By Raising Children Network
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Your child is learning to express and manage emotions. This is great news for you, because it means less frustration and impatience and fewer tantrums.

Preschoolers, emotions and play

Preschoolers are learning more about emotions all the time – how to express them and even how to manage them!

You can help your preschooler learn about emotions by giving him words for what he’s feeling and why. This is especially important for some of those big feelings like frustration and impatience, which come with learning to share, taking turns and playing fair.

Play is also important, because it’s the natural way children learn and develop. Play gives preschoolers a chance to express their feelings and practise managing them.

What to expect from preschoolers and emotions

At around 3-4 years your preschooler will probably:

  • know to say sorry when she has done something wrong – although you’ll probably need to give plenty of reminders
  • show that she understands the idea of sharing and can share – but don’t expect her to do it all the time.

At 4-5 years, your preschooler will probably:

  • use words to describe feelings, particularly if you’ve been encouraging this since he was younger
  • hide the truth about something, or even start telling lies – for example, your child might say ‘I didn’t do it’ even when he did
  • be more in control of behaviour and have fewer tantrums
  • be very attached to you – for example, your child might feel anxious about starting school if he hasn’t been to child care or preschool.

By the time she’s five, your child will probably:

  • be eager to please and want to make friends
  • be less competitive and more cooperative
  • try hard to follow the rules to avoid getting in trouble
  • have more patience when she’s waiting for things.

Play ideas to encourage preschooler emotions

Playing with you and with other children helps preschoolers explore and understand their feelings. Here are some play tips for you and your child:

  • Give your child opportunities for messy play, like playing with sand, mud or paints. This is a great way for children to express feelings if they’re happy or upset.
  • Encourage your child to act out feelings with puppets or toys, or use old clothes for dress-ups and pretend play. Preschoolers are usually fascinated with fantasy and make-believe play at this age.
  • Take your child to a park or open area with lots of space for outdoor play like running, tumbling and rolling. This can help your child let out emotions.
  • Encourage your child to paint and draw.
  • Encourage your child to jump around and ‘act out’ music or make music with simple instruments.
  • Read stories with characters who are going through emotions that your child is also feeling – this can really help if your child is experiencing new feelings like sadness at the death of pet.

Your child might find it easier to express feelings if he feels in charge. Letting your child choose what and how to play can help with this.

All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to talk to your child and family health nurse or GP or your child’s preschool teacher.
  • Last updated or reviewed 10-03-2016