A Guide for Families and Caregivers

Building Block 3

Expressing Emotions
Key Message
Showing young children how to identify and express emotions helps them gain a sense of control, share experiences and build healthy relationships.

Emotion regulation is very important for children’s social and emotional development. Children who learn to express their emotions in healthy ways have better self-control and more positive relationships with others.

Learning to name feelings is an important first step in expressing emotions. When we acknowledge children’s feelings by responding, “I see you are very sad about losing your truck," we help them to recognize the feeling of sadness. If the child has verbal skills, it is important to allow them time to respond, for example, “It’s my favourite truck." Young children experience a range of feelings, including happy, mad, sad, frustrated, scared, and excited.

Conversations about feelings are crucial to children’s emotional understanding and expression. For example, in addition to the above statement acknowledging a child's sadness about losing a truck, a caregiver might also add, “It is hard to lose a favourite toy. Let me give you a hug, or come hold my hand and then we can look for the truck together.” This conversation lets the child know that it’s okay to be sad, that you care about them when they are sad, and that there are things you can do to cope with sad feelings. 

Children’s emotional reactions to situations can be cute, annoying or frustrating to adults. Adults sometimes respond to children’s strong emotions by laughing or trying to see the humour of the situation in an effort to ease the child’s distress. When a child is upset, what they need from the caregiver is to have their feelings acknowledged and respected. By helping the child to name and understand their feelings, parents and caregivers are giving the message that they care about how the child is feeling; this demonstrates respect. Just like adults, children need their feelings to be understood and respected by the people they care about. This, in turn, helps them to develop positive self-esteem and learn how to care about the feelings of others.

Children are constantly watching the people around them and learning from what they see.  When children see the important adults around them identify and cope with strong feelings in positive ways, they have a better chance of practicing these behaviours. The ability to read and understand emotions becomes even more important when children begin to develop friendships and other relationships outside the family. 

"When you acknowledge my feelings I can acknowledge them too."
Last Modified: 01-Mar-2020