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2 Action Regulation: From Emotional Action Regulation to Self-awareness in Coping

2 Action Regulation: From Emotional Action Regulation to Self-awareness in Coping

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7 Development of Coping during Toddlerhood …

The period between 3 and 6 months of age marks a major transition in infant development.

First, sleep-wake cycles and eating and elimination processes have become more predictable, signaling an important biological transition. Second, the ability of the infant to use

simple motor actions voluntarily to modify arousal levels begins to emerge. This increase in

control depends largely on the development of attention mechanisms and simple motor

skills (Rothbart et al. 1992; Harman et al. 1997; Kochanska et al. 2001) and leads to

coordinated use of attention engagement and disengagement, particularly in contexts that

evoke negative affect. When confronted by aversive stimuli, infants are now capable of

engaging in self-initiated distraction, which involves moving attention from the source of

the negative arousal to more neutral stimuli. For example, the ability to shift attention from

a negative event (e.g., something frightening) to a positive distractor (e.g., a toy, pet, or

parent) may allow infants to modulate their experience of negative affect.

By the end of the first year of life, infants become much more active and purposeful in their

attempts to control affective arousal (Kopp 1982). First, they begin to employ organized

sequences of motor behavior that enable them to reach, retreat, redirect, and self-soothe in a

flexible manner that suggests they are responsive to environmental cues. Second, their

signaling and redirection become explicitly social as they recognize that caregivers and

others may well behave in a way that will assist them in the regulation of affective states

(Rothbart et al. 1992; Diener et al. 2002). Successful use of such behaviors is critical in

making the transition from passive, caregiver-directed regulation to active self-regulation

(Calkins 2002).

During the second year of life, the transition from passive to active methods of emotion

regulation is complete (Rothbart et al. 1992). Although toddlers are not entirely capable of

controlling their affective states by this age, they are capable of using specific strategies to

attempt to manage affective states, albeit sometimes unsuccessfully (Calkins and Dedmon

2000; Calkins et al. 1998). Moreover, during this period, toddlers begin to respond to

caregiver directives and, as a consequence of this responsivity, compliance and behavioral

self-control begin to emerge (Kopp 1989). This shift is supported by developments in the

motor domain as well as changes in representational ability and the development of language skills. Brain maturation contributes as well, and by the end of toddlerhood, children

have executive control abilities that allow for the control of arousal and regulation of

emotional reactivity in a variety of contexts (Rueda et al. 2004). The use of more coordinated motor and language translates into greater skill at dealing with peers and teachers in

the preschool environment and for negotiating for autonomous behavior (e.g., “I do it

myself”) in the home environment. (p. 233)

Emergence of an agentic self. During the second year of life, the coordinated

systems guiding coping (i.e., emotional action regulation, intrinsic motivation, and

the sensorimotor intentionality of infancy) are transformed by the child’s increasing

awareness of the self as an intentional agent, with goals and rights of its own (e.g.,

possessions, opinions, and preferences). As explained by Brownell and Kopp (2007)

Early in the toddler period children’s awareness of agency emerges in the context of

walking, goal-directed activity, and primitive communicative activities that dominate the

first half of the second year of life (e.g., Adolph et al. 2003; Bullock and Lütkenhaus 1988;

Wenar 1976). The latter part of the second year and early months of the third year feature

the powerful ascendancy of self-awareness, including a sense of ownership and personal

space (e.g., Hay 2006; Lewis 1994; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979), language for describing

oneself and one’s wants and feelings (Shatz [2007]), symbolic representations of self’s and

others’ actions in play (Lillard [2007]), and the self-aware use of strategic behaviors to

modulate negative emotions (Kopp 1989)… Thus, with toddlerhood comes the recognition

of one’s own agency and with it, pleasure in one’s goal-directed achievements, recognition

7.2 Action Regulation …


that it is “me” who is in control—doing and feeling and being good or bad. This necessitates the complementary awareness and understanding of others’ agency as well and

permits increasingly complex and sophisticated sharing of one’s own experiences with

others, testing the limits of one’s agency, and accommodating to the behavior and feelings

of others. (p. 14)

