Everyone’s seen a toddler melting down in the middle of a grocery store. If you’ve been the caretaker of that toddler, you’ve probably wished for that phase to be over quickly. But what does it take to go from an overly emotional toddler to a self-aware adult? Emotional awareness is something we learn as we grow older which helps us regulate our feelings and communicate with people about what we need. You can help your kids develop their own emotional awareness at any age, and give them important tools for their future as a healthy adult.
Emotional Awareness Timeline
Emotional Awareness is also called, “Emotional Intelligence,” in child psychology, but they have the same meaning. It describes the level of knowledge that a person has about what emotions they are feeling, and why they are feeling them.
Through observing children in response to different situations, researchers have found that there is a rough timeline when children will start to become more self-aware about their emotions, and act on them in different ways. For example, by roughly the age of four, a child can respond to a stimulus they don’t like, like a loud noise, by acting to change the situation, like putting their hands over their ears. Older children can more clearly communicate that they don’t like something, by telling someone in words.
Even with a rough timeline set by child psychologists, don’t stress about hitting milestones. Every child’s timeline is different, so while one may seem advanced at a certain age, another may just be learning how to communicate clearly to adults and their peers. If a child seems to be having difficulty learning how to communicate clearly, it’s best to discuss it with their doctors.
Naming Our Emotions
Regardless of age, the simplest way to start building emotional awareness with your kids is to encourage them to name their emotions. As their parent, you might be able to understand the difference between an angry cry and a scared one, but helping them talk about these feelings out loud is a great start for growing a child’s emotional awareness. As they learn to talk, consistently ask about how they’re feeling and ask them to explain why they feel certain ways.
It’s easy to assume why your child might be upset, but what they have to say might surprise you. A 5 year old who is acting defiant and not eating her supper, might be uncomfortable in a new outfit! Or, a teen who is breaking rules might have had a disappointment at school you didn’t know about.
Talking through meltdowns may take a mountain of patience on the part of the parents, but it pays off with a strong sense of emotional awareness in our kids!