Emotional Intelligence and Self-Acceptance for Successful Emotional Development in Childhood

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Emotional Development

Emotional development is a process that a child develops from dependence to a fully functioning adult and applies to most life forms. The study of emotional development has made great strides since the 1970s. Prior to this period, emotions in infancy were viewed as diffuse responses of physiological arousal to changes in stimulation. Emotions were not necessarily linked to specific psychological states in the infant, but rather viewed for the effects they had on caregiver behavior. Theories regarding the development of emotions were linked to traditional psychoanalytical approaches. For example, infant wary responses to unfamiliar adults around 9 months of age were called “stranger anxiety”, and these “anxious” responses were viewed as a function of potential object loss (e.g., loss of a love object such as the mother) (Hopkin 2005).

Alternative models of the development of emotion behavior approached the subject from an operand learning perspective suggesting that crying and smiling responses were a function of conditioning and reinforcement. There were exceptions to these two views, of course. Bronson (1972) wrote on the origins of fear in the young infant, carefully describing the stimulus conditions that could elicit fear, the behaviors that reflected this emotion, and its developmental course. During the first three years, there is rapid development of complex emotional states. These states may involve the expression of discrete facial expressions, or they may involve more prolonged mood states (e.g.empathy or sympathy). Development of emotional life in the first years appears to involve three motivating forces.

Firstly, discrete emotions emerge along basic motivational continua of approach and withdrawal to novelty and uncertainty. Disgust, fear, interest, and joy all appear early in life, and are the result of the infant’s fundamental hedonic responses to stimulus intensity and novelty. Fear or wariness is a response to novelty of perceived threat. That is, with development, infants may appraise certain situations as threatening and hence respond with wariness or fear.

Secondly, emotions emerge as a function of social interaction. Social smiling and anger are two discreet and distinct emotions surfacing early in the first year of life that are a result of social interaction. Sadness, as well, is a result of the loss of positive social interaction.

The third force is the emerging ability to monitor behavior and particularly to self-monitor responses. The development of self-control is paralleled by an increasing appreciation of the self. Self-conscious emotions that involve threats to the self emerge with that increasing self-appreciation. Emotional development involves not only the emergence of specific emotions, but also the development of abilities to understand and appropriately communicate emotions. By the end of the first two years, infants display a rich array of emotions that guide their own behavior, as well as that of those in their social sphere (Hopkin, 2005).

As this social context expands, the toddler participates fully in emotional communication, and through these interactions obtains a rudimentary understanding of emotion labels and the situations that generate these emotions. During the preschool years, their knowledge of the causes and consequences of emotion expand along with their understanding of the rules that govern their expression. Each of these interrelated emotion abilities is a component of emotional competence, a developmental goal that is vital in understanding one’s own experiences and negotiating successful interactions with others. The study of the development of emotion will benefit from future research in three areas of work.

Firstly, developmental psychologists recognize the need for specificity in describing both the stimulus and the context in which the stimulus is presented when eliciting emotion responses. Secondly, multiple levels of measurement will enhance the study of emotion. In particular, use of physiological responses provides a means for examining reactions to stimulus events in the absence of self or verbal report. Physiological changes coupled with overt behavioral signs of emotion are solid indicators, which together may be used to study emotional development in pre-verbal infants and young children. Thirdly, research in affective neuroscience with adults will lead the way in identifying brain areas underlying different emotions and mood states. Such data may serve as clues for examining the underlying developing brain structures responsible for normative emotional behavior (Hopkin, 2005).

Developmental work will provide important information on the effects of early experience on the development of these brain regions and the emotional behaviors they support. Finally, a hallmark in the development of emotions is the emergence of control or regulation of emotions over the course of childhood. The study of emotional regulation will benefit from all of the areas mentioned above: greater specificity of definition and context, use of multiple measures including psycho physiological assessment, and evidence from adult research on emotion control and the underlying brain structures supporting such control. Together, they will provide the means for the scientific study of emotion and the development of its regulation.

The Four Stages of Emotional Development

  1. Co-dependence (0-2 years old): When children are first born they are defenseless and totally dependent on their parents for survival as their mind is almost empty with only enough capacity to just survive, with assistance.
  2. Counter-dependence (2-4 years old): This stage is known in the Western World as the “terrible twos”. This is the stage of development where the child wants and needs to assert its ability to interact with its environment.
  3. Independence (4-7 years old): By the time a child completes this stage they can fully function on their own. They do not need anyone else and in fact they prefer and defend this position. “Go away”, “let me do it”, “I do not need help” are common themes of children at this stage.
  4. Inter-dependence (7+ years old): The final stage a child needs to master happens effectively after the three previous development stages and now they can be independent but choose when they want to interact and socialize with others for work, personal or entertainment reasons.

Types of Emotions

The eight basic emotions are:

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  • Fear - feeling of being afraid, frightened, scared.
  • Anger - feeling angry or rage
  • Sadness - feeling sad. ( sorrow and grief)
  • Joy -feeling happy or gladness
  • Disgust - feeling something is wrong or nasty.
  • Surprise - being unprepared for something.
  • Trust - a positive emotion; admiration is stronger; acceptance is weaker.
  • Anticipation - looking forward positively to something which is going to happen.

