such as your smile or frown, and enjoys social play. Between the ages of 8 and 12 months, baby's social development starts to include emotions like shyness around strangers, sadness or crying when a parent leaves and testing parental response. Baby is also beginning to prefer specific people and toys and likes imitating people during play.

Tips for Developing Baby's Moral Skills

According to, babies do not feel a sense of "otherness" until they are around 18 months of age. Before then, they are not able to determine whether their actions are morally right or wrong. However, parents still have the responsibility and opportunity to begin teaching their baby moral development from his early days. By putting simple rules into place, such as telling baby "no" if he hits the cat or takes a toy out of another baby's hand or deterring him when he approaches an electrical outlet, baby can understand what he is being directed to do. In his toddler years, he begins to comprehend why those actions are right or wrong.

Tips for Developing Baby's Social Skills

When Do Newborns Recognize Their Parents' Voices?

Learn More

Your responses to your baby are part of helping him develop social skills. Babies learn the meaning of a positive relationship based on the love, safety, comfort, confidence and encouragement provided by the parents. The responsive care parents show, such as giving baby a spoon to help him eat or a blanket when he's cold, shows baby that you can understand his cues, despite the fact that he might not be able to communicate verbally with you yet. Games like peekaboo, finding baby's favorite blankie, helping him stack blocks or using tried-and-true techniques to soothe baby are all helpful ways to help him develop his social skills in a nurturing environment.