This month’s blog post is written by Boston Children’s Museum’s Health and Wellness intern, Viktoriya Dribinskaya. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life. Viktoriya is helping provide various health programs in the Museum, and she is especially passionate about promoting children’s healthy emotional development.
Children develop at a fast rate – they are enhancing their social, physical and emotional development every day. This development is a continuum for every child; every child learns a new skill at their own pace and the flow of development occurs differently in every child. From the time a child is born, she expresses her emotions by crying when she is not getting her way to indicate to adults that there is an issue that needs attention. As she develops, she begins to show a social smile, evoked by contact with another person. She then begins to express laughter as an emotion. From there, she moves on to expressing anger, fear of strangers and fear of separation from her caregiver. Moving forward she begins to show self-awareness, pride, shame and embarrassment. All within a short period of time, children learn how to express their emotions to the people around them.
As a way to acknowledge this development in children, Boston Children’s Museum will be celebrating the Week of the Young Child from Sunday April 12 to Friday April 17. This event is a great way for the community to come together and discover opportunities to foster the growth and development of young children and their families.
During the time that children are learning about how to express their emotions, they are also learning about emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to control when and how emotions are expressed. This is an important skill children learn during their early years of life that they can bring along with them throughout their lifetime. This skill of regulating emotions helps children with academic success and helps them be more aware of how emotions affect their day to day actions. As adults we can support children as they learn ways to express their emotions instead of feeling overwhelmed by them.
Children also learn about empathy during their early years. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of another person even when the other person’s emotions are different from your own. Learning empathy at an early stage assists children in interacting with their peers and building social relationships. With empathy, a child can learn to take responsibility for his actions and learn to navigate in a world of differences.
How can caregivers support emotional development?
There are many different ways that adults can support emotional development in children. One good way is to validate your child’s emotions. Saying things like “You seem like you might be angry with something. Can you tell me why you are angry?” This gives the child reassurance that it is alright to express his emotions and that the adults in his life will understand. It also gives the child the confidence that his emotions will be heard and as a result his emotions become less urgent. The child will be less insistent on his concerns and over time begin to learn to problem solve on his own.
How can children learn about expressing their emotions from the adults in their life?
Modeling appropriate responses to emotions is also a good way to support your child during emotional development. This helps adults be more aware of their own emotions and at the same time show their child how to respond to a variety of emotions. An example of this is when you are driving in the car and someone cuts you off in traffic; instead of yelling, honking your horn, or attempting to cut them off yourself, show your child that even though you might be angry at this person in the car in front of you, you are able to regulate your emotions. You can even tell your child, “I felt very angry at the person who cut me off but instead of honking I decided to let them pass in front of me.”
This does not mean that adults are always going to be perfect around their children. Modeling ways of expressing emotions can take on a different form. If adults catch themselves expressing their emotions in a less appropriate way, admitting to the child that they made a mistake can be beneficial as well. With the example provided, if the parent did start yelling and screaming at the car that cut them off, admitting that this was not the most appropriate way to respond to this situation can show the child that it is alright to make mistakes, but there is an expectation for appropriate behaviors. Validating and modeling will give your child the confidence to express her emotions throughout her lifetime.
Join us for Tasty Tuesday at Boston Children’s Museum every first and third Tuesday of the month to share your expertise on emotional development while enjoying some delicious snacks!