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Early Childhood Emotional and Social Development: Conclusion

Angela Oswalt, MSW

As we have reiterated throughout this series of developmental articles, every child develops at his or her own pace. Many factors, both internal and external, can impact a child's level of emotional development. Internally, temperament (the innate or genetic component of an individual's personality) can affect how children respond to the world emotionally. Children who have more easy-going temperaments tend to have a easier time learning to regulate their own emotions as well as to respond to other people's emotions more positively. Children who have difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperaments tend to struggle to regulate their own emotions and will typically react to other people's strong emotions by becoming distressed themselves. More information on the different types of temperament can be found in the Sensorimotor Developmental Article.

Externally, role models and the environment will also influence how children react to the world emotionally. Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory discusses micro, meso, and macro-level influences. During early childhood, the immediate, or micro, level of a child's environment consists of family and direct caregivers such as teachers and babysitters. Children with caregivers who show warmth, compassion, understanding, as well as genuine concern and help toward others will also learn to show empathy and pro-social behavior during later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Children who witness caregivers modeling mostly angry, punitive, and cold emotional responses will struggle more to develop empathy and prosocial behavior.

According to Bronfenbrenner, on a larger level or meso-level, the culture of the local community will also have an effect on children's emotional development. The meso-level includes the characteristics of a child's neighborhood or school system, such as safety, traditions, and culture. For example, if children grow up feeling unsafe or focused primarily on meeting basic survival needs, the fear of violence or sense of insecurity will flavor children's emotional reactions and beliefs. On the contrary, if children live in a safe, supportive community, a young child will have a more positive view and emotional response to that environment.

In terms of a macro-level influence, the child's nation of residence can also affect his or her emotional development. A child growing up in a peacetime country may develop more positive emotional responses and skills than a child growing up in a war-torn country governed by martial law.

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