Child behavior and emotions

Children perceive and interpret their environment differently than adults (Demetriou et al. 2017). As their brains mature, they’re trying to make sense of their surroundings and their place within them. They’re constantly learning, testing, experimenting, and adapting their behavior based on the responses they get. This is also known as learning through cause and effect (Sobel & Somerville, 2010).

Your influence on your child’s behavior is substantial. You are their primary role model and, consequently, the one they often mimic (Atif et al., 2022). Your interactions with them, the tone of your conversations, and your reactions to how they act play a pivotal role in shaping their behavior. But this is not all. It is equally important to recognize the role of inborn traits.

A balanced approach to shaping child behavior requires a combination of understanding and accepting natural predispositions and guiding them toward positive behaviors. Through open communication and active listening, we can get to know our child’s unique personality and tailor our parenting strategies to support their growth and development. In all instances, it is essential to approach your child with empathy, patience, and openness, creating a safe space for them to express their feelings and concerns. Learn how

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Frequently Asked Questions

When we want to develop emotional intelligence in children, we strive to help them acquire good impulse control. We want to know how to deal with a child that cries over everything or how to get them to wait patiently for a few more minutes before they get the cookie. 

We want them to use their words in conflicts, be resilient while solving problems, and make thoughtful decisions. Here are two of the most efficient ways:

  • Talk about emotions 

First, you should aim to develop their emotional vocabulary. Most people dislike or can’t find the right words to share or describe their emotions (Lindquist et al., 2015). We’re sometimes afraid of rejection or not that willing to open up to avoid judgment. 

If you aspire to raise an emotionally intelligent child, seize every chance to express your feelings with words and actions. For instance, during the drive back from school, share your day’s experiences. Don’t shy away from sharing negative emotions too, such as ‘I felt frustrated when… ‘, ‘I am overwhelmed… ‘, or ‘I got angry today over…’ 

When we keep negative feelings inside, we teach our kids to do the same. This simple act of sharing can develop your child’s emotional intelligence and improve their relationships. 

It just might happen that the next time they feel like throwing a fight with a sibling or peer, they’ll know how to discuss their actual needs and feelings and solve problems in a positive way. Impulse control is the strongest indicator of emotional intelligence

  • The power of delayed gratification 

These are big words for a very simple thing. It means postponing immediate rewards or responses to increase one’s ability to be patient. It could also imply getting a bigger reward at the end of the wait (Twito et al., 2019).

Start with small steps. A kid who is used to getting their way could have a low tolerance for frustration. For example, ask for a few minutes to finish something until responding to their needs: ‘I heard what you said, I understand your need, and I will be available to help you in 5 minutes. Here is a timer to help us keep track.’ Always make it specific and keep your promise.

These two strategies are known to be very powerful in helping a child develop emotional intelligence. 

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Many parents will claim they have a sensitive child if their kid shows one of the following symptoms: they are either naturally introverted or some events or people trigger some old anxieties. Another symptom could be that they don’t show good emotional regulation skills in some circumstances. A highly sensitive child could cry or refuse to cooperate, have frequent tantrums or outbursts, or completely shut down, refusing to interact or share anything about their experience even when they’re visibly troubled (Hastings et al., 2010).

Here are a few tips on how to build confidence in a sensitive child. The things you should do and those you should stop doing:

  • Don’t try to force your child into being more outgoing. You may want them to act like ‘proper’ kids – loud and playful and willing to interact with everybody. However, this can increase their anxiety and frustration levels and make things worse.
  • Try to plan ahead for major events. A highly sensitive child may have some trouble adapting to spontaneous events or rushed transitions from one activity to another. Plan everything step by step and tell them what to expect. For example: ‘I’ll pick you up from school. Then we’ll have a very quick stop at Grandma. At six, we’ll meet my friend in the coffee shop and we’ll stay with her for one hour. I prepared this coloring book and crayons for you while you wait.’
  • Validate their feelings. Although it’s a natural impulse when trying to help and inspire, it’s counterproductive to emphasize their sensitivity or constantly label the unwanted child behavior. Empathize with their feelings and listen to their thoughts (Heynen et al, 2021). Allow them to skip some activities if they become visibly frustrated. This will show them that you respect their feelings and choices and make them more eager to give it another try at a future time.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our smart AI assistant, is ready to help.

