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Helping Children With Their Emotional Development

When we see our children laughing with delight, we appreciate their joy. When we see them lose control in a big tantrum, we feel their anguish. As children grow, we want them to be smarter and more skilled in managing their emotions, as well as in their knowledge of the world and its complexities.

You can assess your child’s emotional development by looking at how well your child understands their own emotions and the emotions of others, and how well they handle their own emotions and those of others. Awareness of self and others, and the ability to control our own emotions and handle the emotions of others, translate into the important emotional skills of empathy, self-regulation and impulse control.    

Here are 4 tips to help boost your child’s emotional development:  

1. Be responsive to their needs. Infants and very young children are constantly observing what is going on around them, including noticing the emotions of their parents and other caregivers. At this stage, children develop trust that adults will respond to their needs. Your being responsive to your infant’s needs teaches them that the world is reliable and consistent, that they can trust you. They learn emotions by watching your face, listening to your voice and noticing how you react to them. At the same time, you are looking to the infant to tell you, without words, what they are feeling and what they need. With thousands of small interactions, you and your child build a close bond while experiencing together the emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, frustration and joy.  

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.

Daniel Goleman, author, Emotional Intelligence

2. Teach children to use their words. With their developing language, toddlers and preschool-age children learn to express their emotions in words. In many situations, they typically want more than they can have. The result: frustration and anger. Parents can help children learn how to cope with that frustration and use their words to express what they want and, bit by bit, control the impulse to “grab and go.” Children at this age also look to their parents to see how they cope and manage their emotions. It may be hard, but remember, children are watching and learning from you all the time. The more you model a healthy approach to emotions, the more a child’s mirror neurons will take over and they will mimic you. 

3. Teach children to name their emotions. School-age children show greater capacity to manage their emotions in different settings. Some children hold it together all day at school, only to fall apart emotionally at home. At this stage, children are learning to face hardships, be persistent and self-regulate their strong emotions, especially when they think they have been treated unfairly. Their increased brain development leads them to want new experiences, but they also need the impulse control to wait their turn, ask permission or just accept the answer “no” when they can’t have something they want.

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Parents can help children at this age by encouraging them to name their emotions, talk about what is bothering them and use their new cognitive skills to come up with alternative solutions. Again, children are watching their parents to see how we respond when big emotions are present, so use these incidents to model the kind of self-control you desire of yourself.   

4. Be an emotional coach. Developing self-awareness and empathy for others will help your children start, build and maintain friendships with peers that are healthy, positive and respectful. Friends will, of course, have conflicts and disagreements, but children who are aware of their own emotions and who can think about how others are feeling will quickly gain the respect of their peers. Often, children need emotional coaching from adults in real-life settings to manage their emotions and consider the feelings of others. When friends, siblings or classmates disagree or have conflicts, adults have the chance to coach these children through these situations, build negotiation skills and come up with positive solutions. The result is stronger friendships that can withstand hard times.  

Helping children grow through the stages of emotional development, including noticing, expressing and managing emotions, is both challenging and rewarding. With targeted efforts, your child will show the necessary self-awareness and empathy to be successful in many settings.  

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All parents encounter challenges as their children grow up. And sometimes, issues may arise that leave you uncertain as to how best to respond. But not every issue requires therapy or counseling. The PACE program is here to help during those times.

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