Emotional Development during Childhood

During childhood, children's emotionality becomes more advanced. Their emotionality is focused less on themselves, and their advanced cognitive skills allow for more sophisticated responses when emotions are experienced.

Vicarious Emotional Responding

As noted earlier, emotions are viewed as important determinants and consequences of interactions with others. Thus, emotions can be caused by observing and recognizing what is happening to others. For example, when five-year-old Rachel became sad when her infant sister cried because she was sick, Rachel's feeling of sadness was the result of the condition of her sister rather than what was happening directly to herself. This type of emotional responding is known as vicarious emotional responding—responses that occur because of exposure to someone else's emotional state.

Janet Strayer and Nancy Eisenberg identified different types of vicarious emotional responses. For example, empathy is an emotional state that matches another person's emotional state—feeling bad because someone else is feeling bad. In contrast, sympathy refers to feeling sorry or concerned for others because of their emotional states or conditions. When Rachel felt sad when her sister cried, she was display ing sympathy. Sympathy frequently, but not always, results from empathy.

Martin Hoffman found that empathy appears fairly early and increases across childhood. Although infants cannot distinguish their own feelings from those of others, they occasionally respond to others' emotions. For example, infants often cry when they hear another infant crying. During early childhood, children tend to act and think in ways that focus on their own needs and desires. They are likely to respond to another's emotional distress in ways that they themselves find comforting. When three-year-old Ben saw his mother crying, he became sad and brought her his favorite stuffed animal to cheer her up. In this situation, Ben projected his own needs onto his mother.

As children develop the capacity to take the perspective of others, they increasingly become aware of other people's feelings. Until later childhood, however, children's empathic and sympathetic responses are limited to the feelings of familiar persons in familiar situations. Preschoolers, for example, are likely to be emotionally responsive to everyday events (such as getting hurt or being made fun of) that cause distress to familiar people or animals. During later childhood, the scope of children's concerns generalizes to conditions of unknown others who are less fortunate than themselves (such as the poor).

Childhood Anger

Anger is a common emotion at any developmental period. The causes of anger, however, change across childhood. For instance, at age five months, Carlos may become angry because he is hungry, with the anger occurring out of Carlos's basic needs not being met. At five years of age, however, Carlos may become angry because his sister took away his toy, with this anger resulting from Carlos's lack of control over the situation. Most of young children's anger occurs as a result of conflicts over materials, resources, and space. With age, anger is more likely to result from how one is treated. Thus, the causes of anger become increasingly social.

How children express anger also changes with age. For instance, when his sister took his toy away when he was age three, Carlos expressed his anger in the form of a tantrum. His mother, however, helped him find better ways to express his feelings, and by age six Carlos is able to tell his sister he is angry and request that she give him back his toy. As a result, the temper tantrums of the ''terrible twos and threes'' diminish as children find better ways to express their anger and make adjustments.

Language and Emotion

Before the age of two or three, children's expression of emotion occurs nonverbally, through facial, vocal, and gestural expressions. Once children develop the ability to use their words to express how they are feeling, they become better able to express, regulate, or explain their own (and others') emotions. The increased understanding that comes from the use of emotion language promotes, maintains, and regulates social interactions.

Emotion language has been found to emerge around twenty months and increases rapidly during the third year. By two years of age, children refer to a range of feeling states in themselves and others. Lois Bloom and her colleagues found that once children acquire the words for naming the emotions they are feeling, they begin to integrate these into their conversations. Because emotions are relevant and important, young children's talk often focuses on their emotional experiences.

Parents' use of emotion language has important consequences for children's emotional development. For example, when Kaneesha's mother saw her crying and asked her why she was sad, her mother had defined Kaneesha's emotional state. Repeated exposure to these labels can lead to differences in how children experience and express emotions. Parents, for instance, are more likely to talk about sadness and less likely to discuss anger with their daughters than their sons. After repeated exposure to these emotional labels, it is not be surprising that boys may be more likely to experience or express anger than girls, whereas girls are more likely to experience or express sadness. This pattern is consistent with common genderemotion stereotypes in many Western countries.

Understanding Emotions

As cognitive development becomes more advanced, young children become increasingly aware of their own and others' emotions. As a result, children begin to develop a more complex understanding of the causes and consequences of emotions, how to control emotions, and the nature of emotional experiences. For example, although infants as young as one year of age can express ambivalence, a child's understanding of mixed emotions does not emerge until later in childhood. The work of Susan Harter and her colleagues has shown that children are first able to understand that people can experience two different, consecutive emotions (e.g., feeling scared and then feeling sad) at age six. Soon thereafter, children are capable of understanding that two related emotions of can co-occur (i.e., being both sad and afraid at the same time). By age ten, they are able to understand that mixed and unrelated emotions can occur simultaneously (e.g., feeling both happy and sad at the same time). This type of enhanced understanding gives children a better grasp of how emotions are tied to their social lives.

Two children leave flowers at London's Kensington Palace following the death of Princess Diana. As children develop the capacity to take the perspective of others, they increasingly become aware of other people's feelings, such as grief and sadness. (David & Peter Turnley/Corbis)
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