emotion and its expression in young children

“Despite important differences in expressive style, most young children are full of raw emotion and feel acutely. The power of their emotion is heightened as their feelings are not tempered by experience. Most things are happening for the first time; as a consequence children can be desolate in their distress, pent up with fury and overbrimming with joy. They are receptive to all experiences that are offered to them. The effect of this responsiveness for those children who live turbulent lives is that they may live their lives on an emotional roller-coaster. In situations like this children can be ruled by their emotions. This is particularly noticeable with those young children who find it hard to express themselves in spoken language. It is difficult for an adult to be fluent and articulate when she is angry or distressed – how much more so for a three- or four-year-old when emotions overwhelm them.” (p.64)

“Young children’s feelings, positive and negative, will initially be best reflected through their actions. They will dance for the sheer pleasure of twirling their bodies in space; they will make marks, daub colours, stick materials, make patterns, build and construct imaginary scenarios to depict pleasures and turmoils which initially they are unable to talk about. Provision of a broad curriculum allows all children to find appropriate ways to represent what they are feeling. A narrow curriculum which only allows them to use limited materials or which places undue emphasis on [-p.65] representing experiences through only written symbols, is not inclusive.” (pp.64-65)

Children’s emotional understandings are dependent not only on the degree of family support but also on what sex they happen to be. Different messages about emotions are given to boys and girls. In one small study, mothers talked more often to their eighteen-month-old daughters about feelings than they did to their sons at this age. By the time they were two years old these little girls were seen as more likely to be interested in and articulate about feelings than the boys [ref: Dunn, below]. Other studies offer further evidence. When parents make up stories for their small children they use more emotion words for their daughters than their sons; when mothers play with their children they show a wider range of emotions to girls than to boys. Leslie Brody and Judith Hall who summarised these studies suggest that as a result of the experiences they have, and because girls become more competent at an early age with language than do boys, this results in the girls being able to use words to explore feelings. By contrast boys are not helped so well to verbalise and so tend to be confrontational with their feelings and become less tuned in to their own and others’ emotions [ref. Brody below]. These early experiences and consequent emotional differences can very often continue into adulthood and be seen in relationships. …Given the importance that most of us attach to a stable and loving relationship in our lives, perhaps nursery education should aim to redress these differences in the emotional lessons that children learn.” (p.70)

Young children need to have experienced a range of emotions before they begin to understand them.” (p.70)

“As children grow older they begin to understand that the feelings that they show to others may not be the same as their true feelings. This lesson is a necessary one as part of becoming socialised. Nevertheless, where young children are pressurised or coerced into constantly masking their true feelings and substituting socially acceptable responses, this could lead to them misunderstanding the function of emotions in life.” (p.71)

Ref: (emphases in bold blue mine) Marion Dowling (2005) Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development. Paul Chapman Publishing: London.

Reference is made to the studies: Dunn, J., Bretherton, I and Munn, P (1987) Conversations about feeling states between mothers and their young children. Developmental Psychology 23, pp.1-8
Brody, LR and Hall, JA (1993) Gender and emotion, in M Lewis and J Haviland (eds), Handbook of emotions. New York: Guilford Press.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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