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Ever wonder why you cry at the end of ‘Old Yeller’? Or why you get so mad when your favorite football team loses? It’s based on emotions, and those responses you have come from your childhood development. This lesson will cover emotions, how they develop, and how they can be used!

What Are Emotions?

Happy. Sad.

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Anxious. Angry. What do these words mean? Most people would call them feelings, perhaps emotions. But you do you actually know what emotions are? Better yet, do you know how you developed your emotions? Over the course of this lesson, we’ll briefly discuss how your childhood interactions helped you develop your emotional reactions and introduce you to the concept of emotional intelligence.

Emotional Growth

First, let’s start with the basic definition of emotions.

An emotion is a subjective response to an experience. When a situation arises, your brain takes in information about what is happening, known as perception, which triggers the internal part of the brain where your emotions are created, known as the limbic system. While this is a very simplistic and basic description of how it works, the point is to note that emotional responses are based on how the person views the situation, which does not always include thinking clearly or including all the possible facts.Research suggests that all species are born with basic or primary emotions: fear, joy, anger, and surprise.

Within humans, baby humans specifically, a lot of these emotions can be seen through their reflexes or the best form of communication: crying! In fact, it is a lot easier to tell if a baby is upset or angry than if they are happy.But these are just our basic responses; emotions eventually become way more complex and complicated. How does that happen? It goes back to our childhood interactions and how parents influence our emotional development and help to regulate our emotions. As infants and toddlers, we look at our immediate models, our parents or caregivers, to see how to react to various situations. We store those experiences and refer to them as we encounter new experiences.When dealing with emotions, children use social referencing to learn how to react to unfamiliar situations. If a baby watches her mother say, ‘Yuck!’ to a piece of fruit, what do you expect the baby to do when presented with a similar situation? Just like parents can model behaviors for their children, they too can model emotions.

Parents are also crucial in helping children understand their feelings. Parents need to be patient and calm when helping children identify the physical symptoms they are experiencing, such as getting warm when angry, and help them name what they are experiencing to improve their knowledge. Often times children may have temper tantrums because they are unhappy and do not know how to express it.

Emotional Regulation

As children get older and have more social interactions, their knowledge of emotions will increase. With this knowledge also comes the ability to regulate these emotions. Emotional regulation refers to the ability to control an emotional response. During our childhood development, the frontal part of our brain is responsible for processing and thinking about our emotions.

Think of this part as a stoplight. Red light stops the emotional knee jerk reaction. Yellow light makes you consider the emotions, why you’re feeling a certain way, and your possible responses. Green light allows you to select the ideal response and act.For example, Johnny is six and has just had his toy taken away from him by another child. He is very angry and without thinking, goes after the other child, hits him, and grabs his toy back. Now it’s fairly clear that Johnny is too young to stop and think about how he is feeling and what a proper response might be to his anger; that is why he reacted the way he did.

But that is where experience and consistent parenting come into play.Emotional regulation helps emotional growth. As we grow and encounter new experiences, we learn more about ourselves, which increases our self-awareness and self-evaluation. As children socialize with their peers, they start to compare themselves and this can lead to the more complex emotions, such as empathy, envy, and embarrassment. This interaction can also lead to improved emotional regulation.

Do kids want to hang out with a kid who cries every single time they don’t get their way? Not so much. Thus, this kid learns that if they want to belong, they need to learn how to control their emotions.

Emotional Intelligence

The last aspect of emotional growth is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how to control your emotions, your emotional triggers, and your emotional statuses. In other words, what does your happy look like? It also includes the ability to understand and appreciate emotions in other people, which can be huge factor in improving relationships.Imagine this: Your boss just had to put their family dog down due to sickness. You can only imagine the grief and empathize wholeheartedly.

You try to anticipate potential situations that may evoke sadness. As a result, you collaborate with your other colleagues to make the office as stress-free and welcoming as possible. Not only is this an act of kindness, but it also demonstrates your ability to strengthen relationships through understanding emotions.

Lesson Summary

Emotions are subjective responses to situations and differ from person to person, stemming from processes occurring within the brain.

The relationships and learning opportunities we had with our parents helped us understand our emotions and when to express them, while continuing socialization helped us learn to control those emotions. Through emotional intelligence, we can learn how to use emotions in a helpful manner and work better with other people.

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