Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Emotional Development : Adult-Child Encounters

All human beings have emotions. It is an integral part of being human. Yet, many of us are rarely trained to either identify our emotions (especially negative emotions) or look at them in a positive light. We even feel guilty when a negative emotion gets the better of us and wonder why we cannot suppress it. Many people train themselves to hide or suppress their emotions. Often, such people are labelled “strong folks” by family and friends. While there is nothing wrong with being emotionally strong, being emotionally strong is not the same as suppressing emotions or denying their existence. Often, denial is considered equivalent to strength. But it gets you wondering on why emotions ought to be denied or suppressed when they are such a natural part of being human- adult or child.

Read the following emotional encounters between adult and child.

Child (afraid and crying): Do I have to get an injection? I am so scared.
Adult: Come on, you are a brave little girl, aren’t you? Brave girls are not afraid of injections. Come on, stop crying.

Child to Friend (angry and shouting): You ate my cake! How dare you? What the hell am I supposed to eat now?
Adult: Stop shouting. Why are you so angry? This is not the way to behave.
Child (protesting): But he ate my cake.
Adult: I know. But that doesn’t mean you shout or get so angry.

Child (upset and crying): I lost my new cap.
Adult: You are so irresponsible. Stop crying and try to remember where you left it. What’s the point in crying once it’s lost?

Child (feeling disappointed and upset): You said you would take me to visit Grandma tonight. But you are back home so late. When will I ever get to see her? 
Adult: For heaven's sake, stop whining. These things happen.
Child (crying and protesting): But I wanted to see Grandma today and you promised you would take me.
Adult (losing her calm): What’s the big deal? We can visit her tomorrow. You know how busy it gets at work sometimes. 

Did you observe that in each of the above examples, the child was in varied emotional frames of mind while talking to the adult? He was angry, upset, afraid and disappointed in different instances. How did the adult react each time? If you noticed closely, each time the adult said something that denied the child’s emotion.

If denying emotions is not the done thing, does it mean we ought to let children feel as they wish to and say nothing about it. Certainly not! We do have a role and we can certainly say something. But our words should not be to deny or suppress their emotions. Rather, it should be to acknowledge their emotions and help them identify the same.  And this is can be a positive first step towards healthy emotional development. Also, it is equally healthy for us to identify and acknowledge our own emotions in front of children This would help children understand their emotions better as well. 

Identifying and being aware of emotions is a healthy approach to emotional development. It is best to work on healthy emotional development from childhood. As the adults in the life of children, we have a huge role to play in their emotional development.


  1. This is a brilliant read, Haripriya. Such valid thoughts and ideas. I agree - we often are in a state of denial about our emotions and specifically the negative ones. We are always supressing how the child feels when we shoulkd be helping them articulate their feelings...
    Children's emotions are so raw and they expres show they feel. Not letting them be takes away from their real selves. And yet, this is not easy for parents to do. I love Gauri Dange's column in Live Mint where she shares ideas for parents to help children cope with negative emotions and such.

  2. Rashmie,

    Welcome to my blog!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. I liked what you said about taking away from our real selves. I believe it is important to be comfortable with our emotions and deal with them in a positive manner. I will check out Live Mint as well.