Our emotions are what shape and drive our actions and responses in aggressive situations according to many different environments children have been exposed. Children learn aggressive behaviors instantaneously; they absorb actions, responses, gender schemas, and scripts (whether positive or negative) through their environment. What is ethical for one parent may be unethical for others when it comes to teaching children positive behavior that does not promote aggression. Pavlov sole focus of classical conditioning was on “automatic (done without conscious thought) responses” (Witt & Mossler, 2010). Children’s behaviors are learned from their actions and responses to their environment from a continuation of many gender schemas they encounter on a day to day basis. When parents are teaching their children how to conduct themselves; they do not take into account that children emulate their actions. Some parents are not educated to understand the importance of creating an environment that will produce results for the greater good of the whole child. The factors that contribute to aggression in children and the “deep impact” on how they develop emotionally, psychologically, cognitively and process information, are aggressive scripts from parents and peers, social and emotional development and their environmental experiences.
Children’s development is influenced by both nature and nurture. Nature or genetic code influences memory, mental illness, reading and writing, reading disability, how agreeable a person may be or vocational interest. Genetic code will tell the person’s eye and hair color, temperament and personality. Nurture is environmental influences such as family, relatives, friends and school mates. For example: nature development-a couple may have a child with greenish-blue eyes. One of the parent’s grandparents (or someone in the bloodline) may have had greenish-blue eyes, so their child inherited the eye color through genetic code.
Children learn through their experiences (nature and nurture) to become self-aware of their emotions. When children are taught to empathize with others they become “more skilled in reading the feelings, ‘expressions’, ‘body language’ and tone of voice of others” (Goleman, 1995, pg. 96). When children do not understand how to express their feelings; they will emulate others people’s feelings or expressive behaviors around them. Marian Radke-Yarrow and Carolyn Zahn-Waxler at the National Institute of Mental Health did a series of studies found that children’s empathy is also shaped by seeing how others react when someone else is distressed, ‘violent’, or ‘aggressive; by imitating what they see, children develop a repertoire of empathetic response especially in helping other people who are distressed” (Goleman, 1995, pg. 99). For example, when a child sees his father being physically abusive towards his mother and then the father empathizes (his way of expressing his feelings from his past experiences) to the mother as though he is concerned and he will not do it again. Therefore, a child will learn this aggressive script and feel it is okay to hit others as long as they empathize their concerns or show remorse after they have been violent.
Cognitive development is how a person perceives, learns and process information. Adults as well as children process information due to their environment, economic status, genetics, and morals instilled in the early stages of their lives. Cognitive development is how each person learns. Some of us learn by educating the mind by reading and keep abreast on the subject of interest, some of us learn from the worldly atmosphere and some have street smarts and others just go with the flow not having a clear direction of where they are going or what they want to do. So, a child will adapt to what he or she has been repetitiously exposed to seeing. Locke (1690/1959) proposed that we are all born as tabula rasa or “blank slate”. Through experience, we form mental relations between contiguous (close in time and/space) events and their effects on us. For example, if a child who has a suspicious nature has become that way, perhaps, because when they began to trust someone, they were soon after deceived (Locke, (1690/1659). In fact, if a child was raised in a hostile and verbally abusive environment the child generally will grow into adulthood repeating the same aggressive scripts as the child heard in his or her early stages of development. Therefore, when a child sees an adult acting in such a way that is not positive or respectful it is more than likely (what they had seen as a small child) a way for them to communicate and express abusively (verbally) what they think or feel. Therefore, children will grow to have a negative belief system or irrational behavior in reference to how they encounter certain situations. Ellis feels that if you alter an individual’s irrational belief about some event it will change the consequences of such beliefs, which take the form of negative emotions. With these negative emotions gone the maladaptive behaviors should also disappear. Ellis emphasizes that a therapist’s job in rational-emotive therapy is to illuminate the maladaptive mental processes that occur in a patient and then to teach alternate way of looking at a situation. Under this therapeutic approach, the therapist demonstrates to patients how negative their beliefs are and helps them to change their belief so they no longer feel such negative emotions or ‘aggression’ and thus they no longer exhibit maladaptive behaviors”(Ellis,1973;1993). In addition, Beck’s approach to cognitive therapy also emphasizes negative patterns of thought (Beck, 1976; 1993).
As children reach their adolescent years they will continue to repeat what they had learned earlier (positive or negative patterns); therefore, what children observe in the early stage of childhood has a substantial impact on how we recognize and process information in adulthood. The minds of children and adults are no different; we absorb/hold past events and situations we see and some will continually act them out especially if the mind is fresh and pure. Children use gender schemas, which are representations about the sexes, to guide their behavior and thinking (Bern, 1981: Martin & Halverson, 1981; Martin et al,. 2002; Martin, Ruble, Szkrybalo, 2004). “Children then behave according to their interpretation of what it means to be male or female” (Martin & Fabes, 2009).
Socio-emotional development is how we see ourselves, self-concept, self-esteem, personality and changes in a person’s emotions, which is a stable way of thinking and behaving. It is an overall description of your abilities, traits, and personality. As children develop their identity is constantly modified by past experiences and thought processes” (Witt & Mossler, 2010). Social and emotional developments are the ability to relate to and interact with other people and how children act and react to social situations. When children are exposed to violence and verbal or physical abuse they relate to an aggressive manner towards others due to how they have seen others relate to their past experiences.
