Emotional development

A little theory...

Emotional development is about...

Emotions are at the heart of our exchanges. They have a communicative function, enabling children from a very early age to express their needs. Emotions enable parents to respond to these needs by providing appropriate care (e.g., a child cries to indicate hunger). Then, as soon as language is acquired, emotions become more complex (e.g. able to say he is angry, afraid). Emotional development includes:

  • knowledge of emotions (e.g. the child has learned the names of different emotions)
  • understanding (e.g. child knows that we might be afraid of spiders)
  • recognition of emotions (e.g. child recognizes mother's angry face)
  • self-control (e.g., the child is able to say he's happy without succumbing to the temptation to jump on the couch).

Finally, there's a close link between a child's emotional maturity and their level of popularity with teachers and peers. Empathy, on the other hand, comes later. Some also use the term "social cognition" to refer to this ability to be aware of the affective states of others. Prosocial behaviors, such as sharing, helping a friend with a task or consoling a friend, are generally observed at the end of pre-school age (4-5 years). These types of prosocial behavior are just a few examples of the ability to put oneself in the other person's shoes, and to consider the other person's ideas.

How to stimulate development through play?

To encourage your children's emotional development, it's important to strike a balance between supervision and autonomy in play. Although "symbolic play" remains one of the most favorable contexts for affective development, mime, imitation and story-telling activities involving other characters also help to achieve this objective (e.g. in the Emotions memory game, when the child finds an identical pair of sulking boys, he must say why he thinks the boy is sulking). By questioning your child about certain situations (e.g. "Do you think your grandpa might be sad too?"), you'll induce the other's awareness. Finally, it's important that your child's play interactions are positive and affectionate; this prepares him to interact positively with his peers.

To find out more

Children's storybook collection on emotions L'attachement, un départ pour la vie, Éditions du Chu Ste-Justine
J'ai mal à l'école : troubles affectifs et difficulté scolaire, Éditions du CHU ste-justine