There is a BIG, BIG difference between the mind of a child as compared with an adult! We run into serious trouble if we fail to take this into account when dealing with a child. Understanding this difference provides major insight into children’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Once we recognize this, we understand the reasons for the gap in our communication with them, and we can gear our actions and reactions accordingly.
The first step is to divide the human psyche into two main areas of functioning:
a. EMOTIONAL (below the neck)
b. INTELLECTUAL (above the neck)
Children’s thoughts, feelings and behavior are guided by the first domain, emotional drive, while we adults are largely guided by the second domain, intellectual power. In the early stages of life we gradually grow out of the emotional sphere of influence over thoughts, feelings and behavior, and increasingly place priority on our logic and reasoning skills to guide our thoughts, feelings and behavior. These are competencies that develop over time and experience in the real world. Adolescence is the time of change and turmoil when this transformation takes place, leading to some bewilderment. However, this confusion is temporary and tends to settle down in most people after a few years.
But if we think about a newborn baby, what faculties does s/he have at their disposal to manage the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are conjured up? How is a child supposed to deal with the new world that suddenly confronts them? Although intellectual capability is available since children are born with a working brain, higher cognition is now just a raw potential that will grow with time and experience. For illustration we can imagine that the majority of brain cells in a baby are still “empty”, waiting to be filled with information through each child’s unique interactions with the real world. In the meantime, it is fair to assume that we start with a virtual void.
However from the time of birth, EMOTIONS are fully intact and ready for use. We know that children are born with the FULL CAPABILITY to feel the entire range of emotions known to humankind.
How do we know this? There is evidence that children feel ANXIETY when they show fear of strangers or have nightmares. We know they are capable of sadness or DEPRESSION, since they cry when they miss their love objects, such as furry pets or blankets, or turn their lips down and pout when we leave them. We know that children feel ANGER when they throw tantrums or don’t get what they want. We also know that children feel LOVE because they hug and kiss their pet stuffed animals or become attached to human love objects.
Time, age and experience bring about a slow and gradual integration of the EMOTIONAL FUNCTIONS with the growing INTELLECTUAL FUNCTIONS. This is a very slow, invisible process. Imagine it grows like a double helix or DNA strand with its ladder-like structure. With the passage of time, age and experience, Intelligence and Emotions gradually become intertwined, integrated and interdependent. This process results in a specific, unique PERSONALITY for each person. And this personality is associated with specific BEHAVIOR.
Through the course of life then, we progress from EMOTION-BASED urges and drives as children, through adolescence, to increasingly INTELLIGENCE-BASED thoughts and behavior. So we may say that:
THE PROCESS OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT CONSISTS OF THE AMALGAMATION OF THE EMOTIONS WITH INTELLECTUAL FUNCTIONING.
This means that, because we start off guided by our emotions as children, we are LESS RATIONAL or even IRRATIONAL in our feelings, thoughts and behavior at the beginning. As we grow older and gain experience, we gradually move to more intellectually guided, RATIONAL modes of thinking and behaving. These increasingly rational modalities take better account of the world around us with respect to restrictions on our behavior such as social rules, consideration of the feelings others, taking note of time, schedules, money, duties and obligations, etc. In other words, through the amalgamation of our emotional and intellectual powers, by the time we finally reach adulthood and our double helix of emotions and intelligence has evolved, we should have access to
JUDGEMENT AND REASONING SKILLS.
As obvious as it may seem, it is very important for adults to consider that these faculties are lacking in children.
Given this backdrop, let us contemplate what will happen if there are BUMPS or KINKS in our simulated DNA strand, the double helix integrative chain of growth. How will the combining of emotions with intelligence be affected by unpleasant or negative experiences, and what will be their effects on personality? These are the upsetting life experiences to which any person is subject throughout her/his lifetime. Because life is never perfect, nobody is immune to such experiences or incidents in everyday life. In some lives this is more true, and for some it is less so. Negative experiences may take place as casual incidents such as a change of schools, location, language or surroundings, separation from loved ones, the birth of a sibling, or more serious setbacks such trauma, separation from love objects, abuse (verbal, physical, sexual), loss or accidents. These incidents will shape and influence the total PERSONALITY, making it unique for each individual. In general, the MORE negative bumps and kinks in the developmental chain or double helix, the MORE disruption there will be in development, and the MORE INSTABILITY will be embedded in the personality. An accumulation of such events will lead to an increase in the chances of mental breakdown of any sort later in life. Conversely, the LESS such bumps and kinks there are in the chain of events during growth, the LESS disruption there will be in development, and the MORE STABILITY there will be in personality, giving rise to more mental stability, and a reduction in the chances of mental breakdown of any sort in later life.