Social and emotional intelligence can be defined by the following criteria:

  • Accurate conscious perception and monitoring of one’s emotions.
  • Modification of emotions so that their expression is appropriate. This involves the capacity to self-soothe personal anxiety and to shake off hopelessness and gloom.
  • Accurate recognition of and response to emotions in others.
  • Skill in negotiating close relationships with others.
  • Capacity for focusing emotions (motivation) toward a desired goal. This involves delayed gratification and adaptive displacing and channeling impulse.

Children have some of their first experiences with internal affective states, including anger, fear, anxiety, and happiness, in the context of their relationships with their parents. Moreover, the quality and intensity of children’s emotional experiences are affected by the quality of their relationships with their parents. Parents may be highly influential in children’s regulation of their affect (Kopp, 1982; 1989). Chronic experience with enduring and intense negative emotions can be excessively challenging to the capacities of young children to regulate their emotions, and children with less than secure relationships with parents may have more frequent and difficult experiences with fluctuating and unpredictable affective states. Emotionality is also a significant dimension of parent-child interactions and relationships.

Children care givers are the children first teachers as far as emotional intelligence is concerned. They are in the best position to help the little ones develop these essential skills. A well developed emotional intelligence can be the deciding factor for success in adulthood. There’s a strong connection between emotional intelligence and the ability to form and maintain relationships, so besides teaching them to read, write and count, developing and enhancing their emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable gifts you can give them. Some children are born with a high emotional intelligence, while others are not in tune with their emotions. These qualities can be taught and they include the following; self-awareness, empathy, trust, mindfulness, curiosity, acceptance, and listening and they all start at home. How a parent models these qualities has a direct impact on a child’s emotional intelligence development.


Self-awareness is the first and most important skill to master as it incorporates and supports all other emotional intelligence skills. For toddlers, learning through constructive play is effective. Self-acceptance and self-love are taught by doing activities that draw awareness to the child’s body parts and height. Emphasis needs to be on noticing body parts and their amazing uses. Activities that encourage children to express how they feel about a variety of scenarios are also helpful in teaching self-awareness skills. When chatting to your little one about how she feels, create a fun environment and ask open-ended questions. Find out what makes her happy, angry or sad.

Role play is also a great idea − use puppets, dolls or stuffed toys to play out scenes and feelings. Toddlers who learn to recognize, understand and manage their emotions are able to enjoy happier, more constructive friendships as well as concentrate and learn more effectively. An improvement in self-awareness within a loving and age-appropriate environment should lead to improved self-esteem. The more comfortable a child is with himself/herself, the more comfortable he/ she will be integrating and connecting socially with other children.


The benefits of emotional intelligence include the ability to empathize with the feelings of others, understanding how to respond and having the emotional skills to deal with life’s challenges. Toddlers generally believe that the world revolves around them, so learning to empathize will help them see beyond their self centered bubble.


When children feels secure, it will be easier for them to trust their environment. This sense of security, or lack thereof, is based on the relationship they have with parents and caregivers. When you create a safe space for a child to express himself/herself, he/she will feel more confident and trust will grow. Trust is learned from birth and starts with the baby’s needs being me.


Acceptance begins with you accepting all your child’s emotions, and reflecting them. it’s normal for a child to feel angry or frustrated, but this does not mean they can behave how they please. This is where they learn to understand, but also control, their emotions and body. A conscious approach to parenting, allows space for the realm of emotions that can be experienced by your child. When a child tries something new, he /she will look to the parent for support. As a parent, it’s normal to want to jump in when your child is experiencing discomfort, but this won’t help him learn independence. It’s OK to take a step back and let him figure it out on his own. Allowing him to experience discomfort will teach him to work through his emotions, and if you focus on his effort rather than the outcome, he will feel accepted.


Children are naturally curious, so pay attention to your little one’s interests and get involved. Children are likely to do what their parents do, so leading by example is the best way to encourage a sense of adventure in your kid. When you explain new things and point out interesting situations, you teach your child about his world and stimulate an interest in learning and understanding new things, which will stay with him later on.


Training our minds to be still and in the moment allows us to be present. Children aren’t generally worried about the past or future, so this is easy for them to do. Teach your little one to be more mindful by bringing your attention back to your immediate surroundings whenever your thoughts drift. This will teach her to adopt a mindful approach to life.


The best way to teach your child this skill is by applying it yourself. When your child has something to say, give her your undivided attention. Listening to your little one is also a gift to you, as you gain more insight into who your child is and this lets her know that she matters. Listening to what your child is saying and making eye contact, without interrupting, will also make him/her learn to listen and wait patiently while others are talking. If she interrupts, gently remind her to listen when others are talking.


  1. Brian H.,Ronald G.,George F. & Philippe R. (2005): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of child Development.Cambridge University Press
  2. James S., Menas S.,Virginia S. & Pedro R. ( 2015): Kaplan & Sadock's;Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry (11th ed.).New York
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Emotional Intelligence and Self-Acceptance for Successful Emotional Development in Childhood. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/emotional-intelligence-and-self-acceptance-for-successful-emotional-development-in-childhood/
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