We all experience emotions. However young children only feel basic emotions such as happiness sadness fear or anger.
That doesn’t mean other feelings aren’t there, but they just haven’t been developed yet. Children need to develop a sense of self before they can begin to identify with the more complex emotions like surprise, disappointment, guilt or empathy.
Emotions are closely linked to behaviour.
When children’s behaviour is a problem we try to identify the problem causing it. But more often than not, the problem on the surface is not the problem at all. So we need to get to the root of what it really is the cause.
When children present with a particular behaviour, say anger, we often want to find out why they are feeling angry. But it may not be anger at all. As parents or carers we need to look below the surface again, to see what emotions the child may actually be feeling. This may be very different in practice when we dig deeper.
We can help children to learn about complex feelings and emotions by naming them as they happen. If a child shows anger because, for instance he didn’t get an invite to a party, you could name the feeling by saying, “You must be disappointed.” This may help the child to learn what disappointment is, but only if he has developed enough to be able to learn and understand complex emotions.
Emotional vocabulary is extremely important and we do need to give children the right words to use. But the child won’t necessarily understand or recognise the feelings associated with these emotions until they have developed an understanding of themselves and are also beginning to move out of the self centred stage. This is when children begin to develop an awareness of their place in the world and feelings or understanding of empathy and guilt.