Children's Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains

Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child

Harvard Center on the Developing Child, December 2009

A growing body of scientific evidence tells us that emotional development begins early in life, that it is a critical aspect of the development of overall brain architecture, and that it has enormous consequences over the course of a lifetime. These findings have far-reaching implications for policy makers and parents, and therefore demand our attention.

From birth, children rapidly develop their abilities to experience and express different emotions, as well as their capacity to cope with and manage a variety of feelings. The development of these capabilities occurs at the same time as a wide range of highly visible skills in mobility (motor control), thinking (cognition) and communication (language). Yet, emotional development often receives relatively less recognition as a core emerging capacity in the early childhood years.

The foundations of social competence that are developed in the first five years are linked to emotional well-being and affect a child's later ability to functionally adapt in school and to form successful relationships throughout life. As a person develops into adulthood, these same social skills are essential for the formation of lasting friendships and intimate relationships, effective parenting, the ability to hold a job and work well with others, and for becoming a contributing member of a community.

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