With the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework (2009) we have seen an increased emphasis on children’s emotional and social learning. However even now, 9 years on and we still seem to see a heavier focus on social rather than emotional development. But you can’t have effective social skills without strong emotional development. A child’s emotional development feeds heavily in to their social, cognitive and language skills. It should be at the foundation of all our practices in early childhood, because a child’s learning journey will be more effective when they feel confident, secure, autonomous and empowered. Here are four important factors to remember about children’s emotional development:
1. Emotions occur in the brain, not in the heart.
This might seem ridiculous - of course we all know that emotions occur in the brain, we don’t really believe they come from the heart. Or do we? We refer to our hearts all the time when we are talking about emotions. We tend to always look at emotions from a psychological perspective and forget about the science. But like anything else that occurs in the human body and mind, emotions are science. Emotional responses occur as a result of the limbic system. Repeated experiences in early childhood build neural pathways in the brain which dictate our emotional responses. It is important to understand the science of emotion so we can understand children's emotional cues and respond appropriately. The Zero To Three website is a great resource for more information in this area.
2. Theorists have been toting the importance of emotional development for years.
Although the science of emotions is relatively new, psychologists have been placing emphasis on the significance of emotional development for years. John Bowlby was testing the importance of attachment back in the 1940’s, with Mary Ainsworth later contributing further to his ideas. Bowlby and Ainsworth understood the importance of attachment on a child’s emotional development and thus their ability to move effectively through the learning journey, particularly in relation to social skills. Attachment theory sets a strong foundation for emotional development and the studies in this area have shown how this effects other domains of development. For more information about attachment, look into Bowlby’s 44 thieves study.
3. We can learn a lot about emotional development from children who have experienced trauma.
Understanding the impact of trauma on children can be practice altering. We have learnt so much in more recent years about children’s emotional development through the work completed with children who have been traumatised. Trauma sensitivity training is all about promoting positive emotional development in all children and creating environments which are sensitive to those who have had adverse experiences. Through the research with these children we have learnt much about the impact of positive emotional development on all other developmental domains. We have learnt that children express emotions differently depending on their individual experience with the world and we have been able to examine the impact of this on brain architecture. If you’re interested in the subject a good start is the work of renowned child psychologist Bruce Perry via the Child Trauma Academy.
4. Emotional development isn’t complete by 2.
In early childhood, despite the changing approach to education, we are still seeing a ‘caring’ environment in the 0-2 age range and an ‘educational’ environment in the preschool age range. Once children get to preschool age we seem to expect emotional development to be complete. Some educators become easily frustrated with misbehaviours after this age and we hear the old adage “He/She knows better”. But as adults when we act out as a result of emotion we tend to understand that it has come from a place of fear or anxiety. It is the same for children. We tend to expect so much of these little humans, but they are still learning to manage their emotions and we need to remember that often, even as adults, we do not do this effectively ourselves. Emotional development is a lifelong journey.
Emotional development is an area in which there is vast research and theories. These are just a few of the ideas we have seen help develop practice over the years. Understanding of children’s emotional development and thus being able to promote it effectively, leads to a more mindful and calm environment in which children feel empowered and autonomous. If you develop your understanding of emotional development it will inevitably promote higher quality practice and pedagogy.
If your are on or around the Central Coast NSW, join us to discuss these points and much more when we explore "Emotional Development - Promoting Self Regulation and Empowerment in Young Children" on 3rd September, 2018 (click for more details).