Science of emotions

How to understand the science behind your child’s emotions

The science of Emotions

From The Secure Child set of talks and materials

Think back to the last time you had to wait weeks for a test result.  Or were eagerly awaiting a holiday… but needed to board a plain when you are petrified of flying.  Sometimes our emotions get the better of all of us. But image how useful it would be to understand the science behind your child’s emotions.

Whenever we experience an emotional event, thought chemicals are released into the body. This is informing us of our response to it.  

As we experience the world, or even think about it, neurons in our brain release chemicals to trigger a reaction. These are felt throughout the body as emotions. Anything from a slight flutter felt in the tummy, to a debilitating physical reaction. 

Happy and empowering thoughts produce chemicals to make us feel happy and empowered. Whilst negative, sad or angry thoughts produce chemicals that make us feel sad, angry or depressed. When in a healthy balance, these processes inform our responses and empower our reactions.

However, when they are unmatched to our need for them, this trouble soon comes

Take fear for example – a familiar feeling of a racing heart and rapid breathing as the body floods with oxygen. This response is preparing for fight or flight from the danger it perceives, readying it for action.  While this may be healthy when that perception of fear is accurate, heightened levels of anxiety can be damaging. Especially when it is felt long before their body needs an active response. 

If your child consistently experiences the world with strong emotions, pre-dispositions to those emotions can develop. 

Emotions connected with certain times of the day can also establish harmful patterns of responses. Feeling emotions such as dread around bedtime, or anxiety over leaving the house can become damaging for their body. And eventually, their overall quality of life. 

To make matters worse, children do not have a well-established sense of time. They cannot understand why the good times spent in the park need to end. And they struggle to imagine a time when they will not feel this bad.  However, understand the science behind your child’s emotions, you are in a better position to manage them.

A predisposition to negative thoughts does not develop because of one negative emotional incident. However, over time, processes in the body establish a chemical continuity, creating an emotional predisposition. This then intensifies over the days, weeks, months or even years that it is reinforcing. 

These patterns are laying down from our earliest experiences and are informing all our future responses.

If you have a predisposition to anger you are likely to react to most situations with an automatically angry response.  To override this takes a great deal of active mindfulness and a huge effort of will to act differently. However, unless you consciously change these patterns of behaviour, you will pass these traits onto your child. Ready for them to then pass on to their own children.

So, teach your child techniques such as self-soothing and calming.  Speak to them in gentle tones as you help them remember happier times.  And remember – we all know how overwhelming emotions can feel at times. So, help your child through this rather than letting your own emotions join theirs for the ride.

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.


Don’t miss:

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Understanding your child’s emotions – even the more difficult ones

Can you help your child to establish a greater emotional intelligence?

Have you conditioned your child to feel certain ways?

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