Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your own emotions and understand the emotions of those around you.1 Being able to identify the emotions behind your behaviour can help you interact with others in a more productive way.1 When someone has high emotional intelligence, they tend to have strong interpersonal skills, which can help with emotional regulation and thinking before they act.1 For parents and caregivers of children between the ages of three and five, emotional intelligence may seem like a bit of a reach. But there are lots of activities that can help teach preschoolers about feelings and emotions, that will put them on the path to emotional intelligence, self-regulation, and healthy relationships with their peers.

Feelings and Emotions Activities for Preschoolers

As children develop their vocabulary and grow more independent, they will often experiment with expressing emotions in new ways. Adults can help children notice their own emotions and those expressed by educators and caregivers.2 These emotional development activities can help preschoolers name and understand a range of feelings and emotions, both in themselves and in others:

  • Show how to share feelings. Preschoolers learn how to share feelings by mimicking those around them. Encourage children to use words to name how they’re feeling and let them hear you use words to talk about your own feelings.3 If you are frustrated because you can’t find your other shoe, say so and explain to your child what you’re feeling.

  • Name the feelings. Children don’t automatically know the names for their emotions. Talk about a range of feelings and give them specific names. Build their vocabulary and use words like happy, sad, angry, lonely, and frustrated.2,3 Help children understand the difference and give them specific examples to latch on to. If your child is upset because a classmate isn’t sharing a toy, talk to them about it and describe some feelings like sad and jealous for them.

Beyond these basic ideas for explaining feelings to preschoolers, there are lots of activities that can be part of your child’s day to help them understand their emotions:

  • When reading a story, ask your child to identify how different characters are feeling.4 This doesn’t have to be limited to books that are specifically about feelings, even classics present lots of opportunity to talk about emotions. If a character is waiting for cookies to come out of the oven, they might feel impatient. If a character is happy to see friends, you should point that out. Point to the expression on each character’s face and talk about it with your child. These kinds of open-ended questions about feelings for preschoolers can help foster fun, constructive conversations with your child about different feelings.

  • Model different emotions for your child and have them join you in showing how they can be happy, sad, silly, and angry.4 Treat it like a quiz and change your emotions quickly, so they have to think fast and keep up with you! You might want to try this during snack time too, so that you and your child show different emotions while eating.4 This activity works well with large groups of kids so that they can look at the expressions on the faces of their peers and understand what those feelings look like for different people.

  • Use lots of praise when children label their emotions correctly.4 Explain to them how this helps the people around them understand how they’re feeling, and how their ability to use the words correctly makes you feel proud of them.

  • Play a matching or sorting game with children. Use lots of pictures of different people making easily identifiable emotions and have preschoolers sort them into different piles or call out a feeling and allow the children to find a picture that matches.4 A similar idea is to take pictures of your child demonstrating different feelings and print them out on a poster for your child to see.4

  • When your child is brushing their teeth, have them practice showing happy, sad, and angry faces in the mirror.4

Supporting Your Preschooler While They Learn About Feelings

Preschoolers are learning and growing every day, but they’re not always able to process their feelings. There are lots of things that educators, parents and caregivers can do to help their children while they learn about feelings and emotions:

  • Give them strategies. A preschooler will use tangible ways to deal with intangible emotions.2 This could mean crying, throwing, hitting, or throwing a tantrum. By providing them strategies to work through their emotions like colouring, deep breathing, and going to a quiet space, children can learn what works best for them.2 As the adult in the situation, your role is to stay calm, even if they aren’t, and help them find a better way to express themselves.

  • Keep expectations realistic. No preschooler will have the emotional intelligence of an adult, and if you expect too much from a child between the ages of three and five, you’ll probably be disappointed.2 Remember to empathize with your child as they work through big feelings and remember that they’re still growing and developing. Preschoolers need room and support to work through things.

  • Validate their efforts. For a preschooler to know that a feeling or emotion is manageable, they first need to understand that it’s normal.2 If they feel like no one understands them when they feel frustrated or upset, they’re more likely to believe that they are unable to control that feeling or self-regulate.2 By validating their feelings and helping them understand that it’s okay to be sad or angry, your child will learn self confidence and develop a healthy response to big feelings.2

It can be difficult for parents and caregivers to feel like they’re able to truly support their preschoolers as they learn about feelings. But by taking the time to talk about different emotions in depth and modeling them, you can help your preschooler mature emotionally, and give them tools to self-regulate and create strong relationships with others. Another way you can support your preschooler’s development is by supplementing with Enfagrow A+ nutritional drink for kids.

1. https://mhanational.org/what-emotional-intelligence-and-how-does-it-apply-workplace

2. https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/blog/stages-of-emotional-development/

3. https://illinoisearlylearning.org/tipsheets/feelings/

4. https://www.ecmhc.org/ideas/emotions.html