Unlike in Victorian England, emotions these days are openly discussed and publicly displayed. This trend spans everything from family conversations to media coverage. Nothing is sacred or private any longer and emotionally based language is even used in place of definitive statements. For instance, it is common to declare one’s personal emotional discomfort instead of saying that they do not agree with a situation or a decision. Emotional language is a powerful tool. It is the domain of adults, however, children do not use emotional language to manipulate situations, although they are certainly not above using emotions themselves to manipulate. The adult world is often insensitive to children’s emotions precisely because they lack the emotionally based language with which to express themselves.
Make no mistake, emotions are ageless. Children feel the entire range and gamut of emotions. There have been some really interesting studies in which physiological responses in sleeping infants have been measured neurologically based on emotional stress levels in the environment from adults arguing, even when the sounds of the argument have been blocked. Children often feel guilt, as a result of not knowing the true cause of situations. Children may also feel responsible for situations if they have wished for or imagined them beforehand.
It is possible that children’s emotional states are actually heightened by the fact that they lack the ability to express them verbally. The very act of verbal expression diminishes the sensations. Everyone recognizes a two-year old’s temper tantrum as an outpouring of frustration. Recognizing, anticipating and verbalizing emotions with children is vital in creating emotionally expressive and resilient children. Anticipating and reading children’s emotional states is a worthy goal for everyone serving children in any capacity.