Learning Through Relationships

FEDC Chart

Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities


Each stage of functional emotional development involves the simultaneous mastery of both emotional and cognitive abilities.  For example, a baby learns causality through the exchange of emotional signals: I smile and you smile back.  She then uses this knowledge to understand that pulling a string, for example, rings a bell.

1. Regulation & Interest In The World:

The focus of this stage is shared attention: to learn and interact socially, children need to be able to focus, be calm, and actively take in information from their experiences with others; from what they see hear, smell, touch, and taste; and from the way they move.

2. Engagement & Relating:

When we talk about engaging and relating, we mean doing so from the heart.  The child has the desire to be part of a relationship.

3. Intentionality & Two-way Communication:

Engagement in back-and-forth emotional signaling or two-way communication.  A child smiles, he gets a smile back, so he smiles again.  This is what we call a circle of communication.  His smile becomes purposeful: he smiles in order to get a smile in return.  Different facial expressions, vocalizations, and gestures become part of this communication.

4. Social Problem Solving, Mood Regulation & Formation of a Sense of Self:

During this stage shared social problem solving emerges: children use patterns that involve three or four steps toward achieving a desired result.  Later this leads to putting words together in a sentence and to scientific thinking and math.  All of this progress is built on emotional interactions that become increasingly complex, leading to higher levels of intelligence.

5. Creating Symbols, Using Words & Ideas:

To understand and use words and language, children must first be able to engage in complex emotional signaling, which allows them to separate actions from perceptions and hold images in their minds.  They must also be able to connect these images with their emotions to give them meaning, forming symbols and ideas.  Language ability arrives because images acquire meaning through many emotionally relevant experiences and exchanges.
The use of ideas and symbols can be seen in imaginative play.  Children use pretend play to symbolize real or imagined events such as tea parties or monster attacks.  They use symbols to manipulate ideas in their minds without actually having to carry out actions.  This allows new flexibility in reasoning, thinking and problem solving.

6. Emotional Thinking, Logic and a Sense of Reality:

Connecting one’s own idea to someone else’s logically is the basis for a new understanding of reality.  Children now connect internal experiences with external experiences.  Emotional investment in relationships enables children to recognize the difference between what’s inside them, their fantasies and the ideas and actual behavior of others.  Logical thinking leads to news skills, such as debating, math, and scientific reasoning.

7. Multi-causal & Triangular Thinking:

To learn multi-causal thinking, children must be able to invest emotion in more than one possibility.  For example, they must be able to consider a second friend as a play partner, rather than depend on just one friend.  At this stage, children can understand family dynamics in terms of relationships among different people, rather than just in terms of whether they get their own needs met.

8. Gray-Area, Emotionally Differentiated Thinking:

Multi-causal and triangular thinking enables children to progress to understand the varying degrees or relative influence of feelings, events, or phenomena (for instance, “I’m only a little mad.”)

9. Reflective Thinking and an Internal Standard of Self:

One can now judge experience and can say things like “I was really mad – more than usual.”   Or, they can look at a peer’s behavior and say, “That is OK for them, but not OK for me. ”  One can now make inferences and can think in more than one frame of reference at a time.  They can create new ideas from existing ones, they can consider both the past and the future.