How much do you know about young children’s emotional development?
As parents, carers, and educators, it is important to understand the emotional development of children aged 3 to 7 years old. During this period, children experience a range of emotions, from joy and excitement to fear and frustration. By understanding and supporting their emotional development, we can help our children develop important life skills and improve their overall well-being.
Emotional development in early childhood
During the early years, children’s emotional development progresses rapidly. Initially, they experience basic emotions, such as joy, sadness, anger, and fear; as they grow older, they develop more complex emotions, such as empathy, guilt, and shame. During this time, children will often lack the language skills needed to fully express their emotions, which can result in outbursts of frustration and tantrums.
It is important to remember that emotions are a normal part of human development, and it is okay for children to experience this range of emotions. By acknowledging their emotions and helping them learn to express how they feel in a healthy way, we will help our children build resilience and improve their emotional well-being.
Emotional development and diversity learning
Emotional development is an essential component of diversity learning. Learning to understand and acknowledge the emotions of people within their family, friendship and wider social circles, our children will begin to develop empathy and respect for others.
Children who are emotionally aware are more likely to appreciate and respect the diversity around them. They are more likely to recognize and celebrate the differences that make each person unique. Emotional development also helps children develop important skills, such as conflict resolution and problem-solving, which are essential for navigating the complex social dynamics of diverse communities.
Factors affecting emotional development in early childhood
There are many factors that can impact a child’s emotional development, including attachment to primary caregivers, temperament, and their family’s religion, beliefs, and cultural influences.
Attachment to primary caregivers: Attachment refers to the emotional bond that children form with their primary caregivers, such as their parents or guardians. When children feel safe, secure, and loved by their caregivers, they are more likely to develop a positive self-image and a healthy sense of trust in others. Research has shown that children who have secure attachments with their caregivers tend to be more emotionally stable and have better social skills, such as empathy and cooperation. These children also tend to be better able to regulate their emotions, which can lead to improved mental health outcomes in the long run. Conversely, children who experience insecure attachments, such as neglect or inconsistent caregiving, may struggle with emotional regulation and experience negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, fostering a secure attachment between a child and their primary caregiver is a critical aspect of supporting emotional development in children.
Temperament: Temperament refers to a child’s natural predisposition to certain behaviours, such as their level of activity or emotional reactivity. Some children may be naturally more anxious or cautious, while others may be more outgoing or impulsive. Understanding a child’s temperament can help caregivers tailor their approach to best support the child’s emotional development. For example, children who are more anxious may benefit from more predictable routines and clear expectations, while children who are more outgoing may benefit from more opportunities for social interaction and exploration. By understanding a child’s temperament, caregivers can provide a supportive environment that is sensitive to the child’s unique emotional needs, which can in turn promote healthy emotional development and resilience.
Religion, beliefs, and cultural tranditions: The religion, beliefs, and cultural traditions observed by a child’s family play a significant role in shaping how young children learn to understand and express their emotions. For example, in some religions, an expression of emotions is encouraged and considered a way to connect with a higher power or community, while in contrast, other religions encourage more reserved emotional expression, valuing self-control and emotional restraint.
Furthermore, cultural influences can affect how children learn to express and manage their emotions, as some cultures encourage the expression of certain emotions more than others. For instance, the expression of anger may be considered unacceptable or inappropriate in some cultures, while in others, it may be more acceptable or even encouraged. Similarly, some cultures may place a greater emphasis on the importance of emotional restraint and self-control, while others may prioritise emotional expression.
Each child’s upbringing within the context of their family’s religion, beliefs, and cultural background is unique. By taking time to learn about each child’s upbringing, we will be better equipped to understand and support what they need to learn to express and manage their feelings.
…there are many strategies we can use to support and enrich children’s emotional development.
Strategies for supporting emotional development in early childhood
- Encouraging emotional expression: Encouraging our children to express their emotions in a healthy way can help them learn to regulate their emotions and build resilience. One way to encourage emotional expression is to provide our children with a safe and supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing their emotions.
- Providing opportunities for social interaction: Social interaction is critical to emotional development. Providing our children with opportunities to interact with others can help them learn important social skills, such as empathy, patience, and cooperation. Playgroups, preschool programs, and other social activities can be excellent opportunities for our children to interact with their peers and develop their social skills.
- Modelling positive emotional behaviour: Children largely learn by watching and imitating the adults around them. By modelling positive emotional behaviour, we can help our children learn to express their emotions in a healthy way. For example, if we model how to express empathy by acknowledging and validating their emotions our children will experience an example of how to express empathy that they can later apply when with their friendship circle.
- Through shared reading: Books use relatable characters and colourful illustrations to help children understand their emotions and develop emotional intelligence. They can be a great tool for parents, carers, and educators to start conversations about emotions and to help our children navigate emotional experiences. Look out for our book recommendation blog post coming soon!
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.