Emotional Development: Meaning, Types, Trends, Factors and Educational Implications…


Emotional Development: Meaning, Types,  Trends, Factors and Educational Implications…

Human beings are said to be creatures of emotions. Emotions provide the force that enables human beings to deal with different circumstances of life. Emotions provide the motivation for action under difficult situations. Emotions add pleasure to our experiences.

On the other hand, emotions could also becloud one’s enjoyment of life’s opportunities. Indeed, emotions add colour and spice to one’s life.

We examine the meaning of emotions, and types of emotions. We discuss the sequence of emotional development. We also outline some factors that influence the development of emotions. Finally, we examine the educational significance of emotions.

At the end of this, you will be able to:

· Define Emotions

· List two types of emotions, and list examples of each type

· Outline the pattern of emotional development in children

· Describe two major factors that influence emotional development

· Explain the role of emotions in human learning and adjustment.

The Meaning of Emotions

The layman conceives emotions as the outward expression of fear, anger, terror, embarrassment, disgust, sorrow, jealousy, shame, laughter, joy, grief, and others. Psychologists think that emotions are more complex that what is observed. They are in agreement that emotions originate from internal processes that involve the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the psychological situation. According to Durojaiye (1976), emotion is an expression of inner feelings which are aroused by one’s own behaviour or the behaviour of others.

Emotions can trigger a variety of behaviours in the individual feeling the emotion. In newborns, emotions trigger facial expressions of smiling, anger, or sadness. In older persons, emotions can trigger affective experiences, indicating pleasure or displeasure. Emotions can stimulate an individual to generate cognitive explanation, an attribution for the cause of the event.

Emotions can trigger internal adjustment, such as increased heart rate.

Emotions can produce expressive behaviour, such as laughing or crying.

Emotions can also generate goal-directed behaviour, such as helping or rescuing a person whose life is threatened. The usefulness of any emotion will depend on the type of the emotion, its intensity, its frequency, and its duration.

Types of Emotions

There are two major types of emotions. They are pleasant emotions, and unpleasant emotions.

Pleasant Emotions include the emotion of pleasure, happiness, love or affection, delight, and others. These emotions are characterized by pleasant body sensations, warmth and a general feeling of wellness.

Pleasant emotions can be a source of goal-directed activities. They can enhance achievement motivation, and overall accomplishment in life. In newborns, pleasant emotions trigger attachment bonding. Attachment bonding is a psychological process which describes an infant’s connection with caregiver, providing a sense of safety and security.

Unpleasant Emotions include emotions such as grief, fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, jealousy, shame, and others. Unpleasant emotions are characterised by distressful behaviours such as muscular tension, facial contortions, and general agitation. In newborns, unpleasant emotions are expressed in hysterical crying. Intense, frequent, and long lasting unpleasant emotional situations can produce in infants, relational disengagement.

Relational disengagement is a psychological process by which the infant is unable to achieve attachment behaviour due to absence of affectional bond with the caregiver. The dynamics of relational disengagement may impact negatively on future development of social and cognitive skills.

We discuss below in details some specific emotions which may significantly influence school adjustment and academic success. They include the emotions of love or affection, fear and jealousy.

Love or Affection

Love or affection is a psychological need of man. It is an emotion characterised by friendliness, warm regard, empathy, acceptance, and care. Children express their love by hugging or patting the object of love. Children develop affection through affectional bonding. That is children develop strong attachment behaviour to close significant adults, such as parents or caregiver who supply their nutritional needs, warmth, and security. Affection is built gradually through the experience of pleasant emotions.

Every child craves the feeling of recognition and acceptance in school by teachers and peers. Recognition and acceptance can have tremendous impact on a child’s school adjustment and academic achievement.

Teachers should show genuine affection for children under their care.

Teachers should encourage classroom environment that nurtures reciprocity of affection.


The emotion of fear is aroused when an individual is faced with an impending danger. When the individual realises that they are unable to bring the threatening situation under control, they respond with the fear emotion. Fear responses include withdrawal, wild apprehension, and paralysing terror. Fear may be invoked by a concrete situation. For example, the sudden appearance of a strange cat can frighten a child.

Fear may also be invoked by circumstances that are not very obvious. For instance, worry and anxiety may provoke fear.

