Doctoral dissertation

Erna Törmälehto: Identifying Children’s Emotional States – Parents and Teachers as Informants

Erna Törmälehto
The doctoral dissertation of Master of Arts (Education) Erna Törmälehto examines what children’s emotional states parents and teachers identify and what emotional states are left unidentified. The results of the study encourage parents, teachers and other adults working with children to pay more attention to building a healthy, interdependent relationship with children. When adults care, respect and appreciate children, children are encouraged to talk about their internal restlessness and anxiousness. They also express sympathy more readily.

It is important for children’s well-being to know how children perceive their own situation. An individual usually defines their situation based on how they feel. Every human being is the best expert of their own emotional life, including children. A child has a need to be seen and heard. For this experience to be achievable, children’s situations must also be identified outside of a child’s own emotional experience. This applies to both emotional well-being and distress. The theory of recognition validates the need of every individual to be identified and recognized in their own environment.

Usually, parents and teachers are the adults who spend the most time with children. For this reason, it can be assumed that they are the ones who have the most accurate knowledge regarding the children’s situations. When we know which emotional states the adults identify, we gain information about children’s emotional states. Identifying children’s emotional states is beneficial for professionals working with children. If children’s distress is not identified, they may be left without much-needed support and if children’s positivity is not recognized, they may be left without encouragement.

The study examines what children’s emotional states parents and teachers identify and what emotional states are left unidentified. An emotional state is a phenomenon that comprehensively affects a child’s everyday action and behavior.

The research material was collected using a structured questionnaire, which was filled out by 989 5th and 6th grade students between the ages of 11 and 12 as well as 780 of their parents and 50 of their teachers. The age group data specifically represents the urban population from Central Finland and children from the countryside as well as Finnish subteens in general.

The children, parents and teachers filled out The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, which consists of claims related to emotions and behavior. In this study, it is assumed that emotional states affect behavior, and therefore the claims that are related to behavior will be interpreted as representations of emotional states. The evaluations of children’s behavior and emotions that were filled out by the parents and teachers are compared to the ones filled out by the children. The comparison is carried out utilizing statistical tests and multivariate methods.

The results of the study indicate that parents and teachers do not always identify children’s emotional states. Parents and teachers did not identify restlessness and anxiety in children. Anxiousness did not visibly affect children’s behavior, but instead it manifested itself as an internal emotional state that was difficult to identify. Restlessness manifested itself as both internal restlessness and restless behavior.

Parents were able to identify children’s sympathy fairly well and children’s sense of outsideness well, but teachers were under risk to not identify children’s sympathy well enough. Children’s sense of outsideness was barely left unidentified by teachers. Similarly to restlessness, sympathy also manifested itself as both an internal emotion and as visible positive behavior towards others. It can be concluded that professionals working with children should not rely too much on information conveyed by a child’s parents. Information related to a child’s emotional state is especially limited.

The results of the study encourage parents, teachers and other adults working with children to pay more attention to building a healthy, interdependent relationship with children. When adults care, respect and appreciate children, children are encouraged to talk about their internal restlessness and anxiousness. They also express sympathy more readily.

The study and previous studies have shown that most children feel well. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that children also need positive feedback whenever it is justifiable.
 
The doctoral dissertation of Master of Arts (Education) Erna Törmälehto in the field of Social work titled  Vanhemmat ja opettajat lasten tunnetilojen tunnistajina will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences Pori Unit of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 10 December, 2021. The venue is University Consortium of Pori auditorium 126, address: Pohjoisranta 11 A, Pori. Professor emerita Pirjo Pölkki from University of Eastern Finland will be the opponent while Professor (tenure track) Katja Kuusisto will act as the custos.

The event can be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-2174-1

Photo: Tero Koskinen

 

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