Presently, emotional training programs as a part of young children’s education have become highly popular. Many scholars, such as constructionists, reject the view that emotions are inborn abilities, claiming that they are constructed through a child’s interaction with other people. Constructionists argue that by learning emotional words, analyzing facial movements, and vocalizations, infants are studying emotions, making future interactions in society, including education, more accessible for them. At the same time, public health also supports the constructionist approach because they both emphasize the necessity of emotional learning to help students make achievements in the educational field and in future life.
Another approach relates to regulating parental emotions, which complements public health intervention because it emphasizes the families (not schools) as another significant aspect of children’s emotional development. This research paper will analyze secondary sources related to the emotional development of youngsters in education to evaluate the goals and consequences of social and emotional learning programs from different approaches.
Approaches to Emotional Development in Early Childhood in Education
Constructionist Approaches to Emotions
According to constructionist approaches, such as the theory of constructed emotion and radical constructivism, emotions are abstract concepts developed in early childhood by learning and repeating mimics and related words. Within such approaches, one can claim that emotions are not inborn abilities but abstract concepts constructed during interactions with other people, for instance, parents, teachers, and peers (Hoemann, Devlin, and Barrett, 2020). The idea of constructed emotions means that a child can experience sadness, happiness, anger, and others only through giving meaning to sensory inputs.
To begin with, constructivists build their hypothesis based on the rejection of facial mimics as the focal point in the emotional development of infants. According to the research made by Hoemann, Xu, and Barrett (2019), infants at the age of three to four months “do not distinguish positive from negative in faces that are presented without additional information, such as accompanying vocalizations and do not clearly distinguish different modalities of information until four to six months of age” (p. 1833). Therefore, if a child cannot distinguish such opposite emotions based only on their parents’ facial mimics, one cannot claim that emotional perception is an inborn ability. This fact supports constructivists’ hypothesis about emotions as a learned ability created during interaction in society.
Moreover, young children aged two to three can distinguish different emotions based on facial movements provided with related words. In the research provided in the article written by Hoemann, Xu, and Barrett (2019), children were asked to define such emotional categories as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise by observing facial mimics and words (p. 1833). Then scholars concluded that “infants begin to learn emotion concepts much earlier than they can explicitly label facial configurations with emotion words” because the experiment results demonstrated that infants could learn abstract categories with the help of words (Hoemann, Xu, and Barrett, 2019, p. 1834). Therefore, society’s meaning significantly affects early emotional development in early childhood, which supports the constructionist approach.
The constructionist approach helps explain the effect that different programs aiming to increase children’s emotional intelligence have on their results at school. Scholars argue that emotional intelligence training courses improve a child’s well-being (Hoemann, Xu, and Barrett, 2019). Moreover, “social as well as emotional learning initiatives have shown that children are better equipped for school when they have more elaborated emotional vocabularies” (Hoemann, Xu and Barrett, 2019, p. 1840). These findings demonstrate the implications emotional development has on the education sphere: the more emotions a child can distinguish and experience, the more information he can catch during interactions in society.
Public Health Approach to Emotional Learning
Public health aims at increasing the general population’s well-being, which includes not only preventing and treating physical and mental disorders but also improving the quality of life.
According to Greenberg et al. (2017), health care interventions often “work directly with individuals to alter their behaviors and the contexts they live in, and, at the same time, strive to change norms and policies more broadly” (p. 14). That is why emphasis is made on the positive impact of social and emotional learning (SEL), which includes thinking, emotion, and behavior to cope successfully with everyday social challenges, on education (Greenberg et al., 2017).
Therefore, the public health approach to education supports constructionists’ views on emotions because they both assume that emotions can be learned and impact children’s performance in the educational arena. However, the main difference between these approaches lies in their aims: constructionists want to study emotional development and explain how SELs work, while public health representatives try to apply these ideas to improve people’s well-being.
According to the public health approach to emotional learning, SEL programs can improve five students’ competence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Firstly, scholars argue that SEL programs organized at schools will improve self-awareness, as it includes a complete understanding of one’s own emotions, goals, and values (Greenberg et al., 2017, p. 15). This is driven by the fact that studying emotions through experiencing related situations can help a person to a deeper perception of himself and his feelings.
Secondly, SELs can increase students’ self-management skills, as it requires regulation of emotions and behaviors, such as managing stress and controlling impulses. Thirdly, such competence as a social awareness involves acting according to the perspective of people with different backgrounds and cultures (Greenberg et al., 2017, p. 15). Social awareness is a significant competence that students and employees should have because it helps them to understand different communities, which contributes a lot to the relationships between people and the results of their joint work.
