Do Kids Feel Stronger Emotions Than Adults?

Featured in
Gizmodo
Published on
September 10, 2018

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Professor, Psychology, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Children and adults may both feel equally strong emotions, but adults have had a lifetime to learn to regulate the experience and expression of those emotions, and have had more time to learn which strategies work for them, and in what contexts.

Children may show stronger emotions and experience them more intensely when they are in a period of developmental change. For example, during adolescence, the teen brain is developing stronger and more efficient connections between areas of the brain underlying drives, arousal, and motivations and those areas underlying inhibition, control, and logical decision making. But this is a work in progress. Finding the balance may be difficult because teens are facing numerous changes—changing bodies, social lives, academic lives, etc. The balance between “emotional” and “control” parts of the brain is more important than the strength of each one in isolation, and develops in relation to how intense our challenges are, and how we are able to cope with them. Where we end up in our emotional lives is about this balance. Indeed, many adults still struggle with intense anger, grief, and fears because we are trying to find the right balance between emotion and control given the challenges we all face, both good and bad, and how well we can cope with them.

So, in a nutshell, children may on average experience stronger emotions, but it all depends on the balance between their drives and feelings, their ability to exert purposeful control, and the match between the intensity of the challenges they face and the personal resources with which they meet those challenges.

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