Emotional development of young children

The toddlers in your daycare show very natural emotions, depending on their age it may be difficult for them to name them in a targeted manner. An important task is to help toddlers regulate their emotions.

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Children first have to learn how to deal with their own emotions and those of others. This is the basis for self-awareness and thus for social interaction with other people. All other development areas are based on this. In this article you will find out how the emotional development of children aged 0–3 years goes and how you support them.

These emotional skills are important

Children mainly learn from caregivers and other children to behave emotionally competent in situations. Through mutual interaction, emotional skills develop. The children learn:

  • perceive your own feelings
  • to express one’s feelings non-verbally or verbally
  • understand and interpret your own feelings
  • to accept your own feelings
  • Hiding feelings
  • Faking feelings or using them consciously
  • to be able to deal constructively with their feelings
  • To process feelings
  • Recognize, generate and evaluate emotions in other people and react appropriately to them

Development of emotional skills

Emotional skills develop gradually and especially in the first 6 years of life.

An overview of this development process and how you can support the toddlers can be found in the overview.

Overview: The emotional skills of toddlers and their support options

1st year of life

The infants can show primary emotions such as joy, fear, or interest by smiling at someone, crying, or turning their head to an interesting situation. They can interpret and imitate the emotions of their caregivers. For example, responding to a smile with a smile. This can also be seen when a toddler cries and other infants let themselves be infected. This happens unconsciously and without feeling it accordingly (global empathy).

Even strangers – d. H. the fear of strangers belongs to this phase. At the end of the 1st year of life, the children take B. consciously make contact with other children by smiling.


  • Smile at the baby consciously so that he can imitate it.
  • Enable contact with children of the same age.
  • Provide babies with support in regulating their emotions. This includes comfort, physical contact and satisfying their needs.
  • Give the child security when he or she is in the third phase.

2nd year of life

The children’s vocabulary expands and this enables toddlers to express simple emotions, e.g. B. Baby cries, Tina laughs. The toddler learns that there are desired and undesirable methods to regulate his emotions.

The toddlers start to imagine themselves in other people. They mix their own and other people’s feelings.


  • Verbalize the emotions, e.g. B. when the baby is crying because it is hungry, or Tina is happy about the funny picture in the book.
  • Help the toddler regulate his emotions and show them that you take it seriously in every emotional situation.
  • Teach the toddlers simple rules of living together, e.g. B. do not kick, hit, bite.
  • Show them constructive ways of dealing with their negative emotions.

3rd year of life

Now the toddler can distinguish between emotional experiences and emotional expression. That is, e.g. B. Even if he is happy, it can make a sad expression on his face. It can consciously use it to elicit certain reactions from its fellow human beings. For example, a toddler is deliberately sad to get a toy.

It is precisely in this age range that the vocabulary expands rapidly. The toddlers can express and explain their feelings better and more differentiated. The children are able to feel pity.


  • Especially in this age group (autonomy phase) need the toddlers get a lot of support from you on how to deal with their – often violent – emotions.
  • Verbalizing emotions is also important at this age.

Factors influencing the development of emotional skills

In addition, there are a variety of influencing factors that influence children’s emotional skills. If you know these, you can support the children in their development even better. These are:

  • Anxious or very lively children often need more support from you.
  • Children who can speak better have more opportunities to connect with other people. Through a diverse interaction with other people, children can develop their emotional skills more comprehensively. moreover they are thanks to their improved language skills, able to express their emotions in a more differentiated manner. Children who cannot reach their language goal (e.g. getting a toy) are more prone to aggression or tantrums. Be sure to support the children in language development. Always put the children’s emotions in words.
  • the interaction between the parents and the child can rarely influence you. This includes how the parents express their emotions, what the emotional climate in the family is like. Also how appropriately and sensitively the parents respond to their child’s emotions. If you notice that the interaction between the parents and the child is difficult, you should have a parent conversation.
  • the upbringing should be characterized by warmth and affection as well as consistent and consistent behavior. You can actively influence this.
  • contact with children of the same age plays an important role. Even the youngest children in your group learn to share toys, caregivers, etc., to enforce their wishes and to put them back. If necessary, accompany the toddlers in this process. In this way, they learn to coordinate their own and others’ needs.

Support the children’s emotional development

Below you will find 6 tips on how you can encourage constructive engagement with your emotions in toddlers.

1. Tip: You are a role model

Show your positive and negative feelings. Show clearly your joy, your astonishment when you are surprised and also when you are angry. Of course, this must be done in an appropriate manner. That is, when you are angry, do not shout loudly around the room, but express your feelings appropriately. For example, by saying, "I’m really angry now. We can have a conversation in 5 minutes. ”Support this with your voice. That shouldn’t be screaming, but a firmer, more appropriate tone.

Tip 2: Talk about emotions.

Speak she with the toddlers about their feelings. If you verbalize the emotions of toddlers, they will learn to interpret their feelings and put them into words. For example, if you notice that a toddler is afraid of a person, say: "I see that you are afraid." B: "Now I was scared."

Tip 3: Take children’s feelings seriously

Always take toddlers’ feelings seriously, whether they are positive or negative. It is important that the children are allowed to show feelings like fear, anger and sadness openly. Avoid playing down feelings, e.g. B. "You don’t have to be afraid, nothing will happen to you", or: "Now don’t act like that!" B .: “You were really scared. I understand that good."

Instead, specifically address the emotions as described in Tip 2. Do not force toddlers to face an anxiety-provoking situation. Accompany the children linguistically and give them security.

4. Tip: Help the children with the regulation

Support the child when he is overwhelmed by his emotions. Small children in particular who are in the autonomy phase find it difficult to deal with their strong emotions. Help the children find (non-violent) strategies for emotion regulation. Offer them options such as: B. can live out their anger. Boxing in a pillow can help.

Tip 5: Look at picture books together

Offer the toddlers books that address feelings. Hidden object books are also good for this. There the toddlers can discover many things and situations. Talk to the toddlers about these emotions.

6. Tip: Promote contact with peers

Through the contact with children of the same age that the toddlers experience with you, they have many social and emotional experiences. The children learn to imagine themselves in other children. As a result, external perception and empathy are trained.


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Christina Cherry
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