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.
The child with emotional problems may also lack confidence and suffer from low self esteem.
Children who have difficulty regulating their emotions are at risk for developing a range of child disorders. These include internalizing disorders like anxiety and depression.
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.
Emotions become problems for children when the child has difficulty regulating his or her emotions. This, in turn, interferes with optimum child development in crucial developmental areas, including the social, behavioral and academic.
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.
Dr. O'Connor runs her practice, in Toronto (Yonge & St.Clair.)
She can be reached at 416-592-0838.
You can also contact Dr. O'Connor by email.
Dr. O'Connor is the author of I Can Be Me-A Helping Book for Children of Alcoholic Parents.