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Children's Emotional Development

Emotional development in children is no different than their physical development in that each new year means a different emotional boundary for the child.

That's the word from Diane Debrovner, senior editor of Parents magazine, who joined The Early Show to give families a little understanding of a child's emotional development and tips on how parents can communicate more effectively with their children.

As children grow, they have an increased desire for independence. For parents, this is often an awkward emotional situation with their children. One minute, the child is clingy. The next minute, they want to run away.

Toddlers (ages 1 and 2) can't talk and that can make it a difficult time for both the child and parent. Debrovner says the child is trying to figure out what he can do for himself. The parent, over time, will figure out their children's behavior by following patterns and cues.

A parent can try to anticipate when a child is hungry, tired or bored to prepare them for an emotional meltdown.

At this age, toddlers have a real sense of separation anxiety, so transitional objects, such as blankets and stuffed animals, are great because they help the child comfort themselves when they're apart from the parent.

Debrovner says this is often something many parents try to stop at an early age — telling children that they are getting too old for these items. But a transitional object can really help children soothe themselves.

Toddlers are very egocentric emotionally. They are not ready to share, so parents shouldn't expect a child to understand the concept. The best way for parents to introduce the concept of sharing, says Debrovner, is to share toys with the child and help her understand that sharing does not mean the object is taken away forever.

When a child reach the pre-school years, 3 to 4 years old, they are very self-centered. Debrovner explains that their perception of the world is that it revolves around them. They are starting to talk and play in groups. They have no emotional ability to have empathy for others — even though parents expect them to.

Debrovner suggests parents plant the seeds of empathy by having children think of other kids' feelings.

Children at this age also start to have very active imaginations, which lead to new fears. Debrovner says parents should not belittle a child's fear, but talk to him to help him to conquer his fears.

Children from 5 to 7 years old can empathize with others' feelings. To encourage generous behavior, parents should look for opportunities to talk about feelings and helping put children in other people's shoes.

At this age, Debrovner says, separation anxiety emerges again. It arises at this age group because children are now attending school for most of the day. Parents can give a child a token of comfort — a keychain with parents' photo or stuffed animals.

This is also a tough stage for children because they start school and now they must learn not to talk aloud or run around during class. It is hard for kids at this to sit still, listen and follow rules.

Parents should not fear that their child will be taking teddy bears in fourth grade. Debrovner advises parents to be patient with their children. Children do outgrow these stages.

Age-By-Age Emotions

  • Easily Frustrated
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Ego-Centric

    3- to 4-Year-Olds

  • Self Centered
  • Power Struggles
  • New Fears

    5- to 7-Year-Olds

  • Can Empathize With Others' Feelings
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Saves Worst Behaviors For You