Hence, the red face and squalling. Granted, non–stop crying seems like nature’s guarantee that you can’t sleep soundly. But, it serves a valuable function, reminding you to change, feed, or comfort your baby. Crying eventually gives way to whining. As a child grows, his range of emotions and the way he expresses those emotions matures as well. In fact, a child’s emotional development is much like the physical and mental, an increasingly complex progression of skills that build on each other.
There are six landmarks in a young child’s emotional maturation. The first three, all occurring before the first birthday, addresses a baby’s experience of, and reaction to the world. The first is how a child organizes and seeks out new sensations. The second occurs when the child takes a keen interest in the world. Using this newfound interest, the third step happens when the child begins to engage in an emotional dialogue with his parents. He smiles in response to his parents and discovers, in turn, that his smiles or cries of protest cause his parents to react.
After about a year, this interaction goes a step further, signifying the fourth milestone. The toddler learns that small bits of feelings and behavior are related to a larger, more complicated pattern. For instance, he now knows that his hunger pangs can be abated by leading mom to the refrigerator and pointing to a piece of cheese in it. He also begins to understand that both things and people have functions in his world.
Finally, as he passes the sixth milestone, a child develops the capacity for “Emotional thinking”. This is the rich and full result of being able to combine ideas and feelings logically. By the time a child is four years old, he can arrange these emotional ideas into various patterns, and knows the differences between emotions (what feels like love versus what feels like anger).
He understands that his impulses have consequences. If he says he hates you, he will connect the sad look on your face with his outburst. Much as he built a house with blocks, he can now build a collection of emotional ideas. This gives him the ability to plan and anticipate, and to create an internal mental life for himself. Most importantly, he has learnt which feelings are his, and which are someone else’s, and the impact and consequences of his feelings.
What began as a basic interest in the environment grows into a desire not only to interact with the world, but to re–create and re–experience it in his mind. It’s a sophisticated process that happens invisibly but inevitably as your child grows.