Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Emotional intelligence in children
How does emotion and emotional understanding develop in children?
This chapter looks at the development of emotional intelligence and understanding in children (Birth-12years). Going through the development from a baby whose emotional ability ends with crying to a middle child who is able to understand complex emotions, how they should be applied in social setting and have the ability to read the emotion in someone’s face even if they are not intending to show it.
Infancy (Birth to 2yo)
Newly born infants have a highly restricted range of emotions which they are able to utilise. Wolff (1969) described infants as having only cries of pain and anger. However over the first year of life versatility and emotional expressiveness begin to develop rapidly. As infants develop they not only gain versatility in emotional expressiveness but they also learn how to regulate and gain control over their own emotions. By six months infants show some capacity to limit emotional upset or the onset of negative emotions by turning their face away from the adverse stimulus or sucking on objects in order to calm themselves (Mangelsdorf, Shapiro & Marzoff, 1995)
In order to study the development of infant’s emotional repertoire, Carroll Izard and colleagues (1995) took video tapes of infants ranging in age from 2 months to 9 months as they were being exposed to either positive or negative emotion provoking situations such as being reunited with their mother after a separation, watching a jack in the box pop out unexpectedly or having a toy rudely snatched away. Izard observed clear differences between in the types of facial expressions between the situations. Along with this, clear baby to baby similarities were seen when given the same stimulus, showing that different emotions were being evoked by each event. To establish how closely the infant’s facial expressions matched well known emotional states, Izard invited adult judges who did not know the babies to view the recordings of the baby’s facial expression without being given any information about the causal event. The adults were consistently able to identify anger, interest, sadness, disgust and joy on infants as young as two months old. Infants aged 7 months and over are able to display fear consistently. By the second year of life more complex emotions such as shame and embarrassment will start to display along with the very first signs of emotional self- awareness.
Often overlooked in the emotional development of infants in the first year of life is their first real emotional relationship, their attachment to their main caregiver (usually the mother). This relational bond is quite possibly the most important relationship of all as it sets the foundations for positive forward emotional development. The foundations that are laid by this growth of mutual love and closeness exert a strong base in which the infants feel secure about his or her surroundings and are able to explore the world around them and form a healthy emotional bank. Research by Brazelton (1984) demonstrated the emotionally security in initial attachment which allows the infant to develop a sound emotional spectrum. New born infants who were in a state of emotional distress after being left in a room by their mother were played recordings of pleasant sounds such as a piece of soft orchestral music, a soft woman’s voice reading poetry, a flute song or a bird singing. Neonates consistently preferred the sound of the woman’s voice even though it was not their mothers. The sound of the woman’s voice was shown to sooth heart rate, relax tense muscle and diminish crying, returning the infant to a calm emotional state more effectively than the other so.
From age two to six children gain increasing control over their feelings, along with the ability to regulate new emotions such as fear and sadness. They begin to gain ability to stem impatience and the ability to wait quietly and pay attention when necessary (Eisenburg et al., 2000). These skills are vital parts of the preschool/kindergarten aged child who needs to have the ability to control outburst of anger and tears as well as sit quietly and pay attention. The school environment is key to the development of emotional understanding during this age period. Children learn to not only control their own emotions, but to identify emotions of others from facial expressions as well as developing an understanding as to what may have cause the emotion in the first place ie. A school yard dispute. Empathy is one of the new emotions that is displayed in this period with children beginning to show comfort to a friend in distress weather in the playground or the class room.
Perhaps the most important development during this period which aids in emotional development is the acquisition of language. As the child grows in their conversational ability vocabulary is increased. This allows the child to express their emotional states. As well as this their continual conversations with peers and family in different environment enables them to understand, through conversation what emotion their friends are feeling, why they are feeling that way and how they can help. Through this they gain valuable insight into the cycle of emotions and how they start, play out and become remedied.
When family members converse about their feelings children gain valuable insights into the emotions of others. Judith Dunn (1996) found that 3-year old who came from families where emotional expressiveness was common displayed a better understanding of their ‘friends’ emotions than those whose families were less expressive. They were also better at resolving disputes through showing a higher emotional intelligence than their peers and clearly demonstrating a better formed understanding of the causes and consequences of positive and negative emotions. Pre-schoolers develop an awareness of the links between emotion and desire from around the age of three (Wellman, 1993). This enables them to understand and predict that if a person’s desires are met, that person will feel emotionally gratified or that desires can become frustrations if not met and cause negative emotions such as anger, sadness and disappointment. This was demonstrated by Peterson & Slaughter (2003) when showing children a cartoon scenario of o child of similar age falling into water or not getting the desired drink, the children were able to attribute the cartoon figure as being sad or disappointed even if it is not the emotion that they would feel in the same scenario.
