Happy Learners - Behaviour, Emotional & Social Introduction

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Introduction to Behaviour, Emotional and Social Development

It has been suggested that the human brain has grown in size not to enable us to understand the secrets of the universe but to enable us to understand the behaviour and specifically the motivations and intentions of people around us. Our survival as an individual is dependent on these skills and our ability to respond back appropriately. Within a few weeks of birth a new born will begin to smile and help build further the essential bond with their parent. It is first of many behaviours the child will need to learn and replicate as they grow into successful adults.

Human behaviour is largely learnt from observing others through our social experiences. The behaviour we display at any given time is, however, dependent on a wide range of factors including genetic pre-dispositions; motivation and mood; perceptions and understanding of the social context; dominant personality traits; experience and education; confidence and self-esteem; cognitive function and language ability; health and well-being; hormone levels and drug use.

The complexity of human behaviour is mirrored and shaped by the complexity of our societies. Establishing our individual role within society involves learning and accepting social rules some of which are generally fixed like not stealing and some that change depending on the context such as swearing. Also many social rules change for each individual depending on factors such as age, social status, religion, sub-cultures, material wealth etc. Everyone in society is not equal and it's social rules are not applied fairly. It is therefore perhaps inevitable that given the intricacy of our unequal social world that many people deviate from generally accepted norms for behaviour. And as society grows what is considered "normal" is increasingly blurred by diverging values and beliefs.

For children education and experience are required to enable them to develop and test their knowledge and understanding of social behaviour and rules. And just as very young children test out ideas about gravity by dropping objects repeatedly they will also test out social rules by exploring what happens if they don't follow them. Clear and firm boundaries therefore help children to learn appropriate behaviours.

Emotions involve psychological, social and physiological processes that combine to direct our behaviour. Emotions can be important survival tools so that experiencing fear when near the edge of a cliff heightens our senses and we are more attentive to the risk of falling. Emotions can be powerful motivators and resisting the associated behaviours can be challenging like overcoming your fear to cross a rope bridge. In our complex society there are many social rules which govern how and when we can express emotions. Controlling our emotions or even suppressing them completely is often necessary to meet the demands of society. It may not always be healthy to do this and can lead to mental health issues. Equally, an inabilility to exercise some control over our emotions is likely to impair our ability to function in everyday life.

Even with the most favourable conditions for childhood any child will struggle at times to make sense of the bewildering social world they are growing up in. As they battle to control their emotions and learn to interact in ever complex social interactions they require strong parental support and boundaries. Unfortunately, many factors conspire to provide less than favourable conditions for childhood and children do not always get the guidance, support and social opportunities they require to develop. Consequently, they can experience behaviour, emotional and social difficulties.

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