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Dr Catherine
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4-7 years

This is a question for Dr Catherine, We are having trouble teaching our almost 5 year old the difference between all the emotions, we have heaps of different childrens books about emotions but they still don't seem to help. He tells me almost every day that he is sad and that he dosent know why. It breaks my heart to hear he is sad again every day, but I hope and know deep down that he isn't as sad as hey says. Just don't know how else to explain each feeling so he can understand.

Hi Kim, the best way to help young children understand emotions is to help them to contextualize their feelings. While books are great way to learn, nothing beats real-life experiences. When parents talk about feelings, children gain insight into their own emotions and those of others. Draw on real-life examples such as when he is jumping in puddles and splashing around point out how happy he is feeling. When you stop him from playing or prevent him from doing something point out that he may be feeling a bit frustrated or sad; when he cannot find a toy he may feel worried that he has lost it. Young children are not able to understand the same range of emotions as we do as adults and therefore may group all negative emotions under the one banner ‘sadness’. Emotional understanding develops over the preschool period. As they grow older and experience different emotions and different situations they become much more attune to differences in responses as well as the likely causes for different emotional reactions. Another way to check his understanding of different emotions is to observe his responses to others. Children at his age typically react to the distress of a friend or parent by showing comfort; similarly will share in their excitement at times of joy. If you were at all concerned about his emotional wellbeing then I would advise you follow this up with a medical professional. All the best! Regards, Dr Cathrine