Social and emotional development are a vital part of your child’s development. Learning about their feelings, how to handle them, how to relate to others are all important skills for your child as they develop friendships and relationships with others. When children can identify their feelings it helps them to have empathy for others. It also helps them to control their feelings and build self-esteem.


Feelings and emotions at each stage of development:

INFANTS: Infants show happiness by smiling, laughing, and making excited noises. They cry when they are unhappy, and they can be startled or frightened by loud noises, or unfamiliar sensations. When we respond to the infant with love, and gentle touch we are teaching them that their feelings are important to us. Responding to an infant’s needs builds self -esteem and confidence in the world around them.

TODDLERS: The word, “No”, is usually one of a toddlers first words. They are learning about the world around them and asserting their independence. They are ‘goal oriented’, which simply means they become fixated on what they want and are not capable of understanding the feelings of others at this time.

For example, A toddler may see another child riding a ride-around toy and want to use it. The toddler pushes the other child off the toy and climbs on it. The toddler sees the other child as simply an obstacle between themselves and what they want.

Even though this is age appropriate behavior, It is important to teach the toddler to recognize the other child’s feelings.

For example: say, “I know you wanted to ride the toy, but look at Sue, she is crying because you made her sad when you pushed her off the toy.” “Let’s go give Sue a hug and you can have a turn later to ride on the toy.”

With repeated modeling and training, the toddler will eventually learn how to recognize the feelings of others, they will eventually learn how to think about other’s feelings. At this stage it takes a lot of patience and repetition, but eventually the child will remember and understand.


Preschoolers love to pretend. This is a great time to teach them about feelings. They should be learning about basic feelings like happy, sad, angry, or scared. Preschoolers need to learn to identify feelings, how to handle the feelings, how to recognize the feelings of others, and how to show empathy. When you are reading them books ask questions. “How do you think Cinderella felt when the step sisters ripped her dress?” “What do you do when you are sad?” Role play, identifying feelings by name, and discussing how to handle the feelings are very important at this age


School age children are exposed to a number of different emotions and feelings. Part of their building self- confidence and good self- esteem is directly related to how they deal with their feelings. School age children can learn about more complex feelings like disappointed, frustrated, anxious, and elated. Encourage your child to talk to you about what is happening in school and how they are feeling. Help them by putting words to the feeling. “I know you are hurt and disappointed because you are not invited to the party.” Let the child know that you understand how they are feeling and are available to listen. Letting the child know that you not only understand, but are have suggestions to help them deal with the feelings validates their feelings and shows them they are worthy of being heard and this builds their self- esteem.


1. IDENTIFYING FEELINGS: Children need to identify their feelings. Putting a name to what they are experiencing takes the fear out of the intensity of their feelings. Talk to the child about what they are feeling. “You are sad because it’s raining and we can’t go out.” “I know you are angry because Josh took your toy away.” Talk freely about your feelings and put a name to your feelings. “I am frustrated because there is such a long line at the store check out.” Children need to know that they are not the only ones who experience the feelings they have. It is comforting for them to see that you can also have the same feelings.

2. STRONG FEELINGS: Sometimes intense feelings can frighten a child because they have not learned the coping skills to handle them. Give child an alternative to handle the emotion. “I know you are angry at Sue, but you can’t hit her. You can punch this pillow when you are angry.” Always acknowledge your child’s feelings. Never reprimand your child for feeling an emotion. “Stop crying, you have nothing to cry about.” Instead say, “I can see you are sad because you are crying, let’s talk about it.”


3. RECOGNIZE OTHER PEOPLE'S FEELINGS: Verbalize how the child’s actions are affecting others. “You make me upset when you throw the blocks.” “I’m disappointed that we can’t go outside today.” Let the child know you have feeling just like they do. Model for the child how to handle the feelings. Sometimes as a parent you may get angry and yell. Don’t be afraid to apologize to the child for your actions. You can say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but I got angry because you left your toys on the stairs again. I was afraid that someone is going to trip on the toy and fall down the stairs, but yelling didn’t make me feel better.” When you have calmed down have a discussion with the child the importance of keeping toys off the stairs.

4. RESPONDING TO OTHER PEOPLE'S FEELINGS: Children need to learn to empathize with others. This does not come easy. Children are naturally self-centered when they are young. Teaching our child to look at things from other perspectives is an important part of training our child to be a compassionate person. This begins with the child understanding their own feelings and learning how to handle their feelings. For the child it is important that they have felt that you understand and empathize with them when they are experiencing a strong emotion.

5. USING PLAY: Because play is so important to children, use games and role play to learn how to handle emotional situations. Play the feelings game. Look in the mirror with your child and make ‘feeling faces’. “How do we look when we are sad, scared, angry etc”.

Teaching children about feelings allows them to use their words instead of acting out against another child. A child that can say, “You make me mad when you don’t share.” Will be less likely to snatch a toy away or hit another child. Many times, children act aggressively because they don’t know how to handle what they are feeling. Taking the time to listen to your child, validate their feelings, and teaching them the appropriate way to handle those feelings will help them develop skills for healthy interactions with others.