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Emotional Development in Toddlers: Helping Your Toddler Understand Basic Feelings & Emotions

Team AckoFeb 8, 2024

Though toddlers are small beings, they always tend to have big feelings. At as early as 2 years of age, they can be helped to understand basic emotions like happiness, sadness, madness, and fear. As a parent, you can first expose your toddler to the names of basic emotions: happy and sad. 



Helping your toddler understand basic emotions

Here are some tips to help your toddler understand basic emotions:

Use real-life situations

Help your toddler to understand emotions through every day happenings. Tell your toddler, “You are happy because I am taking you to the playground to play cricket”. Suddenly when it starts to rain and you are forced to return home, induce him to say, “I am sad as I cannot play cricket because of the rains”.

Be a model to express feelings

Remember every move of yours is closely observed by your toddler. Express positive ways to enable your toddler to follow the same. Be loving and affectionate. Speak with a smile on your face. He will mimic this behavior of yours.

Provide ample opportunities

Offer your toddler lots of opportunities to identify the emotions in him as well as in others. On a Sunday morning, you can drive him to a river bank for fishing. Ask him, “I see you jumping with joy, are you happy?” Persuade him to understand his feelings. When one of his friends hurts himself while playing, ask him, “How does his friend feel?” and help him to understand, that his friend feels sad because of the pain.

Keep it simple

Use pictures or visuals to help your toddler understand basic emotions. Expose to two feelings at a time. Do not complicate by teaching more than two at a point to avoid confusion.You can teach toddlers about basic emotions with the help of activities and games.

Sing a song to express basic emotions: You can teach your toddler to understand basic emotions through the nursery rhyme -“If you are happy and you know it” 

Play a game of dice

You can have real fun playing the game ‘Feelings Charades’, with your toddler and his friends.

• Take a small square box and paste the pictures of basic emotions like happiness, sadness, angry, scared, surprised and mad. You can make use of the emoji stickers.

• Ask one of the toddlers to roll the cube and encourage the toddler to act out the feelings of the face on the cube.

• Repeat the names of the emotions they act out and make them understand and familiarise the feelings.

Make a face

Play this game with your toddler by telling him, “Let’s start the game, I am going to make a face, guess what you understand by looking at my face.” At the beginning, you can start with just two emotions –happy and sad face. Appreciate him immediately, when he guesses it right. Now you can ask him to make a face and you can take a guess of the feelings he is demonstrating. He may just copy you, encourage and continue playing for two more times, taking turns.

Emotion book

This is a pretty easy project to do with your toddler. Make a book with brown wrapper sheets. Cut the pictures of the emojis expressing different emotions like happiness, sadness, surprised, worried, scared, mad, and angry from newspapers, magazines, or print out from Google images, expressional photographs of your family members and friends. Paste the pictures on the pages and write the names of the emotions expressed below the picture and help him to say the feelings by looking at the pictures. Applaud for every right answer, you can hug him fondly too. This will boost his self-confidence.

“Mirror! Mirror….”

Using a mirror on the wall or a hand mirror you can play this game with your toddler. Look in the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror, what do I see?” Make a happy face and say “I am happy, because I am playing” and assist him to ask, “Mirror, mirror, what do I see?” He may say the same words of yours or be creative enough to answer his mind. Praise him and take turns till his interest to play fades away.

Read a book

Sit along with your toddler in a cosy corner with a pictorial story book. Read a story and discuss the feelings of the characters in the story with him. Ask questions about the characters by showing the picture of the character. Ask him what emotion is seen from the face of that character. Sometimes he may not be able to say it correctly. You can teach him and after discussing the story for a while, you can try making him recall and ask him to name the emotion seen in the picture.

Animated videos

You can show videos of fairy tales for helping your toddler understand basic emotions. For example, while showing the video of “The beauty and the beast,” ask him what is the facial emotion of the beauty when she looks at the beast for the first time. Let her answer those questions. 

Helping your toddler understand basic emotions: Tips to remember

• Understanding emotions is quite a challenging task for toddlers. It is the parents’ utmost concern and responsibility to teach their toddlers in the right manner to understand the emotions better and express them in the right context. 

• Always encourage your toddler to express his emotions without any inhibitions.

• Be patient. It may take time for your toddler to understand emotions better.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, based on industry experience and secondary sources. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert for health or insurance-related decisions. Content is subject to change, refer to current policy wordings for specific ACKO details.



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