It could be distressing to hear a crying child and not be able to do much about it. Here’s what to pay attention to:

  • Check your feelings. Do you become anxious when hearing a crying child? It’s an instinct that ensures our offspring survive, and that we are alert and ready to respond to their needs (Müller, 2021). If there’s nothing urgent to address, take a deep breath and just be patient. Be there for your child and empathize. Show them that you acknowledge and validate their feelings: ‘You look really upset right now. It’s ok to cry. I do that sometimes too.’
  • Be there to comfort them, but wait until they calm down to talk it through. Logic and explanations don’t hit the right place when the child is crying and uncomfortable. Try to find out more and offer alternatives to crying: ‘I saw that you started crying when I refused to buy you that toy. Next time we can play a game, make a list or a plan, and see how we can get you that toy or something even better.’
  • Gently delay your response. When thinking of how to deal with a child that cries over everything, ask yourself: Is this a commonly used method that gets you to give in? It could mean it has turned into a learned behavior. Even when they’re very small, kids pick up on our reactions and repeat the behavior to get what they want (Zeanah, 2020). No need to get angry or feel manipulated. Just delay your response. Instead of saying ‘No’, or ‘Stop’, validate their feelings and tell them that you’ll be able to listen or problem-solve in a few moments. Start with seconds and reach out for minutes. This will develop their patience and turn that learned behavior around.

Child behavior is not always straightforward. This is why parents should start by patiently observing it before taking any action.

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Some childhood fears come and go, while others transform and stay with us throughout adulthood. All fears have an inborn fear in common, the fear of dying. This is why they are so vivid and why children and adults develop anxieties around them (Kuzujanakis, 2020). We do not share the same fears, or understand where some of them come from but we should always be considerate. Here is how to help an anxious child when frightened:

  • Don’t minimize their fears. Some childhood fears might sound silly or irrational. The first thing to remember is that fear and the elements that trigger it are as real as possible to the person who has it. Saying ‘It’s nothing to be afraid of’, making jokes, or ridiculing a 12-year-old who’s still afraid of the monsters under their bed could have a serious impact on their self-esteem and your relationship with them.
  • Try to understand where it comes from. Ask questions and show interest. Tell your child to describe what makes up their fear. Talk about, shape, size, smell, color – you can even ask them to draw it for you. A highly sensitive child might not be that eager to share, probably wanting to hide their anxiety or afraid to bring back the feelings they experienced, so you need to be patient.
  • Ask THE question (cognitive restructuring). When your child is ready, and has let you in on the details, you can move to the final step. No, it’s not exposing the child to their fears, but a question that can help them dig a bit deeper. It’s this question: What is the worst thing that could happen? When we’re scared or anxious, our brain is blocked from thinking past immediate emotions, but when the child is relaxed and feels safe, they can look at it (Reigada et al., 2008). Most of the time, helping them filter potential outcomes should do the trick. The fear becomes a matter of rational problem-solving and not just an unmanageable instinct anymore.

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Many parents would label their children’s unwanted behavior or unwillingness to cooperate as impulsive behavior. Backtalk, lying, hitting, bad words, tantrums, outbursts, sometimes even mild addictions. Some might even think of asking for the help of a child behavioral therapist.

In reality, the first thing to establish is that impulsive is the opposite of intentional. Intentionality requires thought, while impulsiveness is something you do without thinking (Rottman & Rosset, 2014). If you want your child to be less impulsive and more thoughtful, here’s what you can do:

  • Model emotional intelligence: As parents, we reach out to be emotionally composed. We don’t always succeed, as being a parent could just be the hardest job on the planet.  What we should do is come back and keep ourselves accountable for our impulsive behaviors. It just might inspire our kids to do the same. Talk openly about your feelings, apologize, show respect, and listen to your child’s opinions. 
  • Nurture healthy routines: Kids who have good routines are usually less impulsive. Predictability is a thing kids thrive on. Knowing what to do and when – the chores and rules. Knowing what’s expected of them or when they can get the small pleasures of the day – yes, we’re talking about screentime and the occasional snack. All this transparent planning could make them feel like they have some control over the activities of the day and show less impulsive behavior. 
  • Teach them to be patient: Patience is the cornerstone of building emotional intelligence (Barragan-Jason, 2018). There are benefits to being patient. You can save up money for a better toy or get better at games because you can spend more time thinking about your moves and strategies. Close relationships will also improve when you show patience and understanding. Any activity, game, or discussion that helps them to pause, think, or wait will benefit them long-term in learning to control impulsive behavior.  

