Looking at why children’s emotional development is fundamental to the rest of their development
There is a lot of emphasis within early years’ provisions for academic attainment, and for activities that help children to learn and develop from an early age, all helping to build and shape future academic success. However, emotional development is just as important, and can sometimes be overlooked.
A child’s emotional state will build the person they grow into and strongly influence their behaviour on a daily basis. Children learn through observations, and the people they spend the most amount of time with will have the biggest impacts on their development. Apart from families, children in early years’ provisions spend a lot of time with their key person and various other practitioners, and these key adults should ensure they model appropriate behaviour for the children to learn from. Children modelling this learnt behaviour should be praised, and will learn from recognition that these desired behaviours will lead to praise, thus demonstrating them more and more.
Just like us, children will feel a variety of emotions for different reasons. Sometimes, children may not understand the emotion they are feeling or how to deal with it. This is where practitioners can come in to help. Practitioners can help to teach children how to identify the emotions they are feeling, why they are feeling this particular way and how to express and cope with these emotions. Practitioners can use tools such as books, toys or puppets to help children learn about emotions and help them to identify them.
Helping children to talk about their feelings
Children should be encouraged to talk about their feelings, but first, they need to be able to recognise different emotions. Feelings boards can be a good way for children to identify how they are feeling on a particular day, for example, choosing from a selection of faces; angry, sad, happy, scared or confused. Practitioners can then explain that the child can come to them to talk about this feeling if they wish to do so. Another way is through circle time, where there is a safe place to discuss feelings amongst trusted adults and friends. This can lead onto discussions where the children explain why they are feeling this way, and practitioners and other children can help to suggest ways to deal with these feelings. This is a great starting place for children to learn empathy.
Why empathy is important
Empathy is an essential part of emotional development, and encouraging empathy within children will help them to not only build relationships with others, but also to understand and manage their own feelings and emotions. Practitioners can tell stories of characters feeling different emotions, and encourage the children to identify the emotion and suggest reasons as to why they might be feeling this way. Practitioners can then relate this back to the children, “how would you feel if this happened to you?”. This all helps children develop a sense of empathy, and a situation they can reflect back upon when they feel this emotion for themselves.
There is a strong link between emotional development and social development, emotional development will impact upon a child’s social relationships and vice versa. Other people, apart from family who children build a relationship with, will play a part within the child’s emotional development. Children who have a strong sense of empathy are aware of others feelings, and can relate to them in a deeper way, forging relationships.
But why is emotional development so important? It’s already clear that emotional development can help to shape the person a child will grow into, but it will also affect how the child feels about themselves. Self-esteem and self-identity is key for emotional development. A child should be in a caring and nurturing environment where they can build up a sense of self-esteem and a positive emotional well-being. This environment will support the child’s emotional development, helping them to have a strong sense of self-worth and build up trusting relationships, all essential for later life.