young children's emotions,

Young children's emotions - why is this research important?

Jane Petrie HV, MSc - Parenting Consultant tells us about a new research study and why it’s important that as many parents as possible get involved!Jane Petrie HV, MSc - Parenting Consultant tells us about a new research study and why it’s important that as many parents as possible get involved!

RESEARCH STUDY: How do parents assess and promote the emotional well-being of very young children?

What’s it about?

The study aims to explore how parents (and professionals working with young children) support the emotional well-being of children aged 12 to 36 months. This is a time when infants become ‘little people in their own right’; learning to walk, talk, master toilet habits and other routines of daily living. Personalities that may have been hinted at in the first year of life really start to shine through.

Parents discover that their toddlers have wills of their own, express likes and dislikes and display emotions that may be at odds with what the parent expects.  Challenges change from physical demands of broken nights, feeding regimes and nappy changing to monitoring children’s curiosity and safety, and the emotional roller-coaster of coping with spiking tempers, over-excitement or clingy anxieties.

Contact with Early-Years support services may also lessen in this period. Practitioners such as midwives, health visitors and community nursery nurse who have been in evidence during the first year of a child’s life, have less contact with families as children grow older.  Once the child is a toddler, parents might access support via children’s centres or, if they return to work, rely upon day-care provision such as nurseries and child-minders.

This study aims to explore attitudes and beliefs about very young children’s emotional development, and the practice and experience of practitioners and parents in trying to deal with children in this emotionally challenging period.  Do parents and practitioners understand how to identify what children need emotionally, what support is available and how best to encourage healthy emotional development?


Why is it important?

Recent studies have explored how to support the parent-child relationship in the first six months of life but less is known about supporting the parent-child relationship in toddlerhood. At this age, practitioners who support families are often well versed in advice on managing children’s behaviour and their key focus is the child.  Little attention is given to exploring the parent-child relationship; understanding the impact of raising children on parents’ emotions and how to help parents manage children’s moods.  Yet parents provide the main support to children’s emotional development.

Research has shown that secure attachments of children to parents creates the foundation for positive emotional well-being in later life.  Understanding and encouraging sensitive parental responses to babies has improved infants’ attachment processes. Parental responses are challenged as the child reaches toddlerdom.  Toddlers characteristically experience tantrums and extreme emotional responses (often referred to as the ‘terrible twos’). How parents react to children’s mood swings will teach the child about feelings, how to calm down and how to manage their emotions themselves. If a child has not learned these skills before school, they often struggle to engage with learning opportunities or struggle to cope in the social chaos of the classroom.  Children who lack secure emotional foundations have a greater risk of mental health issues in adolescence, poor educational and employment success, social exclusion and criminal involvement. That’s why it’s essential that practitioners know how to support parents of toddlers just as they support new parents after birth.


How is the study being conducted?

There are three stages of this study. Stage one has been completed and involved interviews with Early-Years practitioners, exploring how they assess and support children’s emotional development.  The second stage is a large-scale survey of parent and practitioner attitudes to very young children’s emotional development. The third stage of the study is interviews with parents about their experience of challenges and support relating to their child’s emotional well-being.

The Attitude Survey will provide generalised statistical data and the interviews will give illustrative detail and specifics relating to current practice. From these, it should be possible to see what current practice provides and where there are gaps or weaknesses.


What will the Study produce at the end?

The study will be written up firstly as a thesis from which the Researcher (Jane Petrie, a Parenting Consultant with a background in Health Visiting) hopes to be awarded a PhD. This award will endorse the quality of the research and research findings. Shortened versions of the study will be published in professional journals known to be read by Early-Years practitioners and managers of Early-Years services.  It is hoped that there will be further interest from the Early-Years services to build on the study findings.


How can you contribute to this Study?

Whether you are a parent of a child aged 12-36 months or a practitioner supporting families of children this age, please participate in the survey by clicking on the link below:

Once you have completed the survey you'll be given the option to leave your contact details if you'd like to be entered into our prize draw to win one of three children's book bundles. 

Each book bundle prize will include a copy of the following children's books:

Lift-the-flap: Opposites

Lift-the-flap: Numbers

Lift-the-flap: Colours

PLUS 2 more fun, surprise 'bonus' books for you to share with your little one.

Competition closes on Friday 24th of March.

Don't miss out on your chance to enter - find out more and start the survey here