The first emotions develop in babies and include joy, anger, sadness and fear.

Later, as children begin to develop a sense of self, they will develop more complex emotions like shyness, surprise, embarrassment, pride and shame.

Young children’s emotions are mainly made up of physical reactions (e.g. heart racing, butterflies in stomach) and they will act out how they feel, for example they may throw a tantrum.

As they grow, their thoughts begin to have a greater influence on their emotions, for example they know they feel nervous because they are thinking about a school test.

Emotional-Development How do our emotions develop?

They develop the ability to recognise and name their feelings and are increasingly able to manage their emotions by rethinking their goals, for example, they may realise there is no point in feeling angry about something they can’t change.

As they grow, they also become more aware of other people’s feelings, for example they may imagine that someone else will feel sad if their pet has died, even if they don’t see them crying. 

As they grow up, children develop their understanding of emotions and the way they respond to them.

Helping Children with Emotional Equilibrium

They need to learn how to manage negative emotions appropriately. So for instance, it is better that they recognise they are angry or scared and learn to deal with the emotion appropriately rather than hit out in anger or run away in fear. 

How to help children and young people get the right emotional balance

Managing negative emotions

  • Children and young people learn about emotions and how to express them appropriately by watching others. Show them that you have feelings and that you are able to say how you feel and manage them appropriately. For example, you could say that you are angry about a child’s behaviour and calmly talk about what the consequences would be, instead of shouting. Or you could say you are sad about something that’s happened and talk about why it was so important to you, instead of becoming moody and uncommunicative.
  • Help young children to name negative feelings – sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. Learning to name feelings helps children to express them without having to act them out. For example, they could say that they are feeling disappointed that their friend can’t come to play, instead of sulking.
  • Talk and genuinely listen to children and young people about how they are feeling. Try to see things from their point of view and accept how they feel. For example, you might say “You seem really disappointed that you didn’t make the football team. I understand that it must be hard for you.” 
  • Don’t try to fix a problem for a child or young person, or ignore how they are feeling. You could say something like “You look worried, is something bothering you?” and then take the time to listen. 
  • When children and young people feel genuinely understood, it is easier for them to learn to think through their feelings and work out effective ways of dealing with them. For example, if a child is feeling frustrated about trying to learn something new and sees that you understand their frustration, they may be more confident to keep practising, instead of getting into a bad mood. 
  • Acknowledge their efforts to manage their feelings. This helps motivate them to use these helpful strategies in other situations. You might say something like “You were very brave to do that when you felt so scared” or “Well done for being so patient with your brother – I know you were frustrated with him.”
  • Be supportive, but set limits, when you are helping children to manage their feelings. Acknowledge their feelings but make it clear when they are behaving inappropriately. For example, you might say “I know you’re upset that we can’t go swimming, but that does not make it ok to yell at me.” 
  • Help children and young people to learn to distract themselves when something is really bothering them. You could suggest to a young child that you read a story with them if they’re frustrated about waiting for something they want. Or you could suggest a short walk in the fresh air to an older child. Or you could put an upbeat song on your music player to help diffuse a bad temper. 
  • Don’t dismiss children and young people’s emotions, e.g. “Don’t be scared” or even worse, shame them for their feelings, e.g. “Don’t be a scaredy-cat.” This can lead them to believe that negative emotions are wrong.
  • Acknowledge and respect their emotions first, then you may be able to talk it through and help them find facts which will help them argue with their negative thoughts. For example, if they are scared of going away from home for a few days, say something like “It’s ok to be scared. Now let’s think of the last time you went away from home and how well you coped.” 
  • Don’t lie to children about situations to avoid negative emotional reactions. For example, saying that an injection “won’t hurt a bit” when you know it will hurt, can actually increase the negative emotion when it does hurt, and can teach the child not to trust the person who has lied. 

Encouraging positive emotions 

  • Be a good role model for positive emotions. Show children and young people that you can appreciate the things around you and enjoy the good things in your life. Show them that you can smile and engage with the people around you and be kind to yourself and to others. Find the things that you are interested in and the things that bring you joy, and build them into your life as much as you can.
  • All children and young people are different. Allow them to be themselves, to explore their world and their place in it. Give them freedom and opportunities to find the things that truly inspire them and bring them joy. Try not to impose your expectations by saying what you think they should enjoy or what activities are ‘good’ for them. 
  • Teach children and young people that being kind to others will not only help the other person and make the other person feel good, but it will make them feel good too. Get them to think about ways they can be kind to others – at home, at school and in their community. 

A laugh, to be joyous, must flow from a joyous heart, for without kindness, there can be no true joy.

