Learning to understand the different emotions of children

Common emotions of a child

The infant is born with a few and very undeveloped emotions. As he grows older, his emotions develp from maturation and from learning. Soon he learns to associate, fear, anger, joy, and other emotions with people and with objects that give pleasant or unpleasant experiences.

A child's emotions are different from an adult's. They are more violent and more overtly expressed in speech and actions. They are also shorter live and more quickly forgotten. The child cannot be expected to have the same control over his emotions that one expects in an adult. He has not lived long enough to develop emotional control over his emotions nor does he realize that it is important. One should therefore not judge a child's emotions by adult standards or expect the child to express his emotions in an adult way.

As his social contacts broaden, the child comes to realize that he cannot give violent vent to emotions as he did when he was younger and still maintain the respect of other people. Then he will learn to turn his emotional energy into acceptable channels, such as games and sports. Forcing a child to suppress his emotions may play havoc with his health. Actually, no strong emotion can be suppressed for any length of time. Eventually it will break out in its full intensity and destroy the illusion of the child's good emotional control.

Common Emotions of a Child


A child's anger is aroused whenever he is kept from doing something he wants to do. The thwarting may come from a person, from an obstacle in his environment, or from his own awkward act. Around the age of two he expresses his anger in violent outbursts of crying, kicking, hitting, biting, or throwing himself on the floor. Such outbursts are called "temper tantrums." When the child begins to play with other children, around the third year, he discovers that temper tantrums are considered babyish. He then learns to show his anger in more subtle forms, such as sulking, obstinacy, and contrariness.


Anything new and different, especially if it comes upon a child suddenly, may frighten him. He expresses his fear by running away and hiding or by crying for help. Later, instead of crying, he makes excuses for not doing things he is afraid of to avoid being called a "fraidy cat" by his playmates.


Jealousy is a combination of fear and anger. It is aroused when a child believes that the affection he has enjoyed, especially his parents' affection is going to a rival. A young child may try to hurt the child who, he believes, has usurped his position; he may express his jealousy by being stubborn and contrary; or he may revert to infantile behavior in the hope of winning back the attention he formerly had. Other children use more subtle forms of expression. They ridicule, tease, bully, play practical jokes, or give unpleasant names to the object of their jealousy.


Envy is like jealousy except that it is aroused by material possessions rather than by  a person. For example, a child may envy another child his toys, his big house, or his family's car. Envy is usually expressed by complaining about one's lot in life and wishing for things others have. In young children, envy often leads to taking possessions they envy.


The same things that cause fear - the strange and unfamiliar - may arouse only curiosity if they do not come upon the child too suddenly, as fear objects do. When a child's curiosity is aroused, he explores by handling and examining, by asking questions, and finally by reading. Because curiosity is the driving force back of all learning, it should be encouraged and directed into useful channels.


There is no such thing as "natural" love for mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, uncle, or aunt. The people a child loves are those whose contacts with him have been pleasant. He will love his parents if his parents love him and show their affection. Children express their love not so much by fondling and kissing as by wanting to be with the loved one, wanting the approval of the loved one, and wanting to do things with the loved one.