Preschool children grow by leaps and bounds: physically, mentally, and socially. From tears and tantrums to affectionate kisses and uncontrolled exuberance, a preschooler’s moods and feelings can be confusing. But there is information that can help parents understand, cope with, and nurture their child’s emotional development.
Small people, big feelings
They stand under four feet tall. Their hands and feet are adorably little. They wear small clothes, love tiny toys and have a favorite stuffed friend that is just the right size for cuddling.
But their feelings are so very big.
Preschoolers aged 2-5 years can have emotions that demand attention, validation, and resolution. They are intense, entangled, confusing, and surprisingly sophisticated. They produce tears and then suddenly, smiles.
Buckle up. You are about to tumble over the rough and wonderful terrain that is the emotional life of a preschooler.
Merging sense with sensibility
The child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim believed that emotional development begins at birth. This is no surprise to a parent desperately trying to comfort a squalling, angry, red-faced newborn. But before age 2, a child’s emotions are simpler and mostly reactive to the environment or how he is feeling.
“They’re happy. They’re angry,” says Robert Pianta, Ph.D., associate professor of education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education in Charlottesville, Va., and co-director of a long-term study examining the social, psychological and academic needs of young children.
Relying on verbal cues to determine whether a newborn is happy or angry is impossible, since an infant has no capacity for using spoken language. So other signs are required. “The infant needs to signal whether she’s in a state of equilibrium and pleasure or a state of disequilibrium. That’s what the binary simple emotions do,” says Dr. Pianta.