Understanding emotions

Understanding your child’s emotions – even the more difficult ones

Understanding Your Child’s Emotions

From The Secure Child set of talks and materials


Understanding your child’s emotions – even the more difficult ones – is a trick we would all like to perfect. Especially as their emotions are a very real part of everyday life, just like for all of us.  Positive emotions will be felt, such as happiness, love and joy. They will feel the negative emotions of fear, anger or jealousy. And they will experience neutral emotions of apathy, acceptance or indifference. 

How do emotions develop, why do children react like that?  What purpose do they serve and how can we best support them? 

With some understanding of their emotions, you can support your child as they learn to understand and manage their emotions for themselves. And only then can you consider how this influences their behaviours, and what you can do to support their healthy growth.

The way your child reacts to any given situation is dependent on many different things. 

  • Their responses depend on the gene pool they have been born into, and the environment they are in. 
  • They also depend on their developmental stage and developing character; whether they are naturally anxious, prone to anger or susceptible to hurt feelings. 
  • As well as being affected by current family stressors and life circumstances, such as moving home, family break ups, new jobs or the birth of a sibling. 

It can also simply be that they are feeling unwell, tired, frustrated or even merely hungry.

Simply said, emotions are then a natural, healthy, and necessary part of growing up that we want our children to experience, at the right time, and to the right extent.  But they do need careful understanding, guidance and support. 

Your child is developing their social and emotional skills alongside everything else. With developmental milestones and structures that need to be in place before they can understand the importance of routines, how to interact with others, how to share, and how to negotiate the inevitable conflicts. 

As they learn to speak their first words, they are learning what it means to take turns in conversation.  As they learn to walk, they are managing the frustrations of falling over.  

Trouble comes however, when emotions are not managed, or when expectations are unrealistic

Negative emotions are a very real part of everyone’s lives and your child needs to understand how to deal with their own negative emotions. As well as how to interact with their peers when they are experiencing them.

This involves a large set of complex reasoning tasks that your child needs to learn to understand. They then need to be able to influence, and communicate through the emotions that they are experiencing. 

But to do this, they need to feel their emotions, without being afraid of them.  They need to learn how to recognise emotions in themselves and others. And they need to develop techniques to regulate their strong emotions, to know how to cooperate and socially interact.    

You can help your child to develop all of these skills. Through guided support, managed behavioural techniques and effectively modelled responses to conflict, you can support your child through the minefield of emotion regulation.


Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk

DEVELOPING EVERY CHILD’S POTENTIAL

Coming Soon:

Embracing all your child’s emotions – even more dramatic ones

how to understand the science behind your child’s emotions

Is your child developing a healthy sense of themselves?

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