Fourthly, emotional learning can improve students’ relationship skills, which are required to establish connections with other people following social norms (Greenberg et al., 2017, p. 15). Thus, such competence is essential in an educational field with many team projects, cooperative work, and abilities to listen to other people’s suggestions. Finally, responsible decision-making skills require constructive acting in accordance with ethical standards and norms for risky behavior (Greenberg et al., 2017, p. 15). School-based SEL programs can teach students to make choices even in stressful situations because they will learn to manage their emotions and understand their behavior.
There is a view discussed-above intervention from the care plan of public health approach to education is inexpensive compared to other options. Moreover, according to scholars, school-based SEL programs will affect children, which will have positive long-term consequences. For instance, students with good background knowledge in emotional intelligence, which improved all their five competencies, will have better chances to graduate, enter colleges, and preserve mental health (Mahoney, Durlak, and Weissberg, 2018). Moreover, this will lower the crime rates and increase the number of engaged citizens (Greenberg et al., 2017, p. 17). From the perspective of the public health approach, the emotional development of children in education is a means to improve the whole population’s lives.
Parental Emotions Regulations as Approach to Child Development
As the first community of young children is their family, parents contribute a lot to the emotional development of infants because it is they who teach a child emotional words and give models of behavior. Parental emotions are not deeply considered in the public health approach to education, emphasizing more school-based SEL programs. Therefore, an approach of regulation of parents’ emotional socialization behaviors (ESBs) to children’s development needs to be introduced.
According to Hajal and Paley (2020), “children’s first exposure to the diversity of emotional experiences comes from their caregivers; for example, children of anxious parents show increased fearfulness and avoidance, whereas children of depressed parents show increased negative affectivity and decreased positive affectivity” (p. 404). In other words, the emotions that youngsters are observing in their parents may contribute to their emotional development and socialization.
Caregivers may directly influence children’s emotional development: by expressing their own emotions and reacting to youngsters’ ones. Thus, parents need to have developed previously discussed competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, even while interacting with their child. Therefore, the caregiver’s emotional regulation approach suggests several interventions, aiming at “parents’ ability to engage in healthy emotion socialization strategies” (Hajal and Paley, 2020, p. 407). For instance, Turning in to Kids (TIK) focuses on enhancing emotional socialization in caregivers of young children.
Such a program teaches parents of preschool-aged children “emotion coaching skills, including increasing their awareness of their child’s emotions” and their own (Hajal and Paley, 2020, p. 408). Thus, TIK helps to avoid harmful consequences of expressing emotions and reacting to a child’s ones by teaching parents emotional intelligence and increasing it in youngsters. Moreover, according to England-Mason and Gonzalez (2020), the TIK program became a basement to another training called “Turning in to Toddlers (TOTS),” in which the content was edited to address the emotional development of toddlers (p. 100). This program increased mothers’ emotional coaching skills and decreased toddlers’ behavioral problems.
In the paper, three approaches to infants’ emotional development and educational programs on emotions were discussed. Constructionist and public health approaches can be called complementary because they emphasize emotions as abstract concepts, claiming that school-based social and emotional training programs will help students improve their competencies. As for the intervention on regulating parental emotions, two programs were discussed: Turning in to Kids (TIK) and Turning in to Toddlers (TOTS), both working effectively on improving parental emotion coaching skills and decreasing pre-shooling aged children’s behavioral problems.
Overall, it can be stated that emotional training helps young children to learn to work in teams, understand their own goals and values, and reduce the number of conflicts. All the consequences are highly important in the educational field as well as in future life. Therefore, school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs and coaching training for parental emotional regulation need to be organized in order to make children’s and the whole population’s lives better.
England-Mason, G. and Gonzalez, A. (2020) Intervening to shape children’s emotion regulation: a review of emotion socialization parenting programs for young children. Emotion, 20(1), pp. 98-104.
Greenberg, M. et al. (2017) Social and emotional learning as a public health approach to education. The Future of Children, 27(1), pp. 13-32.
Hajal, N. J., and Paley, B. (2020) Parental emotion and emotion regulation: a critical target of study for research and intervention to promote child emotion socialization. Developmental Psychology, 56(3), pp. 403-417.
Hoemann, K., Devlin, M., and Barrett, L. F. (2020) Comment: emotions are abstract, conceptual categories that are learned by a predicting brain. Emotion Review, 12(4), pp. 253-255.
Hoemann, K., Xu, F., and Barrett, L. F. (2019) Emotion words, emotion concepts, and emotional development in children: a constructionist hypothesis. Developmental Psychology, 55(9), pp. 1830-1849.
Mahoney, J. L., Durlak, J. A. and Weissberg, R. P. (2018). An update on social and emotional learning outcome research. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(4), pp. 18-23.