In newborns, fear is most frequently elicited by loud noises. During infancy, fear may be elicited by loud noises, strangers, animals, being alone, and sudden displacement. The kind of things that frighten children will depend on the child’s age, past experiences, and level of cognitive development.

Durojaiye (1976) identified some common fears among African children to include: fear of witches, ghosts, thunderstorms, heavy rain, and fire outbreak. Others are fear of something bad happening to their mother, fear of being late to school, fear of failure at school. We may add, for the Nigerian child of today, fear of ritual murderers, fear of being kidnapped, fear of rape and fear of being abandoned by one parent.

Imagined fears are most devastating to children. The great danger of imagined fear is that it lasts for a longer time, and the child requires only to recall the fear producing stimulus to trigger off the fear.

Prolonged fear affects a child’s school adjustment and academic achievement. Parents and teachers are advised to remove, as much as possible, fear-producing stimuli from children environment. Children’s environment should be reasonably safe, secure, and stable. Fear generates anxiety. When anxiety persists in children, concentration span and memory diminish. Safe, secure environment encourages curiosity and creativity in children.


Children’s affectional bond is a relatively enduring tie which intuitively children do not wish it is replaced by another. The emotion of jealousy is aroused when a child imagines the possibility of losing the affection or approval of a loved one. Jealousy is an emotional response to actual, imagined, or threatened loss of an affectional bond. It takes the form of an outburst of anger or resentment. Jealousy is usually accompanied by a feeling of insecurity in a relationship, unhappiness, and maladjustment.

In childhood, jealousy is most noticeable when another child arrives in the family. The arrival of another child provokes in the older child an anxiety that someone else has come to take their cherished position.

Sometimes, the fear is real because of the differential attention the older child now receives. Sibling jealousy can be very intense. There have been instances where the older child strangled the newborn.

In school, a child may exhibit the emotion of jealousy towards classmates or the class teacher. A child who excels in school work or other school activities and gains special recognition and attention may become an object for jealousy from other mates. A situation where a teacher has some pupils as pets, or where a teacher makes some unfavourable comparison between school children can breed jealousy. Jealousy is an emotion usually charged with tension. This tension, most often, is discharged through aggression, hostility, or withdrawal behaviour. All of these are manifestations of maladjustment. Therefore, jealousy can be a drag on normal social and cognitive development of children. Teachers and parents should resist the temptation of showing favouritism or giving privileged attention to some children at the detriment of others.


Trends of Emotional Development

Emotional development follows the directional law of human development. Emotional behaviour first appears as gross manifestation of emotions, and then proceeds to specific emotional responses. The newborn’s emotions first appear as general excitement which is aroused by strong stimulation, like a loud noise. The diffuse general excitement is followed by some differentiated emotions of delight or distress.

The delightful response is exhibited when the child is suckling, being rocked, generally warm and comfortable. Distressful responses are exhibited when the child is hungry, when there is a sudden loud noise, or when the diapers are wet. Although emotions of delight and distress are not sufficiently specific, at this age, the child’s basic facial expressions indicate the general feelings of the child. For example, in situations we expect the child to be happy, they seem to smile. When we expect the child to be frustrated, the facial expression shows anger.

And when we expect the child to be unhappy, the facial expression will look sad. These non-verbal expressions of emotions are called nonverbal encoding.

As children get older, they experience and display a wider range of emotions. At about six months of age, stranger anxiety appears.

Stranger anxiety is the fear response or the anxiety a child displays when they encounter a strange person. Typically, at this period, when the child encounters a strange person, the face crinkles up with a frown, and the child sharply turns away from the stranger as if they are encountering a ghost. Stranger anxiety is an indication that there is increase in cognitive ability. It is recognition that this person is not familiar; a sort of question mark: “I do not seem to know you?”

At about nine months of age, separation anxiety appears. It is an emotion of distress displayed by children when the usual care provider suddenly departs. Separation anxiety is also the result of increasing cognitive ability. The child appears to be asking the question: “Where is my mother going?”