Thomas Carlyle

  • Try to get children and young people smiling before you try to teach them something new or do something challenging. There are lots of ways of doing this, e.g. playing a silly game or watching a short funny film – you will know what suits your child or group best. The positive feelings they gain from the fun activity should open their minds and help them be more creative and better at problem-solving, making them more responsive to the new or challenging task. 
  • Encourage children and young people to ask themselves positive questions like “What have I got to be happy about today?” or “What went well today?” or “What made me feel proud of myself today?” You can do this by making it a mealtime routine or something that you do at the end of a classroom day or group activity. 
  • Help them to relive positive experiences, perhaps by drawing a picture of a pleasant memory or by looking at photos with them. 
  • Help children and young people to develop serenity by allowing them space and quiet time to reflect, be calm and peaceful. 
  • Help them develop gratitude by talking to them about all the things they have in their lives, for example, food, books, beaches, parks, clothes, friends, school, mobile phones, toys, computers, trees, animals.
  • Inspire children and young people by taking them to events where they will see excellence in their area of interest, for example, a concert, play, dance show, sports event or art exhibition. Or encourage them to watch TV documentaries showing inspiring human behaviour. 
  • Once you have found the things that truly make a child or young person feel good, find time to fit them into their life as much as possible. Encourage them to savour their good feelings to help them stick in their brains. Having positive emotions will help them become creative in other aspects of their lives and it will help them build resources so that they can bounce back when times are hard.

Resources and activities

Here are some useful resources and activities to help children and young people think about their feelings and emotions.


CBeebies videos and activities: 

Kitbag for Schools and Families, resource to support emotional wellbeing: 


Happy Jelly Babies 

What makes you feel happy? What makes the other people in your family or group feel happy? What will happen when you find out how to make each other smile?

What you need:

  • A pack of assorted jelly babies (each person will need three babies of the same colour)
  • A large plate 
  • Lots of little dishes or saucers 
  • A pack of mini sticky notes 
  • Marker pens. 

How to set up the activity:

  • Pour all the jelly babies onto a large plate. 
  • Arrange the little dishes around the large plate. 
  • Write the following sentences on sticky notes and stick each note onto a different dish:
    • I smile when someone does or says something funny.
    • I smile when I read or hear a funny story, or see a cartoon, or TV comedy.
    • I smile when someone does something kind for me.
    • I smile when I know I have done something really well.
    • I smile when life feels good.
    • I smile when I see something beautiful.
    • I smile when I’m with people who love me.
    • Something else makes me smile.

What you do:

  • Starting with the youngest person, let each person choose a different coloured jelly baby and then give them two more jelly babies of the same colour. 
  • Read the different sticky labels out loud, so that everyone knows what the choices are. 
  • Think about the three things that make you smile the most. 
  • Put each of your jelly babies into a different dish to show which things make you smile the most. 
  • Look and see where all the jelly babies are, and then talk about the following questions. 

Some things to talk about together:

  • Where are most of the jelly babies? Are they bunched together in two or three dishes, or are they spread around? 
  • Which dish has the least jelly babies, or maybe no jelly babies? Why do you think no one put their jelly babies in that dish? 
  • Ask each person why they chose to put their jelly babies in the different dishes. If any babies were in the ‘Something else makes me smile’ dish, find out more about the ‘something else’. 
  • What have you learned about each other that you didn’t know before? How can you help the other people in your family or group to smile more often? 
  • After each person has explained what makes them smile, have fun eating the jelly babies…gently of course! Maybe you could try sucking the babies until they dissolve (instead of chewing them viciously!) and see whose jelly babies last the longest! 

Other ideas:

  • Instead of using jelly babies and dishes use a sheet of paper divided into eight labelled sections and give each person three different-coloured, smiley-face stickers. 
  • Use coloured sweets instead of jelly babies.

Story Bags 

Do you have some little things that remind of you of special events? Perhaps a shell reminds you of a holiday by the sea, or an old ticket reminds you of a day out? Why not fill a bag with small objects to help you play a story game together?

What you need:

  • A small cloth bag with a drawstring closure, like an old PE bag 
  • Lots of small objects such as stones, foreign coins, shells, toy cars, first aid plasters, birthday candles, plastic animals, etc. 
  • A timer. 

What you do:

  • Place all the small objects in the drawstring bag and call it a ‘story bag’. 
  • Explain to your family or group that there are lots of objects in the story bag that might remind them of their own special stories. 
  • Pass the story bag around the circle. 
  • When it’s your turn, take something out of the bag – without peeping! 
  • Then set the timer for one minute and tell a story that happened to you. It must somehow include the object that you’ve just taken out of the bag. 
  • Place the object back in the bag when you’ve finished telling your story and then pass the bag to the next person. 
  • You can set a time limit on the activity, or you can pass the bag around the circle as many times as you like. 

Some things to talk about: 

  • Which item reminded you of a really funny memory? 
  • Which items were the hardest to include in your stories? 
  • Which item in the bag did you like the best? 
  • If you could only keep three memories, which ones would you choose? 
  • If you had to leave your house with only one bag, what three small things would you take with you to remind you of your favourite memories? 

Other ideas:

  • Keep the story bag and use the activity during class group discussion, in the car or during special family celebrations. 
  • Find little objects in jumble sales or charity shops to add to your story bag so that there are always different things to be found and new stories to be told. 
  • If it’s hard to find the objects you want, use picture cards from games you don’t play anymore, and add them to the bag.

Credit NHS Fife

Proudly powered by WordPress