The Child with Emotional Problems
Are you worried about a child with emotional problems?
A range of behaviors and emotional responses signify emotional concerns in children. These include externalizing behaviors, like frequent temper tantrums and aggressive, acting out behaviors.
Emotional problems in children may also include internalizing behaviors, such as extreme shyness, passivity and withdrawal.
It is helpful to remember that we all experience a range of emotions and feelings. Children, as well as adults, experience both positive and negative emotions. Anger, for example, is not wrong or bad but a normal human emotion.
It is how we handle our emotions that leads to problems, not the emotions themselves.
In addition, emotions play a crucial role in motivating and organizing behavior throughout the life span. Infants exhibit emotions from birth, including contentment, interest (staring at objects) and distress. As babies develop and grow their emotions become more varied and distinct. These include emotions such as joy, anger and fear, as well as secondary emotions like embarrassment, empathy, pride, shame and guilt.
Although emotions like anger and fear are biologically programmed, the socio-cultural environment and the child's relationships also shape emotional development.
Children who handle emotions well do better at home and at school. Good emotional intelligence involves being in tune with and understanding your emotions, managing your emotions (e.g. impulse control) and recognizing emotions in others.
In addition, research indicates that a good understanding of emotions, and the ability to express them appropriately, contributes to popularity in children (Harris, 2000).
“Emotional control, particularly controlling anger and aggressiveness, are the most common emotional problems faced by today’s children.”(Shapiro, 1997).
The child with emotional problems may experience difficulty regulating his emotions. Unless this concern is addressed the risk increases that the child will develop child behavior problems or child disorders.
Emotional Regulation includes the ability to initiate, maintain and alter emotional responses. The child with emotional problems has difficulty with emotional regulation, or managing and expressing emotions in an appropriate manner. For example, the child with emotional problems is often overwhelmed by his or her emotions and has difficulty expressing or dealing with them. This can lead to difficult child behavior.
In addition, children who have difficulty controlling their emotions may show greater expression of anger and aggression (Dahl, 1999).
Other children may withdraw and shut down or block the expression of their emotions. They may lack affect and appear passive and sad. The child with emotional problems, who internalizes his or her distress, may seem anxious, fearful, withdrawn and timid or depressed.
View our case study and learn more about a child who
her distress and who also exhibits symptoms of
Or a child with emotional problems may exhibit externalizing disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. When the child with emotional problems externalizes distress he or she may act out in an
angry, aggressive manner.
Are you worried about a child with emotional problems? Does the child seem anxious and upset or sad and withdrawn? Or does the child act out in an angry and aggressive manner?
The following suggestions can help you help the child with emotional problems. Use these suggestions to help the child learn how to regulate and manage his emotions.
Remember-emotions are not bad, they just are. Children need help to understand and cope with their feelings, and to understand that their emotions are normal.
Review the suggestions below: try those that apply to your situation.
Are worried about a child with emotional problems? A psychological assessment can help you to help the
child with emotional problems.
1. Dhal, R.E.(1999). The consequences of insufficient sleep for adolescents: Links between sleep and emotional regulation. Phi Delta Kappan, 80, 354-359.
2. Harris, P.L.(2000). Understanding emotion. In M.Lewis and J.M.Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed.)New York: Guilford.
3. O’Connor, D.S. (1996). I Can Be Me: A Helping Book for Children from Troubled Families. Charlotte, NC: KIDSRIGHTS.(Click on the Alcoholic Parents button in the top left corner to learn more about this book and how it can help)
4. Shapiro, L.E. (1997). How to raise a child with a high EQ. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Copyright 2002 (c) Dianne S. O'Connor, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. O'Connor runs her practice, Assessment Based Solutions, in Toronto (Yonge & St.Clair.
She can be reached at 416-592-0838.
You can also contact Dr. O'Connor by