Children's Emotional Development

The development of emotional competence in a child is an important part of his or her growth. It is directly linked to the successful parent-child relationship and for the child's relationships with his or her peers. Emotional development should not be neglected and should go hand in hand with academic and cognitive competence. Many childhood psychological disorders are perceived as failures in emotion regulation processes.

Modern scholars argue that emotion is of significant importance for rational thought and effective decision making. The historic, popular conception view that rational thought was something that was generated by the mind, while emotions came "from the heart," has not had any scientific support since the 19th century.

There is huge difference between the ability of different children to understand, express and control their emotions in the same way as children differ in all their features and activities. For toddlers and infants, emotions present a way to communicate with the rest of the world. The major mode of communication during that period of a child's life is communication through affective expression. This mode actually remains throughout one's lifetime, despite the more advanced techniques that he or she masters with time.

Despite the rapid emotional development during infancy, cognitive and linguistic processes remain less developed. As a result an infant can regulate his or her emotions only through sensorimotor processes, when he faces emotional stress such as anxiety, fear, excitement, boredom or sadness. In most cases the parent is the one that helps modulate emotions during times of high or insufficient levels of arousal.

Throughout the first three years of a child's life, he or she develops a huge set of affective signals. Usually children form their habitual affective responses before they start using language expressions. When toddlerhood is over most children are already quite good at showing and interpreting emotional displays. Still there are significant differences in the emotional profiles of each individual.

It is extremely important for children in preschool and early elementary to combine the modes of thinking and feeling that they have developed earlier with the newly acquired ability to talk. When one starts using language expressions he or she is able to explain more coherently and in a more organized manner the things that were earlier described with action and image. Thanks to the verbal labeling of emotions children acquire a new mechanism of self-control and self-expression. The use of language to express emotions can actually make it easier to control non-verbal emotional expressions. Thus it can even improve the control over emotions themselves.

Between the age of 5 and the age of 12 one experience significant upsurge in his or her emotional development. From the age of 5 to the age of 7 children pass through a key developmental transformation, including above all enhanced cognitive processing skills, a growth spurt and changes in the size and function of the brain. This period is also called the "5-to7 shift". This transformation and the changes that follow it lead to major modifications in a child's responsibilities, independence and social role.

According to parents and teachers children show less emotions when they pass from early childhood to middle childhood. This thesis, however, has not been confirmed by research observation. For example, at school age children show as much or even more anger than in late infancy when responding to physical provocations. They also express their anger verbally, which shows an ability to coordinate their emotional message through communication systems.

When a child's behavior is not in line with cultural expectations for the timing, display pattern, and context of emotion, he or she is labeled temperamentally difficult or emotionally immature. Still the extend to which this state is driven by family or cultural differences remains unclear.

Many forms of emotional expression get refined during adolescence. This is the case with gender differences where dissimilarities are first exaggerated but are later performed more smoothly. In adolescence the distinctive male and female emotional postures usually appear for the first time. Emotions during that period of a person's development become the foundation of identity and ideals. The things that adolescents care about in are those that they feel strongly about. Adolescents start developing attachments to ideals, people and careers at the same time when their emotional life and their awareness of emotionality change.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Psychology of Emotion: From Everyday Life to Theory
K. T. Strongman.
Wiley, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Developmental Theory"
Development in Infancy: An Introduction
Michael E. Lamb; Marc H. Bornstein; Douglas M. Teti.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002 (4th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Emotions and Temperament in Infancy"
Well-Being: Positive Development across the Life Course
Marc H. Bornstein; Lucy Davidson; Corey L. M. Keyes; Kristin A. Moore.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Emotional Development and Well-Being;" Chap. 11 "Emotion Regulation from Infancy Through Adolescence"
Emotional Development in Atypical Children
Michael Lewis; Margaret Wolan Sullivan.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications
Peter Salovey; David J. Sluyter.
Basic Books, 1997
Emotional Development, Theory and Applications: A Neo-Piagetian Perspective
Henry Dupont.
Praeger, 1994
Understanding Attachment: Parenting, Child Care, and Emotional Development
Jean Mercer.
Praeger, 2006
Emotional Development in Psychoanalysis, Attachment Theory, and Neuroscience: Creating Connections
Viviane Green.
Brunner-Routledge, 2003
Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development
Allan N. Schore.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Stability and Continuity in Normal Emotional Development between Infancy and Early Childhood: Longitudinal Research
Losonczy-Marshall, Marta E.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Winter 2007
Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development
T. Berry Brazelton.
Perseus Books, 1992
Children's Emotional Growth: Adult's Role as Emotional Archaeologists
Dettore, Ernie.
Childhood Education, Vol. 78, No. 5, Summer 2002
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