Selfdetermination Perspective

Our developmental view of emotional self-regulation centers around the construct of autonomy and is based on self-determination theory. This theory stresses the key roles of three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—for motivated action. Self-determination theory can be characterized as an organismic theory stressing that development is a motivated process which emanates from the organism (Deci & Ryan, 1985). According to this viewpoint, individuals are born with innate tendencies to operate on their inner and outer environments in attempts to master them. Underlying this tendency to master, organize, and overtake oneself is the energy source referred to as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation, then, fuels the seeking out of novelty, pursuit of challenges, and other growth-promoting experiences. In short, intrinsic motivation is the fuel for development.

The theory further postulates three psychological needs underlying intrinsic motivation. The first need is to feel autonomous or to feel that one's actions emanate from oneself. A second is to feel competent in dealing with the environment, including both the internal and external environments. A third need is for relatedness or connectedness with important others. These needs are complementary. For example, one can fulfill needs for autonomy and relatedness by being choicefully connected to another person.

From this viewpoint, children will naturally move toward autonomy, competence, and related-ness, as long as the environment does not thwart this movement. Applying this concept to emotional development, movement toward more active, self-initiated regulation is an expression of children's natural tendencies toward growth and development more generally in the direction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Children fulfill needs for autonomy as they experience a greater sense of agency in the expression of emotion as well as a greater capacity to use the information contained in their emotional experiences to serve their goals. Autonomous regulation is the converse of being other-reliant in one's emotion regulation or of being overwhelmed by emotional experiences, both of which lack a sense of self as an active regulator of one's experience. Also, as children take more responsibility for regulating emotion, they obtain a sense of competence as they master impulses and emotions rather than being overtaken by them. Finally, as children move toward greater self-regulation of emotion, they are able to fulfill the goals that others have for them, such as expressing emotions in a socially acceptable manner (Kopp, 1989). In addition, they are more likely to be able to initiate and maintain positive interactions with others. Both of these tendencies bring them closer to others and increase their sense of relatedness to them. In these ways, autonomy and relatedness work together and enhance one another.

While children will naturally move toward greater autonomy, competence, and relatedness with respect to emotional processes, there are aspects of development in relation to emotion regulation that are not natural or spontaneous. For example, modulating the expression of strong negative emotions is not something that children are intrinsically motivated to do but, rather, it represents the social expectations of children's caregivers and social groups. Such regulation first must be accomplished through caregiver prompts and interventions. The taking on of initially externally regulated behaviors or strategies falls under the rubric of internalization (Grolnick, Ryan, & Deci, 1997; Ryan, Connell, & Deci, 1985). Internalization is the means through which regulatory processes that originally are external in origin become transformed into part of the personal repertoire of the child. Intrinsically motivated activities as well as the internalization of extrinsically afforded regulations are the two major strands of development. As such, they both are fueled by intrinsic motivation and the underlying needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Another relevant aspect of this theory is the specification of environments that facilitate or inhibit intrinsically motivated activity and the internalization of externally afforded regulations. A corollary of the theory is that environments which support the child's needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness will facilitate the two processes of intrinsic motivation and internalization, and those undermining these needs will forestall them. In particular, we have suggested that environments characterized by support for autonomy, structure, and involvement facilitate the development of behavioral self-regulation (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989), and we have now expanded this theory to the emotional realm (Ryan, Deci, & Grolnick, 1995). We will return to this social-contextual aspect of the theory in the Caregiver Contributions section.

Joy Of Modern Parenting Collection

Joy Of Modern Parenting Collection

This is a collection of parenting guides. Within this collection you will find the following titles: Issues, rule and discipline, self esteem and tips plus more.

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