Helping toddlers learn about emotions

by Jacqueline Harding. Just how do young children learn to handle those sudden gushes of fear, happiness, unhappiness, joy, shame and all the common human feelings?

Boy giving high five


Toddlers know a thing or two about experiencing a wide range of emotions, but they know little about handling them. It will be quite a while before toddlers have those strong emotions under control – so until then, what can grown-ups do to help little ones begin to recognise feelings?

How CBeebies can help

Social and emotional development is all about how children learn who they are, what feelings they have, how they behave and how their relationships develop.

So many of the CBeebies shows, songs and activities can be a really helpful way for children to start to recognise, name and express feelings in a safe way. The characters on the shows often talk about their feelings or demonstrate emotions in some way.

A great starting point is for children to begin to name the expressions they see on their favourite character’s face. Try watching any of the following shows together - Balamory, Chuggington, Show Me Show Me or Same Smile –and, with a little prompting from you, give them the opportunity to point out a variety of emotions.

How to make a magic moment

The point at which your toddler begins to reflect on how they are feeling is a moment to be celebrated. It also takes time for little ones to know that other people can feel what they are feeling. The small steps they take on that journey are magical.

You could play a game about feelings with your child. There is a great one on the Tikkabilla web pages. Click on ‘Emotion Theatre’ in the Play Games section of the CBeebies website. Read the story together and watch Tamba’s different emotions. Have a chat about the story afterwards.

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Top tips

  • Watch an episode of
  • Tweenies together and spot each time one of the Tweenies has a strong
  • feeling. Then, try to label that feeling for your child, saying something
  • like 'Oh Milo is feeling sad today, isn’t he?'Offer your toddler
  • malleable materials, such as dough or clay, to help them express their
  • strong emotions in a safe way.Water and sand are also
  • great materials that can have a calming effect on children.Try looking through books
  • together and help your child talk about the happy or sad faces they see.

Expert opinion

It helps to try to understand the emotional world of a small child – and the confusion they often feel.

Eileen Hayes, Parenting expert

Parent's tale

I always find it helps to talk about my feelings with my anxious child. He’s quite shy and I often talk about when I was a shy child and how I felt. Then I teach him 'secret' tips to help overcome that feeling. Sometimes, I guess what he is feeling and talk to him about it to let him know it’s OK and natural to feel like that and everyone does – even Daddy!

Sally (mum of two), Manchester

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