Emergent self-awareness should have a major impact on the developing stress and

coping system. It shifts the center of gravity of the attentional–emotional–motivational

“yum-yuck” system, from relatively automatic sensorimotor coordination based on

the individual’s self-centered goals (“want that” or “don’t want that”) to one based on

an agentic self with its nascent self-consciousness (“I want that” or “I don’t want that”)

(Kopp 2011). As toddlers differentiate the self from the other, this also allows them to

separate coping that is carried out by caregivers from their own coping actions. This

can be seen in toddlers’ insistence on “I do it!” and their active rejection of parental

assistance and help (Crockenberg and Litman 1990; Harter 2012; Heckhausen 1991;

Kopp 1989; Lewis and Ramsay 2002). Initially, these developments can create a

period of entitlement and turbulence, as toddlers show increasing insistence on persevering in independently carrying out their own goals and realizing their own preferences, accompanied by heightened distress if goals are frustrated (Kopp 2011).

Development of self-systems. Dawning self-awareness and self-consciousness

are sometimes considered the beginnings of the development of the self (Harter

2012), but it is likely that the self-relevant information of which the emerging self

becomes aware during toddlerhood incorporates both implicit understandings and

explicit appraisals (described previously) that have been under construction as

internal working models since about four months of age. From a history of interactions with sensitive caregivers and stimulating physical materials in complex

enriched environments, toddlers should develop “islands” of positive self-systems

(Case et al. 1988) that allow them to (now explicitly) appraise most demands and

problems as challenges and not as threats.

Coping episodes themselves, when demands are challenging (but not highly

threatening or overwhelming) and appropriate support is available, can also become

sources of experience that confirm toddlers’ positive internal working models or

self-system processes. As described in previous chapters, these self-conceptions are

organized around relatedness (including a continuing sense of the world as caring and

trustworthy and of the self as loveable), competence (including a continuing sense of

the world as predictable and responsive and of the self as efficacious), and autonomy

(including a continuing sense of the world as open and respectful and of the self as

authentic) (Laible and Thompson 1998; Main et al. 1985). Moreover, based on histories of interactions with responsive and attuned caregivers and other people, toddlers’

appraisals should remain genuine reflections of their actual motives and emotions, and

action tendencies should become increasingly constructive (Kochanska et al. 2004,

2005). These open and realistic (non-defensive) appraisals should trigger productive

and cooperative action tendencies, allowing toddlers to respond with composed and

adaptive forms of coping, such as problem-solving (e.g., effort exertion, strategizing),

clear and calm expression of emotions or desires, comfort- or support-seeking,

accommodation, and negotiation (Calkins and Hill 2007; Kopp 2009).



7 Development of Coping during Toddlerhood …

Changing Role of Social Partners: Emotion

Socialization and Coping “Coaching”

As at previous ages, stress and coping are sites where toddlers can practice regulation, where it can be strengthened and consolidated, and where new action

strategies are created or discovered (Kopp 2009). The stress of not being able to

reach one’s goals immediately, of having to work hard or wait for something,

stretches the action repertoire and supports important discoveries, such as what

works and what does not, what actions are effective in what circumstances, when it

is time to regroup or capitulate, how to benefit from others’ help, and how to

coordinate actions with others. At the same time, however, during this age period,

parents still participate directly in toddlers’ appraisals and coping.

This process has been described in detail in depictions of “emotion-coaching”

parenting (Calkins and Hill 2007; Gottman et al. 1996, 1997; Keenan 2000; Sroufe

1996) and in work on the role of parental coaching in children’s coping (Kliewer

et al. 1996; Power 2004). Research on the development of emotion understanding

and emotion regulation has shown that when children are distressed,

“emotion-coaching” parents are sympathetic and open to the experience and

expression of authentic “negative” emotional states, detecting even low levels of

negative emotion and considering them natural and interesting (Eisenberg et al.

