As adults we usu­al­ly show a range of emo­tions. Hav­ing said that I realise that for most of my life I didn’t show a large range of emo­tions! But of course as we get old­er, and hope­ful­ly reflect on our own upbring­ing and its effect on our devel­op­ment, we should realise where some of our emo­tion­al quirks come from!

I now under­stand the ben­e­fits of mov­ing far away (4000 miles) from my fam­i­ly and my quite tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish upbring­ing. It has giv­en me a chance to find out who I real­ly am and what makes me tick; not with­out many tri­als and tribu­la­tions of being very for­eign liv­ing for 39 years in America!

So how do we learn the range of emo­tions to become a whole­some human being? What sep­a­rates a per­son with a full range of emo­tions at their dis­pos­al from those who show lit­tle or none, or even go to emo­tion­al extremes, like those with autism or oth­er relat­ed devel­op­men­tal delays, or even indi­vid­u­als whose emo­tions are crip­pled by their child­hood or ear­ly adult experiences?

I have decid­ed recent­ly to revert to my blink impres­sion of adults I meet. I was very out­spo­ken before I was 5 years old but of course grow­ing up in Eng­land what I now call my ‘clarity of thought and obser­va­tion’ was prompt­ly squashed! Deemed impo­lite. Those thoughts are still most­ly under­ground six­ty years lat­er, which is prob­a­bly why this blog is my most use­ful per­son­al tool – whether or not I have many followers!

Such mem­o­ries have come to the fore with cor­re­spon­dence in the ear­ly part of this year from a fel­low stu­dent from my pri­ma­ry (ele­men­tary) school era who also turned up many pho­tos of us togeth­er from that time. He is the only per­son to ever con­firm that one par­tic­u­lar teacher ‘disproportionately picked on me’ in the year I was about 12 years old (we had both trans­ferred to anoth­er school at 11, typ­i­cal for an Eng­lish edu­ca­tion). I remem­ber well being pro­found­ly uncom­fort­able around that teacher but had no recourse through fam­i­ly or school. 

Such treat­ment appar­ent­ly had a pro­found effect on my fel­low stu­dent, espe­cial­ly the fact that he could do noth­ing about it – he even named one of his daugh­ters after me! All these years and I nev­er knew how big his heart was! But it’s won­der­ful, life-affirm­ing news to receive.

Which gets me to how we treat tiny babies and young chil­dren. I have a ques­tion in my mind about peo­ple who are very ‘gushy’ with babies and yet have no appar­ent warmth towards their col­leagues. The same indi­vid­u­als can be angry, mean and absolute­ly hor­ri­ble to 2 year-olds whose behav­iour they can’t con­trol! I should note that the two peo­ple I’m think­ing of have absolute­ly no child rais­ing expe­ri­ence, teach­ing expe­ri­ence, in fact no skills at all with young children!

So where do our emo­tions ‘go’? How is it that we have no range of emo­tions as adults and then we observe the next gen­er­a­tion hav­ing the same lack?

It all stems from our child­hood. As a first time moth­er I was ini­tial­ly very much the same rigid unemo­tion­al moth­er that my moth­er seemed to be. I thought that was how one behaved, it nev­er occurred to me until more recent years that my moth­er had had cer­tain trag­ic expe­ri­ences in her ear­ly 20’s dur­ing WWII that pro­found­ly affect­ed and stunt­ed many of her emo­tions when she had me 5 years or so later. 

I’ve come to know life can be oth­er­wise. It doesn’t mean that our chil­dren aren’t loved but I don’t think our old­est son was ini­tial­ly shown how beloved he was in a cheer­ful and pas­sion­ate enough way, with enough emo­tion. I hope he disagrees!

Adults miss­ing that feel­ing of being tru­ly beloved (not sim­ply “I love my baby, I miss him so much”) from infan­cy usu­al­ly show it each day. The façade of car­ing that those adults present to their chil­dren is usu­al­ly well ‘over the top’, is unsta­ble (by which I mean it’s not con­sis­tent) and can turn to the reverse emo­tion at any moment and that turn can­not be pre­dict­ed by those around them! How do you think a baby feels when he is treat­ed or cared for in such an unpre­dictable way day after day?

He ends up feel­ing very con­fused about his world. Even oth­er­wise hap­py chil­dren become moody and emo­tion­al by age 3 when there is sud­den emo­tion­al tur­moil in their fam­i­ly life – like sit­ting in the mid­dle of an unex­pect­ed, acri­mo­nious divorce (what young child can antic­i­pate all that his par­ents’ divorce entails?). 

I am start­ing to think that seizures in young chil­dren are anoth­er con­se­quence of an emo­tion­al­ly con­fused childhood.

A lack of a range of appro­pri­ate emo­tions seems a preva­lent ‘disease’ in the under 3’s. Shouldn’t they seem hap­py most of the time? Shouldn’t they sim­ply cry when life isn’t going well or they real­ly hurt them­selves and then be eas­i­ly soothed by a lov­ing car­er or parent? 

It doesn’t seem to hap­pen. In my expe­ri­ence most 3’s and under are angry – some one year-old babies wail or scream to get what they want, some are vir­tu­al­ly struck dumb, and what seem to be a very rare few, at under a year of age, have a range of emo­tions and are thus eas­i­er to read, teach and assist – for me at least.

Anger pre­vails in the 3’s and 4’s most­ly due to spend­ing vast amounts of time watch­ing DVD’s (fre­quent­ly depict­ing some sort of vio­lence!) of movies, car­toons, etc. instead of inter­act­ing with their par­ents, fam­i­ly and friends, teach­ers and play­ing out­side. They aren’t mak­ing human and nat­ur­al con­nec­tions in their dai­ly lives.

All this doesn’t bode well for future generations. 

I now under­stand my own lack of emo­tions plus emo­tions some­times being out of con­trol when bring­ing up my old­est son for his first three years – he reflects the same com­plex mix­ture of emo­tions thir­ty years lat­er. When his broth­er was born I feel I was more human and con­fi­dent in myself and he reflects that greater bal­ance of emo­tions. Both are thank­ful­ly extreme­ly kind peo­ple so I don’t think I got too much wrong! 

My late father, the third child and only sur­viv­ing son of then old­er par­ents, was beloved by his fam­i­ly grow­ing up, high­ly respect­ed by all those he met in his work­ing life, and is great­ly missed by us all for his emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty. He was always avail­able to lis­ten and help us. He seemed to be well bal­anced for most of his life and had only seri­ous­ly lost his tem­per on a very few occa­sions and for very good rea­sons, well before my broth­er and I were born. He wasn’t an angry or unpre­dictable man.

There is a time and place for warmth, hap­pi­ness and humour – just about the only emo­tions a baby needs to see. 

Grad­u­al­ly we adults can incor­po­rate a seri­ous face towards the end of the first year of life. But the bal­ance for dis­ci­pline needs to be so full of gen­uine kind­ness and love that it alone is the only tool need­ed to steer young chil­dren in the next 4 years – and then the foun­da­tion is in place for a sol­id future of coop­er­a­tive behav­iour and learn­ing well.

Pas­sive, baby-pleas­ing par­ent­ing, cou­pled with fre­quent anger towards one’s child, spouse, work, fam­i­ly etc. doesn’t make for an emo­tion­al­ly sta­ble child, ready to learn.

We par­ents and care­givers are so respon­si­ble for how a child learns from their ear­li­est days – under­stand­ing our­selves and our emo­tions well allows us to teach at the high­est lev­el from day one.