It is a common misconception that “thinking” and “feeling” are two entirely separate parts of our being. The fact is that our cognition controls much of our emotion. How we feel is often dependent on how we think.
There are basic emotions such as joy, anger, fear, and sadness that are purely natural. They are experienced pretty much from birth, and they are experienced in virtually universal fashion throughout the world. But there are more complex emotions such as shame, guilt, jealousy, and pride that must be learned. In what situations should you be ashamed? Under what circumstances should you be proud? Clearly, you are not born knowing the answers to these questions.
Consequently, these complex emotions do not start to surface until children are three or four years old. And they do not come in automatically. How they are experienced depends on how the children have been socialized.
While culture certainly plays a part in this process, it is mothers and fathers who have the primary role. And the results are largely dependent not on what they say but rather what they do. It is by watching how their parents act and react in various situations and under various circumstances that the little ones are learning.
Mothers and fathers usually are keenly aware of their responsibility to nurture their children’s intellectual progress. But it is important for them to keep in mind that they are their children’s emotional mentors as well.
Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.