1996; Saarni 1997; Zahn-Waxler 2010). An essential ingredient of emotion

coaching seems to be the complete and unconditional acceptance of the child’s

emotional experience, while helping the child explore it and put it into accurate

language or find other appropriate expressions.

Hence, an important aspect of coaching entails joint discussions of upsetting

experiences that help children identify and talk about differentiated emotions, as

well as their causes, and jointly examine strategies for tolerating or alleviating them

(aka strategies for emotion regulation or emotion-focused coping) (Dunn et al.

1987; Kopp 1989; Miller and Sperry 1987). This is not easy; it requires the parent

to know the child well and to be sensitive to all of the child’s verbal and nonverbal

signals. However, this kind of emotion and coping coaching allows children to

integrate their genuine neurophysiological experiences of distress and arousal with

a differentiated vocabulary that allows them to accurately recognize and represent a

range of emotional and distressed states (even if words are not always accessible

during periods of heightened arousal; Denham 1998; Malatesta et al. 1989; Saarni

1997). The development of this kind of differentiated understanding of emotions

and other markers of stress is key to constructive coping because it affords children

access to the full range of their genuine emotional and motivational experience.

This provides crucial information when they are appraising the meaning of

potentially stressful events and when they are coping.

The use of words also allows children to de-couple the experience from the

expression of stressful emotions or motivations—this separation creates a growing

7.3 Changing Role of Social Partners …


“space” between impulse and action, and so marks an important step in the

development of flexible emotion and action regulation or coping. Accordingly

parents must adjust to a less central role when their toddlers run into problems, not

always acting out the coping that is required themselves, but aiding and abetting

their children in their initially incompetent emotion regulation and coping attempts

—by providing structures, supports, and suggestions for increasingly independent

coping (Eisenberg et al. 2009). Over the second year of life, these transactions come

to create well-practiced and coherent emotion-focused coping packages (made up of

integrated sequences of appraisal, emotion, flexible action tendencies, and repair

and soothing strategies), and the language used to direct caregivers in their use.

Development of extrinsic motivation. Perhaps surprisingly, the emergence of a

more autonomous and agentic self also promotes the development of extrinsic

motivations (Deci and Ryan 1985). The differentiation of self and other that

underlies emergent self-awareness is also apparent in the development of the more

differentiated “other-conscious,” or socially communicated, emotions of pride,

shame, and guilt, which also takes place during the second year (Heckhausen and

Heckhausen 2008). These emotions can expand sources of stress for the child (by

increasing the range of negative feelings that can accompany goal-directed actions),

but they can also open up steering mechanisms for the caregiver (Hoffman 1994;

Kochanska 1991). The suite of experiences accompanying self-awareness, together

with strengthening representational capacities, creates the possibility of constructive

internal goal conflicts (Kopp 2009). In these increasingly frequent coping episodes,

toddlers must come to grips with the prepotent goals pressed on their action

readiness by the “yum-yuck” system and begin to leaven these with the nascent

cognitively-represented suggestions of new self-conscious emotions, suggestions

that are initially activated by adults’ requests.

Coupled with close relationships and trust in (and the desire to please) attachment figures, these developments usher in the development of the “extrinsic”

motivation system. These systems build on earlier mechanisms employed by infants

to stop and steer their actions, such as the use of executive attention to disengage

visual attention from upsetting sights and to sustain concentration, as well as

rudimentary inhibitory control mechanisms that can slow or stop motor behavior in

the face of uncertainty, novelty, or threat (Posner et al. 2014; Rothbart et al. 2011).

The development of extrinsic motivation systems marks an important step in

expanding top-down flexibility in coping systems, and in action regulation more

generally (Kopp 2008), which will eventually allow toddlers to comply with

requests from caregivers to inhibit the expression of prepotent behaviors and

emotions (sometimes referred to as “don’t regulation”) or to show behaviors or

emotions which they do not spontaneously wish to perform (“do regulation”;

Kochanska et al. 2001). Toddlers’ capacities to exercise these systems seem to

depend not only on the strength and direction of the prepotent action tendencies that

are generated, but also on the quality of relationships with caregivers (Kopp 2009).

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