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If you ask most parents, they say that they only want their kids to be happy and healthy. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find they have a whole list of expectations and hopes (Liu et al, 2022). Here’s a look at some behavioral strengths of a child:

  • They’re kind, honest, and respectful: These traits help them build strong, positive relationships. These traits allow them to appreciate and interact well with others, setting a foundation for lifelong friendships and successful teamwork.
  • They’re resilient and resourceful: Life can throw some heavy stuff our way. When kids are resilient, they can bounce back from challenges. Being resourceful means they’re good at solving problems and making the best of what they have. These skills are linked to high emotional intelligence and are super important when things don’t go as planned.
  • They’re creative and curious: Kids who are curious explore the world around them, always eager to learn more. Creativity allows them to think of new and exciting ways to approach problems. These skills help them excel in school and think on their feet in various situations, making learning and problem-solving engaging and effective.
  • They’re independent and adaptable: Encouraging kids to be independent helps them make decisions confidently on their own, boosting their self-esteem (Hidayanti et al, 2023). Being adaptable equips them to smoothly handle changes and challenges, ensuring they thrive no matter what comes their way. 

By focusing on these traits of positive child behavior, parents are preparing their kids to do well in life and make a good impact on those around them. All these qualities are the cornerstone for personal growth and success in life as an adult.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our clever AI assistant, is ready to help.

Recent research in child development has changed how we view temper tantrums and child behavior. Tantrums are a normal part of growing up that should be met with patience and understanding (Sisterhen & Wy, 2023). Time to forget the old wives’ tales of disciplining by forcing, ignoring, or constraining and switch to gently guiding our kids to surf through them. Here are some practical tips on how to manage temper tantrums effectively:

  • Calm yourself first: Tantrums can really test your patience. Remembering that they are a natural part of childhood can make them feel less daunting. Recognize that tantrums will happen, and find ways to stay calm so you’re not caught off guard.
  • Empathize with your child’s feelings: Children’s emotions can seem overwhelming, almost like a storm inside them. It’s important to be there for them, recognize their feelings, and let them know you understand what they’re going through.
  • Establish rules and routines: Set clear guidelines and routines for common tantrum triggers like bedtime, mealtime, and transitions. Having predictability and consistent limits can help reduce the frequency of tantrums (Selman & Dilworth-Bar, 2023
  • Help them develop their vocabulary: Many tantrums stem from a child’s frustration of not being able to express what they think or need. Assist them in finding the right words to express themselves, which can help prevent future outbursts.

By adopting these strategies, you can help your child navigate their emotions more effectively, leading to fewer tantrums and a happier, more peaceful family life.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our clever AI assistant, is ready to help.

Children often feel most comfortable around their parents and other close family members, especially when they are very young (Solan, 2016). This can be a sign of a strong, secure bond but also a sign of separation anxiety in kids. Some parents might ask ‘why is my toddler so clingy?” and worry that if their child seems uneasy around people outside the family, this might affect their social skills as they grow. Here are some supportive steps you can take:

