Children who are highly anxious, for example, and don’t know how to deal with this emotion, are more likely to avoid things that scare them – this avoidance keeps their anxiety going; it doesn’t reduce it. So, it is better for children to be able to label and talk about their negative emotions as a way to not let those emotions rule their lives. Developing emotional understanding from an early age equips children with practical coping tools to deal with emotional issues, shaping how children approach everyday life pressures as they grow into adults. Young children raised this way learn how to identify and manage their emotions, as well as developing an understanding of the feelings of others.
John Bowlby (1951) realised that the attachment bond between a parent and baby had evolved not only in order to feed and keep the baby safe, but also to regulate the baby’s emotions and provide a template for relationships throughout life. He wrote that: “What is … essential for mental health is that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with [his or her] mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction.” Note that Bowlby regarded ‘mothering’ as a role that doesn’t have to be carried out by a female or by the biological parent, so the main ‘attachment figure’ can also be the father or another caregiver such as a step-parent or grandparent.
Researchers have found that children with good emotional understanding and awareness have better social skills and mental health (Casey and Schlosser, 1994; Smith et al, 2011).
My First Emotions
Learn to understand and manage emotions with your little one. Emotional development starts from birth!