The time period between two and six builds greatly on the foundations of parental attachment during the baby stage. Many children exit this stage with the ability not only to understand emotions of their own or to understand emotions of others but with the ability to converse with their peers and adults about emotions.
Middle childhood (6-12yo)
Emotional competency is often used to refer to this period. Children become increasingly skilled at understanding their own and others emotions. They gain further ability to express subtle emotions, self-regulate inner feeling and mood as well as conforming to the social norms for displays of emotion. Carolyn Saarni (1999) proposed that in this period the development of a well-rounded ability to experience, understand and express both positive and negative emotions requires a set of eight skills.
- Awareness of one’s own emotional state
- Perception of the emotional state of others
- Acquisition of a vocabulary of emotional terms
- The capacity for empathic involvement in emotional experiences
- A capacity to self-regulate and cope with strong negative feelings
- Awareness for the need of emotional display management, which may include control and concealment in social situations.
- Awareness of the role played by positive and negative emotions in social relationships
- Emotional self-acceptance and self-efficacy
Along with this set of skills it has been shown that the most noticeable change in emotional development comes within social interactions, with specific changes to fear and anger.
Children in this period may not erupt in to anger of throw a tantrum as often as seen in the younger years however bursts of anger tend to be more potent and last longer. An increased emotional perception causes children to pick up very subtle and indirect provocations which would not affect a younger child with less perceptive ability. For example a small child is aware of direct bullying but is unable to pick up on a sarcastic tone of voice or an implied put down which requires a higher emotional and social understanding (Winner, 1988). With this skill comes the ability for a child to become angry about an injustice that has been committed toward someone other than themselves, or may even show general outrage at issues such as animal cruelty or social inequality.
Ken Rotenburg (1985) studied anger in children aged 6 to 12 years of age by asking them to give a detailed account of the last time they lost their temper. He found that many of the children reported an incidence where their anger was reactive rather than proactive and most often regarded an outburst in response to someone else’s hostility or toward the physical environment. The three most common triggers were physical attack, verbal insult and the blocking of the child’s important goal. Results were consistent between age groups with the only difference being that children over the age of eight were able to reliable distinguish between accidental and intentional causes of harm in a conflict situation. This is one of the main reasons why older children are able to restrict their anger, they understand that not all harm is intentional and are able to decide to react to a situation, whereas smaller children cannot perceive this difference and become angry even if there were no intentions of harm or conflict. It is in this stage of development that the first true signs of a difference between the sexes appear. Carol Gilligan (1982) conducted many in depth interviews with girls in boarding schools and found that they attributed their feeling of injustice to not being listened to. They referred to many instances where they felt they had been unfairly dominated by someone in a social conversational on a topic that they cared about, or ignored when they were allowed to finally speak. Gilligan suggested that this develops into a primarily female source of anger with the male equivalent being physical contact.
Fear change and develop as children mature. Many fears as an infant such as loud noises are no longer as intense in middle childhood; however fears which require imagination such as scenarios involving ghosts or potential bad experiences become more common due to an increased cognitive capacity which can consider hypothetical possibilities. Results below show main fear concerns by middle aged children (king et al, 1989).
- Not being able to brush your teeth (63%)
- Being hit by a car (62%)
- Earthquakes (59%)
- A burglar in the house (48%)
- Snakes (41%)
- Death or dead people (39%)
A further study brought to light differences between the sexes (Spence & McCathie, 1993). A longitudinal study was under taken with both boys and girls. Initialy boy reported fewer fears than their female peers and the ones they did suffer to be less intense. After two years the children were interviewed and fears which displayed the largest degrease were darkness, getting sick and parental punishment. Boys were less fearful of strangers and physical injury, girls remained just as fearful as before. Although fear was decreased, those who originally scored highest on fearful events still did the same, showing a clear difference between the situational emotional development of some children versus others. In general terms fear as an emotion decreases with age, with the exception of phibias due to the child better understanding the world around them and having the ability to self-regulate their emotional state.
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