August 15, 2022

Emotional Development in Children: What Is It and How to Guide Them?

In the first two years of life, Emotional or Affective Development and trust in others are very present in the children's growth. At this stage, children learn the existence of emotions and how to manage them around their interests. Parents should be involved in the emotional and affective development of our children. Read on to learn what it is, why it is relevant, and how we can help them in this process.

Lorena Vidaurre, Ph.D.
Lorena Vidaurre, Ph.D.
A young, Asian girl is upset while leaning on a stuffed animal

What is emotional development in children?

It is the process in which children learn to build their identity, self-esteem, security, and confidence in themselves and those around them. Within this space are their family, friends, and educators. This type of growth is also known as early childhood affective development or the expression of emotions.

As parents or guardians of our children, one of the best ways to get involved is to be attentive to their emotions and mood changes to guide them.

As children grow, they recognize and demonstrate that emotions exist. These emotions change and appear progressively, when they realize that they have power over their feelings; this happens naturally and is part of the process of their emotional development.

It is vital to recognize and respect our children's feelings so that they feel that they are in a safe space, that we are their refuge and their pillar and that we are here to help them in their difficult times. In the same way, by knowing and respecting their feelings, we have the opportunity to witness their happiest experiences and learn to celebrate small moments and glories.

Children learn by watching

Children learn from what they see around them. They learn by watching what we do or say in front of them and interacting with other children. During this period, our children realize they are unique and different from others.

Have you heard the phrase "Enjoy your children, time goes by too fast"? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Many parents, educators, and doctors advise us to hug our children tightly because they will grow up, and our kisses and hugs will no longer be their priority. In a way, this is true, as their emotional developmental nature puts different interests in front of them depending on their age.

Emotional development in childhood consists of three stages in which physical, cognitive and social development occurs in different measures. These three stages differ in terms of age.

The stages of Emotional Development according to age

1.) The First Two Years

During the first months of life (0-24 Months), the baby learns to play and interact with people close to him, with whom he already has a regular closeness. At an early age, babies begin to recognize familiar faces and identify who they know and who they do not know. They are also guided by the smell and voice tone of people nearby.

2.)  Between two to three years

The next stage of their development is from 2 to 3 years of age, when children begin to speak and realize that their body can control some movements and emotions; this may occur sooner or later, depending on each child's development.

At this stage, changes in their mood begin to occur. These changes can be rapid and may be accompanied by an impatient and demanding attitude, as children will want things done their way.

At this stage, it is common for children to show extreme attachment to their parents and fear separation from them.

3.)  Between three to five years

The child's development in the third stage, from 3 to 5 years of age, is mainly based on play. Then, they begin their educational phase and learn to socialize with other children and have shared activities.

At this stage, they also learn other emotions, such as competing with others or feeling happy when they achieve what they have set out to do or have requested. For example: taking off their clothes to get into the shower by themselves or putting toys in their place.

Another strong emotion they feel is frustration, which often results from failure. For example: Not having finished the meal or not being able to assemble a Lego tower.

It is natural to feel fear and insecurity as part of this process and development. But with proper guidance and support from the parents and educators, children can learn to manage their emotions and follow their progress favorably.

Tips to guide them in their Emotional Development

Children feel an infinite attachment to their parents from the moment they arrive in this world. For this reason, we are the ones who can show them love and reassurance. A pleasant and positive home environment is vital for the healthy development of children. Our job is to educate with values so that they learn by example.

Some tools we can rely on are the following: 

  • Accept our children's identity without exceptions, and make them feel confident in their identity. Help them recognize their emotions, identify them, and express their feelings in different situations.
  • Support their self-esteem and show them that they are safe by our side. We do this with specific praise based on performance. It is essential that children know how proud their parents are of them.
  • Play with them and engage in responsible activities to learn something new together. Spending quality time with them is a precious gift that many of us today have neglected, not understanding that we are blessed to have our family around. 

For example, you can dedicate a specific day during the week to do activities together like cooking a family recipe, reading it, having all the ingredients in order, and putting it into practice. You can also organize your laundry together; learn how to wash it, dry it and put it away correctly.

  • Be thankful for the good and learn from the bad. All this together so that children see that emotions have consequences. Explain and teach them that mistakes are a fundamental part of their growth.
  • Listen to them, no matter what you're doing at the time. This way, they will know they matter to you, and their word is valuable.

For example: when my grandchildren talk to me, I stop what I am doing, bend down or sit on the floor so that my eyes are at their level, actively listen to them by shaking my head or making other gestures, and repeat a bit of what they say and at the end of the conversation, affirm what they say or expand on what they are learning.

  • Treat our children as if they were friends. Give them proper and timely attention; look them in the eye when they speak, do not judge them, and do not encourage fear.
  • Teach them to respect the tastes and opinions of others just as you and those who love them respect them. Teaching them about respect is an excellent opportunity to focus on spiritual development. For example, the Bible's Golden Rule is great for learning this concept:

"So in everything, treat others as you want them to treat you, for in this the law and the prophets are summarized."

Matthew 7:12

  • If your children are having a difficult time accompanied by tantrums, cries, and screams, expect a prudent time to pass; allow them cry or scream as long as they are out of danger. Then, accompany them in their emotions, and tell them that you know what they are feeling but that it will soon pass. Hug and lull them until they calm down.

Remember! There are no spoiled children, there are children in development process, and all their emotions are moldable with love, dedication and biblical principles.

And now! Get up, run to your child, hug him, kiss him, and tell him how much you love him and how important he is to you.

All the time, I tell my grandchildren that I love them very much, and then I ask them, "but do you know who loves you the most, God!" Now they know the answer by heart; they always reply, "Mimi, why do you keep asking us; we know the answer, God loves us the most!"

Educating children full of love will make a difference. We need love to rule because in that way, we can build empathy, joy, gratitude, forgiveness and solidarity.

It is better to raise children full of love, who will eventually know the world around them, than raise children with a lack of affection, full of fears who will grow up defensive.

If you liked this information, I recommend reading about the five emotional needs of preschoolers and ways to support them.