  • Empathize and start with the smallest steps: When your clingy child seems hesitant or anxious about meeting new people, kneel to their level and gently encourage them to express what they’re feeling: “It looks like you’re feeling a bit nervous about meeting new friends today. It’s completely okay to feel that way. I remember feeling a little scared the first time I went to a big family gathering. Let’s have a special signal, so you can let me know when you need a break or a little support.”
  • Create opportunities for friendship: Children learn a lot by watching their parents. Your clingy toddler will relax if you show them how you interact with others in a friendly and respectful way. Greet your neighbors, make small talk with other parents at the park, and involve your child in conversations when appropriate. Arrange playdates with other children who have similar interests or are in the same age group. This gives your child the chance to practice social skills and also helps them make friends in a controlled, manageable setting.
  • Reflect on Your Attitude Towards Strangers: Your own feelings about strangers can influence your child’s perceptions (Stolle & Nishikawa, ​​2018). It’s good to teach children to be cautious, but make sure your guidance is suitable for their age. Instead of telling scary stories, focus on practical advice. For example, you could say, “If someone you don’t know offers you something in the park and I’m not there, don’t accept it. Come and find me instead.” This approach helps your child learn how to handle the situation without fear and makes your clingy toddler more eager to explore.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our clever AI assistant, is ready to help.

It’s a common concern among parents of kindergarteners that their children might display aggressive behaviors like hitting or biting (Murray Law, 2011). Often, these actions stem from emotional distress, which can be hard to pinpoint since parents are not present and information from caregivers might lack context. When biting at daycare becomes a problem, here’s how you can support your child:

  • Ensure Enough Time at Drop-Off: A hurried drop-off can leave your child feeling unsettled. Try to make drop-off a calm and nurturing time. A few extra minutes for a hug or to talk about what they can look forward to during the day can make a big difference. This helps them transition more smoothly into the day and might reduce impulsive reactions.
  • Model Positive Interactions: Use everyday opportunities to show positive ways to interact with others. For instance, demonstrate polite conversation, share toys, and express gratitude and apologies. Observing these behaviors can help your child mimic them in social environments.
  • Develop Their Vocabulary: Encourage your child to express their feelings with words. A toddler biting at daycare could use this behavior to signal frustration (Claffey, 1994). If they’re upset at kindergarten, coach them to tell their teacher or articulate their emotions and needs to their peers. For example, you might practice phrases like, “I felt sad when you took my toy without asking. Can I have it back, please?”
  • Communicate Openly With Caregivers: Have honest and assertive conversations with your child’s caregivers. Share any external factors that might be affecting your child’s behavior and ask for detailed observations about what triggers these reactions at daycare. Understanding the full context can help you and the caregivers find better strategies to support your child.

This is how to stop a child from biting at daycare. These strategies aim to address the root of your child’s distress and equip them with tools to express themselves in more constructive ways.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our clever AI assistant, is ready to help. You can also read more about biting at daycare in this article titled “How to Stop a Child from Biting at Daycare: Nurturing Positive Social Behavior”.

Dealing with teenage attitude is a challenge many parents face. Adolescence is a time of significant change and development (Leppanen, 2020), and psychologists emphasize the importance of patience and maintaining open communication. Here are some effective strategies to help improve your relationship with your teen:

  • Empathize and Show Respect: Start by showing respect and empathy. Pay attention to what’s happening in their lives, negative teenage attitude can come from many places—pressure from school, the need for social acceptance, and the confusion that often accompanies physical changes. Validate their feelings and experiences to show that you truly see and hear them.
  • Choose Your Battles Wisely: It’s tempting to control many aspects of a teenager’s life, but it’s healthier to set firm boundaries on critical issues like health and safety while giving them leeway in personal choices like clothing, hairstyles, and hobbies. This approach can encourage cooperation and openness and tame that natural teen rebellion.
  • Encourage Self-Expression: Give your teen safe outlets to express themselves. This could be through art, music, writing, or sports. Encouraging them to explore and develop their interests shows support for their individuality and can be a great way for them to channel emotions and stress healthily.
  • Establish Regular Check-ins: Set aside dedicated time for just chatting about life, their day, or anything they want to discuss. This consistent, relaxed time can reinforce that you’re there for them, interested in their lives, and available to support them without judgment. A good relationship can diminish those moments of impulsivity and make problems with teenagers a thing of the past (Fitriana et al., 2023

These strategies can help build a bridge of understanding and support between you and your teenager. It’s about balancing guidance with freedom, ensuring they know you’re their ally during this roller coaster phase of growth and becoming.

Do you need more practical solutions on this or other topics? Sophie, our clever AI assistant, is ready to help.


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