Carroll Izard with photos he uses to test children as to how well they can recognize and identify different emotions.

Teaching emotions

Izard's groundbreaking course for children expands its reach to Brazil

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11:14 a.m., July 24, 2012--A course developed by the University of Delaware's Carroll Izard and tested at Head Start centers in Delaware has been found to be successful in helping preschoolers understand and cope with different emotions in themselves and others.

Now, the Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UD is seeing an expansion of his Emotions Course for Young Children, which is now being translated into Portuguese for use in Brazil. Plans call for the program to be taught there by the end of the year.

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"It's very heartwarming for me to see this expand outside the United States," Izard said. "We've found that it really is helpful to young children, to help them learn to recognize emotions and to regulate their responses to them — both positive and negative — in a healthy way."

Since joining the UD faculty in 1976, Izard focused his previous work with emotional development on infants and preschool-age children. He eventually developed the Emotions Course, which consists of a 20-week intervention, with short lessons that preschool teachers can lead with the help of an instruction manual. 

Because poverty creates stress in children, Izard concentrated on testing and assessing the program in Head Start classrooms, which serve lower-income families. Children in stressful situations more often have difficulty understanding and coping with emotions, Izard said, a problem that can lead to social and academic problems as they continue in elementary school and later.

Izard and his research team, including both graduate and undergraduate students, are in the final year of a five-year study, funded by a $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, to measure the program's effectiveness. In the first two years of the study, researchers compared the results of children receiving Izard's intervention with those in classes using a different educational program about emotions. They found that Izard's Emotions Course was more effective in regulating children's classroom behavior.

In the third and fourth years of the study, all children in the Head Start classes were using the Emotions Course, and the program was extended to include training for parents. Currently, the researchers are analyzing the data from last year.

In addition to the course itself, Izard has developed a set of photos of children's faces displaying a variety of emotions. Researchers use the photos to assess how well children in the study can identify different emotions. That assessment has been used in Spain, and the Emotions Course has been used in Italy, Izard said. Next, both are expected to be used in Brazil.

"We've been working on this for a very long time, and I'm pleased to see that there's interest in Brazil," Izard said. "Some recognition of emotions is instinctive, but many young children need help in refining and developing their understanding, and that's what this is doing."

Article by Ann Manser

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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