Emotional Nutrition in Childhood: A Pyramid Model

24 March, 2021
What's emotional education? What are the basic pillars for the healthy development of your children? You need to start with emotional nutrition. In fact, you should take care of their emotions in the same way that you take care of their diet.

What’s a pyramid of emotional nutrition? You probably know about the healthy food pyramid. Well, experts state that healthy emotions also form the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, emotions could be similarly organized in the shape of a pyramid.

You probably know about the importance of a balanced diet. Furthermore, you likely know that eating foods high in sugar or fats is bad for your health. You also probably understand that leading a sedentary life leads to long-term health problems. However, you probably don’t know a great deal about the impact of emotions on your health.

A pyramid model of emotional nutrition is based on the basic educational elements regarding your emotions. These influence children’s development. In fact, studies suggest that, just as food plays an essential role in children’s development, so do emotions.

“The mind has great influence over the body, and maladies often have their origin there.”

-Jean Baptiste Molière-

A child and some bubbles.

What are emotions?

Lawler defines them as evaluative states, whether positive or negative, that have physiological, neurological, and cognitive elements.

For Brody, emotions are motivational systems with physiological, behavioral, experiential, and cognitive components that have a positive or negative valence and vary in intensity. In addition, Brody considers that emotions are often caused by interpersonal situations or events that have an impact on your well-being.

American psychologist Paul Ekman is a key figure in the study of emotions. He suggests there are six basic emotions: fear, sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and surprise.

Emotional nutrition and education

In terms of education, parents are generally aware of what their child needs. However, this will vary, depending on the family’s educational style and each child’s age-based needs.

Food, clothing and footwear, a warm and safe home, adequate primary and secondary education, and enjoyable educational activities are some of children’s basic needs.

Certain basic educational elements based on emotion can be encompassed in a pyramid.

“All learning has an emotional base.”

-Plato-

A pyramid of emotional nutrition

The base: affection and safe attachment

In his theory of attachment, John Bowlby studied different types of attachment and their meanings. He emphasized the importance of safe attachment for children. In fact, he considered it the best guarantee of a healthy childhood.

Safe attachment is a kind of bond established between a child and the figures they’re surrounded by. The safety and protection of the child predominate in this theory. In short, the child feels safe and cared for when they’re close to their attachment figure. They understand this relationship as both stable and lasting, and it’s where they feel most comfortable. Indeed, the child feels loved and that they deserve love. Furthermore, they know that their caregiver loves them.

The kind of attachment you experience in your childhood affects the development of your self-esteem, confidence, and personal autonomy. In addition, children with secure attachments tend to build healthier relationships. In fact, the better the relationships with the attachment figures, the more likely a full and balanced life is.

“A securely attached child will store an internal working model of a responsive, loving, reliable care-giver, and of a self that’s worthy of love and attention and will bring these assumptions to bear on all other relationships.”

 -John Bowlby-

Emotional nutrition: tolerance to frustration

Teaching children to tolerate frustration is probably one of the most important but difficult goals to achieve. That’s because children are extremely self-centered. Furthermore, they think the world revolves around them. They tend to feel that they deserve everything they want at the precise moment they want it.

Indeed, children find it hard to understand that they simply can’t have everything they want. Consequently, you need to understand that, when it comes to the management of emotions, children just don’t have the tools to tolerate, reduce, or eliminate their feelings of discomfort when they’re frustrated. This is because, in physiological terms, their prefrontal cortex isn’t yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that handles impulse control.

Therefore, it’s essential to establish norms, limits, and an education that’s based on the expression of emotions. In other words, to explain to your children how you feel when negative situations happen to you and what you do about it. This way, by communicating with them, you’re giving them the indispensable tools they need to manage their emotions and exercise self-control.

Establishing limits

It’s essential to set clear limits on what’s allowed and what isn’t, as well as the consequences of crossing boundaries. Saying no is educational. It also helps children manage negative emotions by fostering tolerance.

Rights and obligations

Children must understand their rights as well as their obligations. Furthermore, they need to know how to carry out these obligations, as well as understand how to exercise their rights.

A child looking out of the window.

Empowering ideas and assertive communication

Children need to receive empowering ideas from their parents. This plays a major role in their affective development. In practice, this means giving children positive and reinforcing messages. These messages give children control in areas of their life where they can act to achieve what they want (autonomy). “You can do it”, “Believe in yourself”, and “Thank you for what you’re doing” are some examples.

Assertive communication refers to the expression of opinions and emotions at difficult times. It means avoiding negative behaviors like reprimands, reproaches, confrontations, and harsh tones. In other words, it means expressing your ideas clearly, without conflict.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.”

-Albert Einstein-

The top of the emotional nutrition pyramid: games

Games are essential for fun. However, they’re also important for expression. A game is a controlled environment in which children could experience some of the social and physical phenomena that tend to occur in other areas of life. In fact, games are so important that the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized them as a child’s right in 1959.

You can use games to encourage emotional recognition and expression. For instance, you can create fictional situations and talk to your child about what each of the characters might be feeling.

“Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes and their ears, the resources of sounds, materials, forms and colors.”

-Loris Malaguzzi-

  • Bowlby J. (2014). Vinculos Afectivos: Formación, Desarrollo y Pérdida. (6ª edición). Madrid: Morata.