Table 4.5 Development of emotional competence

In document Allan Carr - Positive Psychology (Page 141-146)

Age Regulation of

emotions Expression of

emotions Managing

or coyness

teasing • Awareness that false Age Regulation of

emotions Expression

of emotions Managing emotional

strategies for

Source: Adapted from Saarni, C. (2000):75–6.

Facial expressions reflecting fear following separation become apparent at 9 months.

Infants also show an increasingly sophisticated capacity to discriminate positive and negative emotions expressed by others over the course of their first year of life. The capacity for turn taking in games such as peek-a-boo develops once children have the appropriate cognitive skills for understanding object constancy. Social referencing also occurs towards the end of the first year where children learn the appropriate emotions to express in a particular situation by attending to the emotional expressions of their caregivers.

The second year

During the second year of life toddlers show increased awareness of their own emotional responses. They show irritability when parents place limits on the expression of their needs for autonomy and exploration. This irritability is often referred to as the ‘terrible twos’. In their second year infants show increased verbal expression of emotional states, and increased expression of emotions involving self-consciousness and self-evaluation such as shame, pride or coyness. This occurs because their cognitive skills allow them to begin to think about themselves from the perspective of others. In relationships they can increasingly anticipate feelings they will have towards others in particular situations.

They show rudimentary empathy and altruistic behaviour.


Pre-schoolers between the ages of 2 and 5 years increasingly use language for regulating emotions. They use both internal speech and conversations with others to modulate their affective experience. During this period children increasingly pretend to express emotions in play when teasing or being teased by other children. There is increased insight into the emotions being experienced by others. During this period there is an increased awareness that we can mislead others about what we are feeling by falsely expressing emotions. More sophisticated empathy and altruistic behaviour also develops during the pre-school years.


Children in kindergarten between the ages of 5 and 7 years increasingly regulate emotions involving self-consciousness such as embarrassment. There is also increased autonomy from caregivers in regulating emotions. Children at this age present a ‘cool’

emotional front to peers. There is also an increased use of social skills to deal with emotions of self and others. During this period children develop an understanding of consensually agreed emotional scripts and their roles in such scripts.

Middle childhood

Children in middle childhood between the ages of 7 and 10 years prefer to autonomously regulate their emotional states rather than involving caregivers in this process, as they would have done earlier in their lives. Distancing strategies are used to manage emotions if children have little control over emotionally demanding situations. There is increased use of emotional expression to regulate closeness and distance within relationships.

Children become aware that they can feel multiple conflicting emotions about the same person, that they can be angry with someone they like. They use information and memories about the emotions of self and others in multiple contexts as aids to making and maintaining friendships.


During pre-adolescence between the ages of 10 and 13 years children show increased efficiency in using multiple strategies for autonomously regulating emotions and managing stress. They make distinctions between genuine emotional expression with close friends and managed emotional displays with others. They develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the place of social roles and emotional scripts in making and maintaining friendships.


During adolescence from 13 to 20 years there is an increased awareness of complex emotional cycles, for example feeling guilty about feeling angry, feeling ashamed or feeling frightened. In adolescence, youngsters increasingly use complex strategies to autonomously regulate emotions. These self-regulation strategies are increasingly

informed by moral principles, beliefs about what is right and good and what is wrong and evil. However, alongside this concern with morality, self-presentation strategies are increasingly used for impression management. Adolescents gradually become aware of the importance of mutual and reciprocal emotional self-disclosure in making and maintaining friendships.


Children who develop secure attachments to their caregivers develop emotional competence. Children develop secure emotional attachments if their parents are attuned to their needs for safety, security and being physically cared for and if their parents are responsive to children’s signals that they require their needs to be met. When this occurs, children learn that their parents are a secure base from which they can explore the world.

John Bowlby (1988), who developed attachment theory, argued that attachment behaviour, which is genetically programmed and essential for survival of the species, is elicited in children between 6 months and 3 years when faced with danger. In such instances children seek proximity with their caregivers. When comforted they return to the activity of exploring the immediate environment around the caregiver. The cycle repeats each time the child perceives a threat and their attachment needs for satisfaction, safety and security are activated. Over multiple repetitions, the child builds an internal working model of attachment relationships based on the way these episodes are managed by the caregiver in response to the child’s needs for proximity, comfort and security.

Internal working models are cognitive relationship maps based on early attachment experiences which serve as a template for the development of later intimate relationships.

Internal working models allow people to make predictions about how the self and significant others will behave within the relationship. Empirical research with mothers and children has shown that child-parent attachments may be classified into four distinct categories (Cassidy and Shaver, 1999). Later work on intimate relationships in adulthood confirms that these four relational styles show continuity over the lifecycle and significant adult relationships may be classified into four equivalent categories. There is also some evidence that these attachment styles characterise patterns of family organisation (Carr, 2000b). A summary of these four attachment styles is given in Figure 4.3.

Securely attached children and marital partners react to their parents or partners as if they were a secure base from which to explore the world. Parents and partners in such relationships are attuned and responsive to the children’s or partner’s needs. Families with secure attachment relationships are adaptable and flexibly connected. While a secure attachment style is associated with autonomy, the other three attachment styles are associated with a sense of insecurity. Anxiously attached children seek contact with their parents following separation but are unable to derive comfort from it. They cling and cry or have tantrums. Marit al partn ers with this attac hment tend to be overly close but dissatisfied. Families characterised by anxious attachment relationships tend to be enmeshed and to have blurred boundaries. Avoidantly attached children avoid contact with their parents after separation. They sulk. Marital partners with this attachment style

tend to be distant and dissatisfied. Families characterised by avoidant relationships tend to be disengaged and to have impermeable boundaries. Children with a disorganised attachment style following separation show aspects of both the anxious and avoidant patterns. Disorganised attachment is a common correlate of child abuse and neglect and early parental absence, loss or bereavement. Disorganised marital and family relationships are characterised by approach-avoidance conflicts, disorientation and alternate clinging and sulking.

Figure 4.3 Characteristics of four

In document Allan Carr - Positive Psychology (Page 141-146)