Erik Erikson is one of the most notable psychologists who studied emotional development in infants. Erikson believed that emotional development during infancy was extremely important to the emotional development of the individual in later years, influencing even adulthood.
According to Erikson, the most important emotional development that can be seen in infants is the development of the feeling of trust. This trust starts in infancy but it can last for a lifetime. Similarly, the lack of this emotion can also last for a lifetime. Erikson emphasized that the development of emotional trust in the infant starts the very moment the mother lays her hands on her baby.
Erikson also stated that emotions influence the mental operations that are used in information processing, and hence, a child who undergoes a healthy emotional development will be able to process information through more suitable and appropriate operations. Moreover, Erikson also stated that even during infancy, a human being will try to understand the emotions of others through reading facial expressions and gestures. Based on these readings, an emotional reaction is created.
Erikson’s view that infants have strong emotional feelings was shared by psychologists influenced by ethological theories which are considered to be the most important theories on emotional development in children.
According to psychologist Carroll Izard, babies have intense feelings immediately after birth, but the emotional options that they have are only limited to feelings of distress, disgust and interest. Apparently, these are the emotions that a baby needs for survival. Izard also emphasizes the fact that as babies grow, they develop new emotions which develop in a regular and orderly fashion.
Both Erikson and Izard argue saying that emotions develop in the same manner that thought develops. However, the point on which many psychologists have not yet agreed is whether emotions and thought develop together.
Cognitive psychologists believe that emotions develop through thought. Thus, when a child passes from one cognitive stage into another, changes in the cognitive schemes will allow for emotional development. These developments give the child more emotional maturity, as well as new ways of expressing emotions and using them.
On the other hand, nativists believe that emotions and thought are totally independent, at least most of the times. They argue that the emotional development of the child takes a different path from thought and intellect. Thus, there are individuals who go through normal intellectual and cognitive developments, but they may not develop emotionally in the same manner. These individuals may be intellectually superior but emotionally, they are years behind. In the same manner, some children may suffer from cognitive problems but emotionally, they develop like other normal children. From this, they argue that it is more likely that emotions and thought develop independently.
But from a different point of view, nativists may not be very right. This is because research on emotions in children shows that as the child goes from one cognitive state into another, emotional development appears in the same manner. Besides, development into new emotional stages requires higher cognitive abilities and schemes which means that if emotional development is not dependent on cognitive development, at least it is related to it.
Emotional development is not only related to cognitive development, but also to social development. This has been proven from the researches on the relation between the infant and the parent. Infants are helpless, weak and dependent. They are in total need of their caregiver. Erikson and others emphasized the attachment between the mother and the child.
Erikson noted that babies cling to their mothers because they seek warmth and comfort, but they also seek the feeling of security with the parent because they are helpless, weak and dependent.
Attachment gives the child all these feelings and in addition to them, it also fosters social cognitive skills. Psychologists often use the strange-situation procedure to capture the quality of the attachment in the parent-child relationship. Thus, children with different levels of attachment and security with their parents will differ in their reactions to strange-situations.
Children who enjoy close attachment with their mothers will feel more distress in strange situations but eventually, they will enjoy more confidence and trust. On the other hand, children who lack sufficient attachment will be more calm in strange-situations and will start exploring without being distressed, but at the same time, they do not enjoy the trust and stability enjoyed by secure children.
Psychologists believe that emotional development in children is the product of the relation between the child and the mother or caregiver. Hence, a strange-situation will reflect the quality of maternal caregiving that children receive during their first twelve months of life.
Emotional development in the first six months is not similar to the second six months. In the first six months the infant is still astonished by the world around him. Infants in this stage of age are afraid of new objects, but at the same time, they are attracted to them. The same child might reflect both feelings and might behave differently towards new and strange objects, situations and people depending on the situation.
In the second six months of life, the child starts to develop stranger anxiety which is tested through strange-situation techniques by psychologists. It is believed that stranger anxiety is not important in the first six months because children cannot move around. However, by six months, infants start to crawl and get away from their parents, and therefore, they need to feel anxious about strangers. Many psychologists influenced by Darwinism believe that this development of stranger anxiety is necessary for survival.
Many things can affect emotional development in children. As mentioned above, attachment with mother is very important for this development, not only in early years but also later. Children who are deprived from attachment suffer a lot in their emotional development.
Social factors can also influence the child’s emotional development. Psychologists have compared the emotional development of children under normal conditions at home with the emotional development of children who are reared in institutions. It was found out that institutionalized children suffer in their emotional development because their social development was impaired.
These children inside institutions were not treated kindly or well most of the time. They were not viewed highly by their caregivers and they did not view themselves well either. All these resulted in feelings of inferiority, bitterness, fear, anger, and many other negative feelings all which reflected on the emotional development of the child.
These researches that compare between home-reared children and institutionalized children show that the emotional development of the child depends on the presence of parents who can offer close care and attention. It also proves that children need continuous close attention by the parent or by a caregiver or else, on the long run, they may suffer from retardation in their emotional development.
Emotions such as anger, happiness, and other more complicated feelings start developing in the early months of life, but they remain limited in their appearance because the child’s ability to express and communicate remain weak and limited.
The development of language plays a very important role in affecting emotional development. Language facilitates expression of emotions and thought at the same time. Since there is a relationship in the development of thought and emotion, the development in language expression provides the child with the opportunity to express both his feelings and thoughts together.
Children can also learn how to control their emotions through cognitive development. It is noticed that children who are brought up under conditions where they are not given enough attention tend to have emotional outbursts of anger, cry or anger. On the other hand, children who are cared and attended can control their emotions better and they are even capable of showing more care and tenderness to others in critical situations.
Emotional development of the child is not only about the ability of the child to express emotions, but also about the child’s ability to understand the emotional situations and expressions of others. This is a gift enjoyed by humans, and children among all human beings have the ability to understand the emotions of others and to respond to them sincerely.
Towards adolescence, emotional development of the child becomes more mature. The adolescent is capable of starting intimate emotional relations with friends and lovers. These developments start to take place during the midyears of adolescence, that is at about the age of fourteen and fifteen. The adolescent does not only learn to develop these relations but also to nurture them for long time.
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Juvonen, Jaana & Wentzel, Kathryn. (1996). Social Motivation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
“Social and emotional development.” www.enfagrow.com/social003.html