Emotional Development in Children
At the start of their lives, babies are programmed to seek out the things that they want by crying. As they mature, though, children's emotional capabilities expand, allowing them to develop a variety of skills that they will need in their adult lives. Emotional development encompasses the feelings that we have about ourselves and others, as well as our capabilities to function well in the world from a social standpoint.
Babies and Their EmotionsWhile babies seem to be born with some of their emotional qualities in place, much of how they develop initially can be credited to the lessons that they are taught by their Primary Caregivers. Warm, attentive care, especially during the first year of life, helps babies to gain a sense that the world is a safe and welcoming place.
That sense of security can be a good base for the development of other healthy emotional responses. Babies form attachments to the people closest to them when they are quite young, showing increased anxiety and restlessness when with unfamiliar people. These first and most important relationships serve as a child's earliest lessons in forming close, emotional bonds.
The vast majority of babies have their biological mother as their primary caregiver, but that is not always the case. Studies have shown that a primary caregiver can be a mother, a father, or any person close to the child to whom they form a strong bond. What's important is not the official role of the caregiver, but that fact that he or she is there from the beginning, allowing the child to form a close bond and, eventually, bond closely with others.
Toddlers - the Beginning of IndependenceAs children move from infancy into the toddler era, they gain a sense of self, separate from their parents and siblings. Since this is a whole new world for them, frustrations can run high (for mum and dad, too!) and they may be prone to Temper Tantrums or other behaviours that their parents find objectionable.
As with any new skill, learning to control negative emotional responses takes time, so parents should try to be patient with their temperamental toddlers. Children need to learn that there are better and more effective ways to get what they want than to throw tantrums, and parents can help them by exercising firm kindness.
While they may be a bit emotionally high-strung, toddlers are also likely to show the first signs of compassion, expressing worry when a playmate or family member seems sad or upset. These expressions of positive emotion should be complimented by parents and caregivers who are striving to encourage healthy emotional development.
Kindness and Self-ControlBy the time that they are school-aged, children begin to take pride in their ability to exert self-control, and enjoy the feedback that they receive from being responsible and cooperative. This presents parents and educators with the opportunity to foster desirable emotional responses by pointing out situations in which children behaved in mature, compassionate ways.
School-aged children are also faced with their own unique challenges, of course, so parents must do all that they can to help kids to navigate unfamiliar situations. Sibling Rivalry is common, which can be exasperating for parents who harbour hopes that their children will get along famously. Allowing the children to work things out for themselves is wise (unless the situation gets truly out of control) because each time that the kids resolve an issue, they take steps toward emotional maturity.
While sibling rivalry can be annoying and even stressful for parents, it's common for brothers and sisters to squabble with one another. Children's needs are constantly evolving, and it can be difficult to keep up with their needs and anxieties. Relating to siblings can often help set the stage for how they eventually relate to others, so help set the stage by providing guidance and support - and try not to get too tense!
Pre TeensBeing a pre-teen can be a tricky time. Children at this age are just starting to spread their own wings, and while they want some (limited) independence, they also want the security of strong parenting. This is the time when parents should gradually loosen the reins a bit, in order to set the groundwork for full-blown adolescence. While the task may seem daunting, holding too tightly to the apron strings will eventually have a detrimental effect.
Communicating well with pre-teens is vital. Not only does it set the foundation for a strong parent-child relationship, it also will help you both cope better when they cross over that threshold into adolescence. Don't forget, however, that some pre-teens feel a real need for privacy, and may not want to share everything with Mummy and Daddy.
This is a time of self-discovery for many children, and may also be the first time they are struggling to fit in at school, and with friends. Show them that you love them no matter what, and that you are also there. Make the time to spend time together, and help them feel secure and safe, both in their relationship with you and with others.
Almost AdultsThe teen years can be turbulent (a true understatement!), with additional stresses put on adolescents that they may not have encountered in the past. Social and school responsibilities, coupled with a natural desire to make their own decisions without the input of their parents, can be cause for distress as well as opportunities for growth. Depending on the Teen's Emotional Development up to that point, adolescents may find themselves dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, or helplessness, in which case, parents must do all that they can to ease their child's stress level. Encouraging activities that promote self-esteem and a sense of community will serve teens well, since they are only steps away from taking full responsibility for their lives.
As parents we may consciously understand that adolescence is a time of extremely rapid growth, both physical and emotional, but that doesn't always make it easy to handle. Teens' emotions seem to be always on the brink, and as their tempers go up and down so do ours. Questioning family values and school rules is par for the course when it comes to teens; they believe they are the centre of the universe, and their sense of risk-taking is often way off-kilter.
Parents can help their own teens by setting reasonable limits, and realising that no matter how they behave, deep down adolescents are crying out for guidance. Allow your children to make as many decisions on their own as possible, and choose your battles carefully. Remember, helping them to become independent now, despite mistakes they may make along the way, will prove invaluable to their development as adults.
Expert OpinionsLawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, felt that people continued to grow and develop emotionally and socially, throughout their entire lives. He determined that we work through six stages (in three levels, with two stages each) of moral development in order to reach our highest potential. His theory seems especially plausible as he acknowledged that not all people will attain the highest levels of morality and emotional maturity. The goal then, for parents, is to encourage their children's emotional development while paying close attention to the examples they are setting for their impressionable youngsters.
British parenting expert Sue Atkins acknowledges that raising a happy family can be exhausting and challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. Nobody can be a perfect parent, she says, but we can all strive to raise happy, confident and self-assured children."It's not about how often or where you take your kids out for day trips, or how much you spoil them with gifts and goodies that's important," she writes. "It's about the time you spend with them and about embracing the key skills and resources that we as parents all have readily available in our armoury already to ensure that the end goal of raising happy, confident children is achieved."