Thursday, September 27, 2012

Emotional Understanding

Parents may have a misconception when it comes to understanding their child's ability to read and understand emotions from others and themselves.

In Dr. Susan Goodwyn and Dr. Linda Acredelo's book entitled Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child an Emotional Head Start we learn more about emotional development in small children.

Here are some highlights to consider:

1.Human emotions are vast in number and subtle in their differences. Consider the following different feeling states: Cranky, Cowardly, Curious, Confident, Coy, Cagey, Confused. And these are just ones that start with “C.” 

2.Emotions, even strong ones, tend to fade over time.

3.People often experience two or more emotions at once, sometimes even conflicting ones (for example, a “bittersweet” experience). 

4.A person can pretend to feel one way when he is really feeling another. 

5.One may not actually be aware of one’s own feelings. **

6.Certain emotions are not appropriate in certain situations (for example, being gleeful at a funeral or sad at a wedding). 

7.Emotions can be powerfully influenced by being in a crowd. ( consider daycares)

8.Talking about emotions requires knowing your culture’s peculiar metaphors for feelings, such as the following English terms for “happy:” Tickled pink, pleased as punch, thrilled to death, happy as a clam, contented as a cat, on cloud nine. Idioms are not even taught until grade 8.

With all this to learn, it’s enough to make a child “as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.” Let’s just take one of the above, #3, as an example. A study published in the May 2007 issue of the journalPsychological Science has demonstrated that it’s probably not until children are 10 or 11 years old that they even experience mixed emotions, and, not surprisingly, it’s not until they are capable of experiencing such emotional states themselves that they begin understanding that this possibility exists for other people as well. 

It’s no wonder, then, that “emotional understanding” develops gradually even into the teenage years. Actually, I’m betting that we all know adults who still have some growing up to do in this very important domain! 

So take it easy on your little toddlers with their emotional journey. Tantrums, talking back, crying, whining. They are just learning about these emotions and what to do with them. Read up for yourself and learn about your own emotions before you begin to try and teach your little ones about theirs.

Teach by showing. Children' learn more from observing than anything else.


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