Do children learn how to negotiate their role in society by testing their place in the family hierarchy?

A University of Illinois research program details how children learn how to deal with disappointment in life outside the family by exploring unattended emotions in the home against parents and siblings:

Participants were taught emotional and social competencies through modeling, role-playing, performance feedback, and coaching in five one-hour training sessions. Puppets, videos, and life demonstrations were used to teach these positive sibling behaviours. Children then practised these behaviours with their sibling and received immediate feedback and coaching.

The trick of this fine study is in the testing and in the rejection of behavior in a safe harbor.

In the real world, behavior is unchecked in the workplace and in school before expression, but the ramifications of the behavior in action are never really known to the performer unless and until a decision is made to chide, praise or correct comes into play.

The surprise in that sudden behavior modification can create a disconnect between reality and imagination.

The Illinois study is helpful in suggesting the testing of emotional responses against parents and siblings can help a child predict the reaction of others in the world beyond familial confines.

Knowing which behavior will get what reaction goes a long way in helping form a common social fabric of expectation, reciprocity and helping that can otherwise be lost in the novice expression.


  1. In theory, certain reactions will occur but in reality the reactions might not happen if a person is in a certain off mood, which may confuse the child. Hmm.

  2. Hi David,
    The study seems to be very interesting and looks like a good way to teach the kids about people skill.

  3. There does need to be a perceptive mind alive in the process of the emotional training, Gordon, or all is lost in the testing process because no one with a clear mind is able to make a value judgment about the appropriateness of the expressed emotion.

  4. Children do need to be led through the emotional range in a safe way, Katha, and testing those values at home is the best way to do it — but having an emotionally subscribed parent or sibling is also important in the teaching and the correction.

  5. This is right on target. A good family helps everyone in that family behave better.

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