The first steps, first meal, first words: so many emotions in the first years of life! Can you remember how many times you got really excited together with your little ones? Do these strong emotions serve a purpose and what role do they play in a child's growth?
The first interactions between parents and children are really important for their growth as they create a wealth of experiences and socio-emotional skills that the child will put to good use not only in their childhood but also in adulthood. Contrary to what was believed in the past, as soon as they are born and, indeed, even in the prenatal period, children already have a predisposition to interact with the surrounding world. In particular, you can see that as soon as children come into this world, emotions play a crucial role in communication with adults and especially with their caregivers. A myriad of emotional states, each with different facets develop from their interaction with caregivers, but how can we describe this relationship? If we observe the interaction between adults and newborn babies, we can notice that there is a certain rhythm, a dance, a communicative harmony that is built on emotions rather than words. It is, in fact, mainly an emotional interaction that features looks, voices, smiles, movements, facial expressions and all the expressive elements that display the great emotions that adults and children experience when sharing their life together.
Emotional tuning-in is fundamental for children’s well-being and therefore for their physical, mental and social health.
But what does “tuning in” mean?
It means not only exchanging information but also thoroughly understanding its meaning. It means for example: “I am with you, I am attentive about the needs you are communicating to me and I’ll take care of them”.
There are very many emotions and they can vary in intensity (arousal), and in importance (they can be pleasant or unpleasant), but all emotions are fundamental for the growth and development of a child. In addition, not all children express their emotions in the same way and it is therefore important to go one step further, i.e. ask ourselves what lies behind a specific reaction? According to adults, the behaviour of their child often has a specific meaning but it often happens that according to the child that particular behaviour has a completely different meaning and is the display of a need that is very often related to the emotional dimension.
How to listen to a child’s needs and why is it so important to do so in early childhood?
There is now clear, overwhelming scientific evidence that shows that the first 1000 - the period between conception and about the first two years of a child’s life - cover a phase of life characterised by very high brain plasticity. In other words, all the experiences that occur in this period of development have a significant impact on the development and health of today's children and tomorrow's adults.
However, it often happens that parents pay more attention to the technical aspect of “doing” things whether they are activities, jobs or games to play together. For example, how to handle certain items to complete that job or to finish that very high tower.
But are we paying appropriate attention to the emotions they feel, to what the children are communicating to us as they build that tower?
It is essential that parents and caregivers take care to observe, listen to and emotionally receive what children communicate to us through language that may not necessarily be verbal. Emotional aspects are often neglected with respect to more effectively cognitive ones. It can be useful to think of emotions as “maps”, which allow children to understand the world. Emotions provide information about the way we feel in the environment where we live, and parents play a fundamental role in accompanying their children to recognise, express and regulate the emotions that arise while exploring a world, which for children in particular is still waiting to be discovered! It is therefore extremely important for adults to take an active role in accompanying and supporting the development of their children’s emotional skills as they will be of fundamental help and an invaluable resource throughout their lives!
Are you ready to tune in to your child? Yes?
Then simply be yourselves: open your hearts and minds to give space to your and their emotions.