I think it is easy to forget that knowing what emotion we are experiencing and why we are experiencing it is not a given. As a parent, we often run into sharp reminders of this with toddlers who can seem so unreasonable when they don’t manage their emotions. Emotional development in children is a very important aspect to their learning process, but what does it mean and how do you help your child accomplish it?
What is Emotional Development?
Emotional development refers to your child’s ability to express, recognize, and manage their feelings at different stages of their growth. It’s about learning to understand and express both positive and negative emotions within their relationships, especially with parents, siblings, and friends.
Emotional Development Milestones
Infants as young as six weeks begin to show emotion with family members by using smiles and accompanying sounds of happiness. By the time they’re around three months old, they start learning to laugh, which shows they can recognize an action outside of the norm and respond accordingly.
Emotional development improves and their responses become more strong as they grow. Young toddlers learn to express happiness, frustration, and sadness. And more importantly, they learn to express these emotions at the appropriate time in response to what’s happening around them.
As children practice imitating adults and have more social interactions with peers, their emotional development continues. At about the time they start kindergarten, children are experiencing more complex feelings like embarrassment. They are learning to express their feelings with words but often still struggling to do so. I remember trying to prompt my children, “Leo, use your words, and tell me what you are feeling.” You can read more on what to expect at different ages here.
Emotional Development In Early Childhood
Having appropriate emotional skills becomes important to children throughout their life and it can impact how they interact and function in the world around them even as adults. A positive relationship with adults they trust is key to the success of emotional developmental in children. Emotional development in early childhood is often about imitation of the adults who are close and the response children get as they display different emotions.
What can you do to help your child’s emotional development along?
Model appropriate behaviors for them and let them learn by your example. Infants and toddlers especially learn from watching the people around them. They will often mimic facial expressions as well as verbal expressions.
Be affectionate with your child. Hugs, kisses, and snuggles will help them feel safe and will teach them emotional skills.
Ask them to express what they’re feeling in words so that they can learn to understand and identify how they’re feeling. Start with the basics of happy, mad, or sad and add as appropriate. Be considerate of their feelings, wants, and needs so that they can learn to understand the appropriate responses to what they’re feeling.
Ask them about their day, their activities, and how they felt throughout the day while doing things they enjoyed.
Show pride in their accomplishments, both big and small. A child’s need to feel pride is a major motivator in their decisions and actions.
Offer encouragement and support when they need it. This will help them understand and accept feelings and emotions they may not like as much and it will help them learn to deal with stress. And learning to deal with stress through appropriate coping mechanisms is a very important lesson for kids.
Encourage them to try new things so they can see what they’re capable of and learn new things they enjoy.
Provide opportunities for them to play with other children so they can learn to express and model emotional behaviors outside of their home environment and develop social skills as well.
Establish routines so your child has some predictability they can count on, but also be flexible with those routines to help them learn how to adjust and become resilient.
You are your child’s best role model as their emotional development grows and they begin to understand how to recognize and express their feelings. The most important thing you can do is provide encouragement in a safe and trusting environment to allow them the space to grow. Emotional development in children should not be overlooked and it is something that will help them be more successful in adult life too. Your emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) is something that we can continue to work on refining as adults.