Parent construct: Social and emotional competence
The ability of children to self-regulate behavior and emotion appears to be critical to many aspects of their development. Self regulation develops over time to allow children to become aware of their emotions and apply cognitive skills to feel and behave in a way that is beneficial to them and to those around them. Children who do not fully develop this ability often exhibit aggression, anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and other negative behaviors and moods.
Very young children experience emotions and react to them long before they can verbalize their experiences or understand their own emotions. Learning to regulate these emotional experiences to support prosocial interactions is a primary developmental goal. Emotional development is a critical prelude to other ways of thinking and must eventually become in sync with cognitive and language abilities, which are much slower to develop. As children mature, they become increasingly aware of their emotions and then eventually become able to recruit the thinking process to exert effortful control over behavior in emotional situations. This process enables them to eventually learn how to accurately and appropriately interpret and act on social situations and interpersonal interactions. This outcome is critical in achieving socially competence and healthy relationships.
Self-regulation develops rapidly in the early years of life and improves more slowly into adulthood. A child’s ability to self-regulate behavior and emotion remains fairly stable after the first year or two of life, but is still very amenable to change; for better or for worse. The “worse” part of the equation means that in the presence of an unsupportive and stressful environment, self regulatory abilities are less likely to develop fully. Fortunately, on the ‘better’ side of the equation, a nurturing environment and interventions designed to foster cognitive-emotional development have potential to enhance self regulation and, in effect, reduce maladjustment.