Saturday, January 31, 2015

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Supporting Children’s Emotional Health

Emotional intelligence is the child’s ability to regulate feelings in everyday life.  Emotional regulation begins with infancy.  The child develops emotional health by interacting successfully with others, especially the parents.  When a baby has a close bond and attachment with the parent, emotional intelligence emerges and flourishes naturally.  For example, when the baby feels hungry or thirsty, wet, in pain, or in need of being held and cuddled, the baby cries to let these feelings be known.  As the parent responds by meeting the baby’s needs, feelings are settled and emotions are regulated.  Both parent and baby can relax.  They have shared feelings and mutuality continues to grow between them.

As children grow into toddlers, they express their feelings with more than crying.  They may tug at the parent, point to what they want—like the refrigerator—or use a few words or short phrases.  When they get a response that satisfies their needs, their feelings are regulated, trust and mutuality abound, and the child’s emotional intelligence increases.

When children get to be three or four years old, they may exhibit feelings by throwing temper tantrums.  Such behavior exhibits strong feelings brought about by feeling the loss of control, usually during a power struggle with the parent.  Underlying anger, or a hissy-fit, is a feeling of fear.  The child is fearful of not being able to maintain control. 

Parents can help children learn to regulate their emotions by maintaining order, usually be giving them permission to express their feelings.  Go ahead and have your tantrum.  I can see you are really angry.  When you finish we can solve this problem, but I’m not going to watch you while you are so upset.”  Then, the parent must turn away and let the child get these feelings out.  Parents and children develop trust in each other when the child has had a firm foundation of emotion regulation because the child knows the parent cares and can let go of any fear of rejection or abuse. 

By the time children reach school age, they will have developed their emotional intelligence, that is, their ability for regulating their feelings.  Children can get along with others by being open, sharing feelings and considering the ideas and feelings of others.  The ability to manage their emotions will make it possible to negotiate socially with others by talking and interacting, either in person or with electronics such as texting, with success.  The greater their ability to regulate emotions, the easier it will be for them to participate in school and social activities without fear of feelings of failure and ridicule.

The center for all emotional responses is located primarily in the mid-brain in the limbic system, “the feeling brain”.  When children or adults are overly stimulated with very strong negative or positive feelings, for example, the neo-cortex, “the thinking brain,” begins to shut down and the person cannot think clearly.  An example of this is when a student takes and an exam.  Even though the student knows the material and has studied and prepared for the exam, he/she may blank out on many of the test questions. This may stem from fear of what would happened on the test.  As soon as the student turns in the paper in and leaves the room, the answers suddenly come to mind.  This indicates that the limbic system is back in regulation and the neo-cortex and is working at full capacity.  This illustrations why it is important to take the pressure off of students in order to facilitate emotion regulation.  

Emotional intelligence is a part of overall intelligence and is therefore very important in a child’s development regardless of age.  Those children without good attachments, mutuality, love and trust with their parents from an early age may face serious behavior problems in school and in life.  By the time they reach adulthood, they are faced with many decisions and actions that require emotional stability.  Those with poorly regulated emotions often have difficulty getting along with others because their feelings get in the way of their overall intelligence.  They may be high level thinkers, talented and attractive; but if they cannot maintain their emotional health, they will face multiple challenges and problems.  From serious relationships problems to criminal behavior, emotional stability is often the major factor that interferes with one’s success in life.

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