John Watson, the father of behaviorism, believed his law of frequency states that the more often a response occurs to a particular stimulus, the stronger an association is built between them and thus more likely the pairing of that stimulus and response will happen again. Therefore, when parents are physically aggressive or verbally abusive toward their children all the time then parents are more likely to respond in the same way toward their children again. Thus, children will respond to others in an aggressive way because it is all they know to do in order to resolve conflict. So, when children are not taught positive reinforcement strategies they will grow in their adolescent years reacting toward similar scripts or schemas which prompt them to repeat their actions over and over again with no real, sound solution to the dilemma.
Children receive aggressive scripts from parents, children and the media. A child first learns about aggression in his family system (Marion, 2007). Children will learn these aggressive scripts from their parent’s; children will in turn model those same scripts in some form when they deal with similar situations. When young children watch television programs with violence they are desensitized to violence because they cannot make sense of it. They are drawn to the action and excitement without understanding its negative effects (Goleman, 1995) through nature or nurture experiences. Perhaps, children may not understand the negative effects but how do they determine positive effects from a negative effect when they are constantly exposed to those negative situations. More often than not, we teach our children what was taught to us without re-evaluating, deeply thinking and searching for the truth of the situation as to why it was taught to us in the first place.
Children receive aggressive scripts from other children. When children are hitting, kicking, biting or pushing one another, children will learn these same behaviors. “Peers also reinforce other children’s aggression. Aggressive children lack certain social skills, such as the ability to resolve conflicts they tend to solve conflicts with peers through aggressive means and do not seem to know how to resolve conflict in a positive way” (Fabes & Eisenberg, 1992).
Generally, physical aggression declines with age-except for those children who are headed towards more serious violence and criminal activity. Relational aggression—verbal insults and social aggression does not decline. In girls as well as boys, relational aggression becomes more hurtful, more isolating, and more important to deflect—with humor, a shrug, or a counter-attack when possible (Berger, 2000, pg. 410).
Stress is another common factor amongst children and how they deal with it and how it affects their lives. Some children do not have the ability to think (cognitive) when they are stressed; therefore, some children become violent or they act out socially through their emotions.
When children are raised in an environment and there is no resilience to how situations are handled, they will not be able to adjust socially or emotionally when adversary arises. Children will find it extremely difficult to have a relationship with others and become irritable or agitated when in their minds things should work out the way that they think they should. For example, when children or adults become dependent on others to do most things for them and when something does not get accomplished they will become stressed or aggressive when it is not completed when they want it to be completed. Some children are not taught to control, manage and regulate their emotions so they act out in many different ways. Therefore, children are not able to deal with stress in an appropriate way their actions or thoughts can become disorganized and disruptive (Martin & Fabes, 2009); and they do not have the ability to alter their emotional responses.
Another key factor when children are dealing with stress is to understand other children’s intentions before making a sound and logical decision. Stress effects their cognitive, emotional and psychological development when they are not able to handle a situation and they become physically violent or aggressive. When interactions are unclear children have a tendency to feel something is being done on purpose and respond in harmful ways (Martin & Fabes, 2009). Children must learn the intentions of others around them. “Understanding others intention is critical to developing a plan of action and interacting successfully (cognitive ability) with others” (de Castro, Bosch, Veerman, & Koops, & Monshouwer, 2002). Therefore, children must have an accurate interpretation of others motives and intentions in order to deal with stress and aggression in an effective way.
There are several ways to decrease aggression in children but we must keep in mind some adults raise their children in an aggressive manner without realizing the effects it has on the child or themselves. Therefore, those children will grow as adults repeating the same scripts and receiving the same results unless a person understands where the aggression stems from and sees the dangers and corrects the aggression. We must encourage children to be helpful, show empathy and respectful towards other children. We can create a non-permissive atmosphere by establishing limits against hurting or disturbing other people, or damaging toys or equipment. When we monitor and watch different television shows with our children and explain to them what is actually happening they will have a better understanding of how to respond to certain situations. The cognitive perspective focuses on how children take in, mentally represent and store information; therefore, children will continue to solve the same issues in the same way unless they are taught through positive reinforcement to channel their behaviors in order to establish a more effective outcome.
Teaching children how to manage their emotional intelligence is a key factor in improving their relationships with others, so children interact with one another it is a win-win situation. Teachers should be required to take a course on managing their emotions, so children will emulate the positive aspects of how to communicate verbally and respond empathetically towards others emotions even when children may not thoroughly understand what the other person is truly feeling. We must model healthy relationships for children through their cooperative, associative and socio-dramatic play.
The “deep impact” of an expression whether physical or verbal abuse will have an everlasting impression that children will harbor within and express outwardly when they are angry or agitated or may recall an aggressive script which makes them respond in the same manner repeatedly throughout their lives. Therefore, as a society of parents and educators we must stop and think before we act and show a deep concern and reverence for children to develop their emotional intelligence in every respect. Thus, we are in a position to make a powerful impact in the development of the “whole” child’s world; it should be a “constant” activity or relationship to provide children with the proper tools to succeed in developing emotionally and mirror that reflection for other children to learn to be responsible for their actions and responses in life. It is essentially important as educators and parents to foster empathy during infancy and “use the gifts of the past while remaining fully present” (Goleman & Lantieri, 2001, pg. 125), and allow those things of the past to die that are not effective for our children’s growth and for the children of the world to create a positive atmosphere and impact the world as they continuously evolve to control their emotions.
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