EMOTIONS

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS IN CHILDREN

Children, like adults, besides experiencing basic emotions like sadness, anger, and happiness, children experience complex emotions like jealousy and grief too. As young as a few months old, infants can feel just as many emotions as their parents.

 

When children express emotions, most of the time, they are not sure what they are feeling. They are just reacting to how they are feeling without giving much thought about it. When we feel angry or sad, the part of our brain that controls emotions called the amygdala sends a warning signal to the body before sending it to the brain cortex responsible for reasoning. Therefore, many times we see people act without thinking. That is how our emotional brain works. 

 

The same goes for children. For example, when a child gets angry, the amygdala sends a signal to increase his breathing and heart rate, his muscle tenses, all this build-up energy has to be released. And that is when you see him throwing toys at his sister. This child simply reacted to what his body told him to do - to release that anger. But the child does not know the underlying emotion that causes him to act that way. We call this the 'reactive behaviour', where people react to feelings without proper reasoning and self-control. 

Many children grow up without learning and understanding their own emotions. When children do not have self-awareness of what and how they are feeling, they will not develop self-control. Children tend to regulate emotions better when they truly understand what emotions are. If a teenager always hits another person when he gets angry, drinks alcohol when he is sad, and refuses to complete his schoolwork, this child portrays low self-awareness (low self-control) and not being able to regulate his emotions effectively. All these reactive behaviours in a teenager are stemmed from unstable emotional experiences in their childhood (see parents and emotions). 

Self-Awareness: the ability to identify, understand and reflect one's emotions and thoughts

Self-Control: the ability to reason, to control and to monitor one's emotions, actions, thoughts, and behavior

It takes a person to understand emotions to control emotions. When children can identify and understand emotions, they will be better able to control their thoughts and emotions, so they will not act on those negative feelings impulsively - we call this 'proactive behaviour'. Recent research has shown that good self-awareness and self-control in children contribute to later success in long term social relationships, in school and work. Therefore, self-awareness and self-control are both important factors when it comes to understanding emotions.  

Related: Embrace children's emotions, not fight them

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