Emotions – How can we support children with their feelings?

March 1, 2023 10:28 am
Please follow and like us:
Visit Us
Follow Me

The Early Years can be a time of big emotions for young children. 

Their brains are developing rapidly, they are trying to process experiences and feelings and this can be confusing and unsettling at times. In settings, we can support children to recognise their feelings, name them and negotiate ways of managing them.  

Links to learning and development…

The prime area of Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) supports children to learn to self-regulate their behaviour and begin to understand their own and others’ feelings. 

Self-regulation is the process whereby children develop an understanding of their emotions and how to control them in a positive way. It’s a skill which begins with co-regulation when children are supported by adults to manage strong feelings. Educators can help children learn to self-soothe, understand their feelings and the reaction this provokes and then develop strategies to cope.

Self-regulation is important as it is through children understanding how they feel that they can begin to also understand the emotions and feelings of others. 

This is a vital stage in children learning to interact socially with others, showing empathy, independently resolving conflicts and building respectful relationships with peers. If children can’t adequately manage their emotions, this can influence their behaviour and feelings of anger and frustration.  

For children to be able to co-regulate and then self-regulate, the environment needs to be supportive and nurturing. It should be a space in which children feel safe to explore, be themselves, respond to their innate drive to be curious and develop their own sense of identity. The environment should offer opportunities for risky play and challenge so that children can experience the joy of achieving and overcoming problems, In doing so, they are learning that sometimes we have to overcome feelings of frustration by persevering and being determined. Things aren’t always achievable the first time and children need a supportive environment in which to recognise this. 

It might mean that they experience disappointment and anger but if they keep on trying then this turns into pride and a sense of accomplishment. Educators can support this process by ensuring strong relationships are established through the key-person approach. It is through these relationships that children develop the confidence to keep on trying, knowing that someone is nearby with encouragement and reassurance.

Time for talking…

Children need us to listen. Their emotions can tell us so much information, but we need to tune in, not just to their verbal communication but also to observe nonverbal communication. This includes their behaviour, gestures, facial expressions and interactions with the environment. These clues give us vital insight into a child’s emotions and how we can best support these.  

Talking to children, in groups or individually, can help them to develop emotional literacy – the language associated with emotions. We can give children a toolkit to understand their emotions, name them and talk about how these make them feel. It begins with children being supported to recognise their emotions and how these make them feel. This can begin through adults simply noticing and labelling feelings that children are experiencing…

‘I can see that you’re excited to play outside today.’

‘Charlie is happy because it’s his birthday.’

‘It’s sad when we lose our favourite toy.’

‘I know it’s frustrating but let’s try again.’

As children become more competent with their communication and language skills, they can use descriptive language to discuss how they are feeling and why. When the educator knows the cause of the feeling, they are better able to offer the child strategies to overcome this. Perhaps someone has taken the toy they were playing with, they’re feeling overwhelmed by the noise in the room or they’ve fallen and hurt themselves.

To achieve this, children look to us as role models to support them with these vital life skills. Negotiating emotions can be challenging for some and may take more time and guidance from adults who recognise that all children are unique and develop key skills at different rates. Just as some children walk or talk before others, some learn to regulate their emotions before others. When children reach the stage of being emotionally literate, they are able to communicate how they are feeling and we can become more aware of how to help them manage tricky feelings.  

When educators share their own feelings with children, they are demonstrating how to react to certain emotions. We can do this by naming our feelings and talking with children about why we might feel happy, sad, excited, angry etc. Children learn that feeling strong feelings is OK and there are ways to manage these emotions.

Teaching children to understand emotions can be as simple as building this into our everyday interactions. We can also use books or props to encourage discussion. For example, educators can prompt children to consider how characters might be feeling, such as the bears in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. These are also excellent opportunities to engage in sustained shared thinking, wondering together about feelings, the impact of these and how characters react. 

This is another way to incorporate positive talk about emotions into our daily routines with the children.

We have provided a fantastic new poster that allows your children to tell you how they are feeling each day. Our Feelings Poster can be incorporated into your morning routine or small group times.

*Why not print out your children’s pictures and let them stick them down the side of the thermometer*


Through the teaching of emotional literacy, we are giving children the tools to recognise and name their emotions which can build their confidence, self-esteem and sense of self. Children can recognise what makes them happy, what causes them frustration and what is exciting for them, all of which contribute to the child’s identity. 

Importantly, it is these early skills which lay the foundations for a child’s development in all other areas of learning.  

Free Resources

We have created some FREE resources for you to enjoy, why not head over and download your very own FREE feelings resources.


DfE (2021). Development Matters Non-statutory Curriculum Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage. [online] Department for Education. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007446/6.7534_DfE_Development_Matters_Report_and_illustrations_web__2_.pdf.

help-for-early-years-providers.education.gov.uk. (n.d.). Emotions – Help for early years providers – GOV.UK. [online] Available at: https://help-for-early-years-providers.education.gov.uk/personal-social-and-emotional-development/emotions.