At about the sixteenth month, jealousy and affection towards caregivers and other children begin to manifest. By the age of 18 months, social smile becomes very distinctively used for familiar persons, and also more frequently used especially to caregivers. In other words, by the end of second year of life, children quite purposefully use smiling to communicate their positive emotions. They also become very sensitive to other persons’ emotional expressions. In general, as the child grows older, specific emotions identifiable by adults as anger, joy, hate, fear, happiness, jealousy, envy, and others begin to manifest.


Factors that Influence Emotional Development

Two major factors have been identified as influencing emotional development. They are maturation and learning.


This is the unfolding of biological systems in the body which bring the child to a point of readiness to undertake specific behaviours. The development and expression of emotion appear to depend on biological maturation of some parts of the brain and the endocrine system. In particular, the development of cortical control, especially the frontal lobe affects the development and expression of emotions. It has been reported that the removal of the frontal lobe in human beings had resulted in emotional behaviours that lacked depth, and were quite unstable. In essence, mature emotional behaviour depends much on development of the brain’s cortex.

Also, mature emotional behaviour depends much on the development of the endocrine system. The endocrine system secretes the chemical that regulates bodily functions and the emotions. The secretions of the adrenal glands regulate the body systems that are involved in emotional reactions.


Learning plays a significant role in emotional development. As a child interacts with people and events in the environment, their range of expression of various emotions also widens. An infant, for example, has no inborn fears of snakes, darkness or fire. Fear of these basically is acquired through experience. Conditioning and imitation play significant roles in the acquisition and expression of emotions. The common expression that emotions are contagious tends to confirm that much of emotions are learned through observing other persons’ emotional reactions to specific situations in life. The specific process that brings about this type of social learning is termed social referencing. The child searches and obtains clues for the meaning of uncertain circumstances.

When the same circumstances occur again, the child’s response is similar to the adult’s response in the first instance. In other words, social referencing permits the child to decode other person’s emotional responses.

Children not only learn to decode other person’s emotions, they also learn the display rules that guide emotional responses. Display rules are guidelines that govern the social appropriateness of non-verbal shows of emotions. Display rules help to minimise, exaggerate, or mask emotional expression as deemed appropriate for different circumstances.

For example, sometimes we are forced by the specific circumstance to smile, when in actu al fact the emotion we feel is the emotion of sadness.

Such pretend emotions are learned. They help us to avoid insulting others, and thereby help us to preserve relationships.


Educational Implications

Emotions are very important in our lives. Emotions give relevance and spice to human experience. Emotions are embedded in many ego integrative characteristics that give every one of us the pull and push that help us attain significant goals in life. Emotions come into play in such personality constructs as: self-concept, interest, level of motivation and aspiration, strength of ego-involvement and achievement motivation, self-efficacy belief and achievement orientation. All these variables come into play and interact with the task, and the learning environment condition to impact on learning and performance.

Much of what is learned in school, for example, cognitive and psychomotor skills involved affects attitudinal changes. Fear of school or school subject; fear of a class teacher or some bullying classmates can become so pervasive; that the child refuses to attend school. If the child attends school, such fear can be so overwhelming that learning is completely hampered.

Favourable attitude to school and school-related tasks is a prerequisite to school adjustment and school achievement of any child. Positive selfconcept and favourable self-efficacy beliefs are important determinants of the amount of effort any child is prepared to master in a learning environment. All these are predicated on the type and strength of the emotions the child has been living with. Sometimes, the teachers’ interpretation of children’s behaviour and even the grades they award may be a reflection of their own emotions. Thus, the general emotional climate of the classroom is very important for what the teachers do and also for what the learners are able to learn.

The teacher’s attention is drawn to the fact that much of emotions are learned through observation and invitation. The teacher should therefore be sensitive to the types of emotions children cultivate in the class, as these can very easily infect other children in the class.


We all experience emotions of different types at various times in our life. Emotions serve very important purpose in our life. Through emotions, we are able to express joys, surprises, disappointments, sorrows, and even grief. Emotions serve as tonic to human experiences.

Children are very sensitive to emotions of caregivers and significant others. Children also have their own emotions. Pleasant emotions engender a feeling of well-being. Your major goal, as a caregiver, is to create opportunity for children to express their emotions appropriately.

It is also part of your duty to ensure that the school is a place where activities reinforce the development and expression of pleasant emotions.

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