As young children develop, they learn how to manage stress, cope with frustration, think of appropriate solutions to challenges and get along with others – this is all part of their emotional development.
As a parent or caregiver, you can help promote this by encouraging your little one’s healthy expression of feelings.
In this guide, we will look at what you can expect at each stage of their emotional development, what you can do to encourage emotional expression on a daily basis and some recommended activities.
First, let’s take a look at what you can expect at each stage of development:
Did you know babies can experience a wide range of pretty complex emotions like happiness, sadness and fear?!
But your little ones first life lesson is to develop feelings of trust. This is when love and attention are key! Respond to their cries, provide physical comfort and plenty of love.
Toddlers will actively be learning about the world around them, becoming more independent and slowly developing skills needed to express feelings through words and actions.
As they are learning to do this, they may become frustrated, this is when biting can occur (this is most common between 18 months and 3 years). There are a variety of ways to curve biting behaviours – you can click here for our full guide.
Children at this age want to do things on their own like feeding themselves or getting dressed as well as making their feelings known by saying ‘mine’ or ‘no’.
Support your little one’s pursuit for independence, give them time to learn how to do these things, even if it takes a little bit longer.
Children at preschool age love to play!
They are able to express emotions but are still learning to make friends and resolve conflicts. It’s important to be patient during this time as these lessons take time to learn.
Encouraging your little one to resolve their own conflicts and challenges (for instance when it comes to sharing – click here for our full guide) will enable them to learn this more effectively and become a more caring and compassionate person.
And now for ways, you can encourage emotional expression on the daily:
· Be an active listener
Through acceptance and understanding from a parent or carer, children will slowly learn to manage their own emotions and respect the feelings of others.
· Body language is important
Body language is a big tell of how your little one is feeling, especially before they are able to communicate this verbally.
· Positivity is key
Notice and encourage positive behaviours, your child will respond better to positive reinforcements. Click here for our full positivity guide.
Labelling your and your child’s feelings will help them acknowledge, recognise, and model these. For example, using phrases like ‘I’m so excited to go to the park with you!’.
But not the fashion kind! Your child is a sponge, absorbing all information around them, as a parent or caregiver, they will want to do everything you do!
So be sure to model acceptable forms of expression and be the best role model you can be.
This includes modelling empathy towards others. You can find daily opportunities to model empathy including caring for a pet, donating clothing to others etc.
· Feelings vs behaviour
Recognise the difference between your little one’s feelings and behaviour. Of course, limits need to be set if a child is physically hurting someone else, but their feelings can still be validated in this situation.
Let your child know it's okay to feel angry but it's not okay to hurt others. You can provide appropriate consequences for the behaviour and offer alternative forms of expression – letting them know that all feelings are okay, it's what you do with them that counts!
· Love and affection
This one is a bit obvious but show your little one love and affection! Be available when your child seems sad, afraid or frustrated.
Use words and actions to let your child know it’s safe to express their emotions.
· Let your child take charge
When dealing with a conflict or challenge, allow your little one to take time to figure things out by themselves through discussion rather than giving them a solution.
For example, ‘there’s only one toy you both want to play with, what can we do?’
· Be patient
Your child is learning, give them time to figure things out, even if they need a little bit of help along the way.
· It’s about you too
As mentioned previously, we encourage you to be the role model in your child’s life but this can’t be possible if you don’t take care of yourself first.
By maintaining your own emotional well-being, you are modelling important life skills to help your child learn and grow.
Take time to nurture yourself. Activities like taking a walk, exercising, reading a book, keeping a journal, or even just having coffee with a friend.
It’s also important to develop healthy, mutually respectful relationships with others. Your little one will attempt to model your relationship dynamics with others.
Finally, we have some recommended activities for practising and developing emotional expression:
When reading books with your little one, chat about the characters and how they are feeling.
Create an ‘all about me’ book with your child. Include photos of them and your family, favourite foods, friends, and pictures of things that make your child happy, sad, mad, scared and excited.
Use puppets or teddy bears to encourage your child to explore feelings through imaginative play.
Encourage creative activities like painting or crafting.
Mirror play! Take turns making facial expressions in the mirror that reflect a variety of emotions such as happiness, surprise, sadness, fear, frustration, etc.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or are worried about your child's mood, behaviour, or development, speak to your nursery key person/manager or contact your GP.
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