Preschoolers have a lot to learn as they grow from toddlers to school age. Handling emotions begins in the preschool years, said Cheryl Clark, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
As children learn about emotions, adults can help them understand that all the emotions they feel are normal, said Clark, who specializes in family wellbeing.
“Feelings are universal: everyone has them. There are helpful ways and less helpful ways to deal with feelings, but the feelings themselves are not bad or good,” Clark said. Feelings can change quickly: a child may be happily giggling one minute, then quickly begin to cry; it’s common to have more than one feeling at a time.
Parents or caregivers can take the first steps in helping preschoolers understand how they feel by naming the emotions they’re feeling.
“Most of us are pretty comfortable naming happy, sad or mad. But there are so many other emotions, and it’s not just 4-year-olds who have trouble naming them. It can be hard for adults to know what our feelings are called, too,” Clark said. “Especially in stressful times like the past few years, when so much is happening to and around us, it’s important to be intentional about noticing and naming our own feelings.”
Clark offered some simple activities to do at home to help children name and recognize feelings.
- Use your facial expressions and body language to play feelings charades. Act out different feelings and take turns guessing. Add a mirror so that your child can see how their face looks, too.
- Keep a list of words that describe feelings on the fridge or bulletin board. When children learn new words, add them to the list. Or use magnetic alphabet letters to spell out feeling words.
- Share books to open up conversations about feelings. Through books children can name and recognize feelings. They also learn that other people have feelings, too. Books let children see how characters manage their feelings in helpful or not-so-helpful ways. Ask your local children‘s librarian for suggestions on good books to share with children, such as “The Way I Feel” by Janan Cain.
For more information on helping your preschooler learn about emotions, explore The Science of Parenting resources from ISU Extension and Outreach.