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Kaz Cooke’s tips for helping toddlers understand emotions

Helping toddlers understand their emotionsToddlers feel all sorts of emotions, but often don’t have the words or the maturity to explain them – or to deal with them.

Parents can encourage children to feel more confident, and to process their feelings, by helping them to identify, name and communicate their emotions.

You can help by describing your own: ‘Mummy is very frazzled, and Daddy is completely thrilled. Grandpa is flummoxed!’

Helping toddlers understand emotions

Making feelings normal

Toddlers already understand they have feelings, and even that other people do, too. You can help them by introducing the idea into conversation:

  • ‘I am very tired. I think I need to have a little lie-down.’
  • ‘Ooh, I’m feeling a love wave. I’m going to give you a cuddle.’
  • ‘I am in a very good mood. Shall we put some music on and dance in the kitchen?’
  • ‘The man in the other car was very rude and pushed in. I felt quite cross with him. I am very sorry I shouted – that wasn’t the right thing to do even though I was annoyed.’
  •  ‘I was happy when we found the yellow block, but I got a fright and then was unhappy that I stood on it and it hurt my foot.’

Helping your toddler identify their own emotions

You can help a toddler identify their own emotions by encouraging them to name them, ideally at the time the feeling is happening.

When talking to a toddler about emotions, get close to their level – put them on your knee, or next to you on the couch, or bend down. You might touch their arm, stroke their hand, or if it seems like it would help, give them a cuddle. Ask ‘How are you feeling?’ in happy as well as difficult times.

Some examples:

  • ‘Are you frightened of the dog? You don’t have to go close to it or touch it.’
  • ‘That was a loud noise! I got a fright, did you?’
  • ‘I’ve been giving the baby lots of attention for a while, and I will play with you very soon when they’ve finished having lunch. Is that a good idea?’
  • ‘It seems like you might be a bit frustrated. Is that what you’re feeling?’
  • ‘Do you think Nanna was feeling cross?’
  • ‘Did that make you feel proud?’
  • ‘Were you upset, or didn’t you mind?’
  • ‘Ché got the presents today because it was his birthday. When it’s your birthday, you will have some presents. Sometimes it seems hard to wait!’

Always express empathy before a correction, if you can.

‘That must have been horrible, to feel very angry, but even when you’re angry, it’s not okay to bite Mrs Snodgrass on the ankle.’

Be firm about what’s required while sympathising with feelings.

‘I know Frillippa took dolly, and that was not fair and hurt your feelings.’


This is an excerpt from Babies & Toddlers by Kaz Cooke, the brand new sequel to her bestselling guide to pregnancy, Up the Duff. Published by Penguin Random House and out now, RRP $39.99Kaz Cooke's Babies & Toddlers

About Kaz Cooke

Kaz Cooke is a bestselling author and cartoonist whose books have informed and tickled Australians and New Zealanders for more than 20 years. Her books include Up the Duff: The Real Guide to Pregnancy and Babies & ...

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