Emotions: how can I help my child recognize and manage them?

January 15, 2024

A child’s emotions are often conflicting and uncontrolled. It is important, however, to learn how best to manage them, helping the child in this as well.

During development, together with the adult, children learn to manage their emotions (whether the adult knows how to do it or not, with certainly more problematic results).

Learning to manage emotions is not easy: you may have noticed that there are adults who have not yet learned to do so. These adults are unlikely to teach their children something that they are unable to implement even on themselves.

It is important to teach your children to manage their emotions from a very early age because this allows them to have control over their own frustration, anger, and fear… and to cope better with detachment from the parent and fights with siblings or peers.

A child’s emotions are all nuanced and the transition from one to the other often occurs in a very short time.

What are primary emotions?

Primary emotions, also known as basic emotions, are those elemental and universal affective responses that develop from the earliest stages of life and are common to all human cultures. According to the model proposed by American psychologist Paul Ekman, there is a limited set of primary emotions that includes joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.

These emotions are considered “primary” because they are considered innate, unlearned, and are easily recognized through facial expressions. Each primary emotion plays a specific role in human evolution, contributing to the survival of the individual. For example, fear serves to evade danger, and anger to deal with threats, while joy has a social function of reinforcing bonds.

Over time, the primary emotion theory has been both supported and criticized, and other researchers have proposed alternative models that include a different number of basic emotions or that delve into the role of other factors, such as cultural and social context, in emotional experience.

Primary emotions also play a crucial role in nonverbal communication, enabling individuals to quickly and effectively convey emotional states to others, foster mutual understanding and coordinate social actions.

How do children handle emotions?

There is often a tendency to focus on the measurable development of children, e.g., school performance (cognitive development), physical development, and interactions, and there is a tendency not to take care of emotional development.

This unfortunately leads to what we said just now:

  • immature adults
  • incapable of managing emotions
  • unable to educate on emotions
  • unhappiness
  • loss of control
  • Anxious states and inflexibility in perceptions

Hold off on becoming a parent unless you have emotional, as well as personal, maturity. It may turn out to be the best choice you will make. If, on the other hand, you are already a parent, it is best to cultivate a balanced emotional life.

Habits harmful to the child’s emotions.

The adult tends to translate the child’s emotions, always naming and acknowledging them-even without really knowing how to do so-substituting for the child.

Often this translation is taken as unique and true, without digging deep enough into the motivations that led the child to that particular emotion.
Let’s remember that for the child there are extremely important events, such as a friend stealing a favorite game: for the adult, this conflict is not only resolvable but also unnecessary, but for the child, it involves anger, frustration, and discouragement.

What we need to do is dig much deeper into the child’s emotions and where possible, let him express himself–without spoon-feeding him.

Reading deeper into a behavior means becoming empathetic with our child, decreasing the distance, and creating a very deep bond.

Children’s emotions: let’s go deep!

Let’s try to see a practical example.

When our child is very upset about something that has happened, our behavior might be to demand that it stop, belittle the incident, and impose calm.

Instead, the parent who wishes to dig deep into the reasons that brought his or her child to that state takes some basic steps:

  • observes their child
  • senses its pain
  • asks the child how he or she is feeling
  • asks if he or she is angry
  • asks for reasons
  • asks if he/she wants to talk about it (even when the child does not yet have language skills, but understands)

Through these steps, we go to act not on the child’s restlessness but on the root of the problem.

The moment the parent asks the child to end his demonstration of anger, he is not giving a solution to the reason that triggered the anger but is only stifling the expression of it.

By going instead to investigate the problem thoroughly, you will find solutions together, and this will enable him to deal with it more calmly if it arises again in the future.

Parents who use these modalities have benefits in many ways:

  • better quality of attachment
  • children more secure in relationships with parents
  • children able to calm down earlier while crying
  • better management of emotions
  • greater sharing and dialogue

Getting to the bottom of one’s emotions is work we can and should do with ourselves as well because it helps us gain clarity about what we are feeling, to get things in order, and to handle situations better.

How to better manage the child’s emotions?

1) Reflecting on emotions.

There are questions to ask yourself and/or our child:

How do you feel right now?

What is going on inside you?

What emotion are you feeling?

2) Take a break.

Taking a break means not acting on instinct and not overdoing it, it means reasoning about what is going on and wondering if there is something deeper behind that sudden reaction.

3) Share your point of view and be open to listening to his.

4) Don’t belittle his point of view, but take it as a starting point on which to work together and accept it for what it is, not what you would like it to be.

Although working on your child’s emotions is hard, difficult, and nonlinear, recognize the importance of good emotional development. Learning how to interact will improve your relationships and the quality of life for the whole family.

We are with you.

We at Parentalife are here to support you throughout the parenting journey. We do this with customized guides, classes and consultations to help you solve specific problems.


1. Grosse G, Streubel B, Gunzenhauser C, Saalbach H. Let’s Talk About Emotions: the Development of Children’s Emotion Vocabulary from 4 to 11 Years of Age. Affect Sci. 2021 Apr 16;2(2):150-162. doi: 10.1007/s42761-021-00040-2. PMID: 36043167; PMCID: PMC9382957.
2. Ekman, P. (n.d.). Universal Emotions. Paul Ekman Group. Retrieved from https://www.paulekman.com/universal-emotions/
Articolo aggiornato il 21 Novembre 2023.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.