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Emotional Development Issues in Children


No two children are the same. Every kid comes with a unique genetic makeup, individual characteristics and behaviors. Sometimes, tots exhibit certain attitudes or demeanor parents may need to pay more attention to. These instances may be a result of growing pains or could be longer, more permanent situations. Either way, it's important to know as much information as possible to minimize the effects.

The definition

Emotional development is defined as the breakthrough of a child's expression, understanding, experience and regulation of emotions from birth through the adolescent stages, according to In essence, kids learn how to react to and handle certain scenarios over the course of their early life. Every tot is different, meaning each one will mature at a different level.

However, some children do struggle with emotional development, either for a short or long period of time. Specific situations, like entering new environments or meeting new people may trigger reactions parents wouldn't expect and have to attempt to understand.

The tell-tale signs

Over time, the majority of children learn how to process their emotions and feelings, both in front of adults and in front of their peers. This isn't the case for all tots, however, and some experience difficulty focusing, listening and/or expressing themselves. Issues like ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder and autism can present early in a child's life, so it's important for parents to be aware of behaviors that are uncommon.

Here are some examples of problems that signal an emotional development issue, according to PACER, the Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center:

  • Poor communication skills or inability to play or relate to others.
  • Delays in normal development.
  • Under- or over-responsiveness to environment, objects or environmental changes, including sound and light.
  • Weight loss or inadequate weight gain.
  • Significant delays in cognitive or language development as well as motor skills.
  • Engrossment in self-stimulating behavior to the exclusion of normal activities.
  • Inability to form affectionate relationships with care providers.
  • Self-abusive behaviors: biting, hitting, head banging.
  • Attempts to injure others.

Next steps for parents

There's no precise moment or sign for adults to know when to take the appropriate measure to help their children. These behaviors can be complicated and overwhelming, influenced by factors including family changes, problems at school, stress or physical conditions like allergies or changes in medication. Every situation is different and deserves to be treated as such.

No matter what, there are two smart steps parents can take to gain new information about the potential for an emotional development disorder:

  1. Talk to relatives, friends and other parents: There's a possibility that more than one child's parents are experiencing similar problems with their tots. Adults can use their network of peers to understand behaviors and what actions others are taking. Talking to officials at a student's school can help parents change a routine that may be causing issue. Interacting with fellow parents gives people a support system to lean on for scenarios they are having difficulty with. Emotional development problems are challenging for both parent and child, and both parties need as much backing as possible.
  2. Request a doctor's assessment: Although it can be scary, contacting a professional is often the most helpful in determining the causes, duration, intensity and treatment for a potential emotional development problem. Doctors have the experience necessary to observe behaviors, interview families and provide support for parents before, during and after possible diagnoses. Medical professionals can refer adults and their children to assistive classes, therapy sessions and much more. With this support, parents can ensure their child is living the healthiest and safest life possible.

Emotional development issues are difficult for both children and their parents to handle. The triggers can present differently in every child, causing every tot to act in a uniquely separate way. While the fear of diagnosis - or misdiagnosis - can be frightening for adults, assistance from peers and medical professionals can provide families with the support they need to provide an understanding household for their children dealing with these problems.

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