Assessing Your Child’s Emotions

As parents or caregivers, I believe one of our most important tasks is to help our children learn to identify, share and cope with their emotions (feelings).   In a previous post, I wrote about helping children build their feelings vocabulary.

One of the best ways to help children begin to identify, share and cope with their emotions is by supporting them in doing so in the moment, as they are experiencing an emotion.   It can be helpful for the parent or caregiver to have a hunch about what the child is feeling and what the contributing factors may be.  Our hunches may be wrong, but they give us a starting point in trying to support children in sharing and coping with their emotions.

Sometimes, it is difficult to formulate the initial hunch because the parent or caregiver isn’t sure what emotion the child is experiencing or what factors are contributing to the emotion.   For example, I have walked into a room to find one of my children crying without any clue about what had upset him or her.  In that circumstance, I quickly assess my child, the environment and other factors in order to determine how I can approach my child in the most helpful way.

Adults can ask themselves the following questions in assessing a child’s emotional or behavioral response:

  • What does the child’s behavior suggest?
  • What does the child’s body language and facial language suggest?
  • What words are the child is saying?  What sounds is the child making?
  • What has been going on in the current environment?
  • Is the child hungry?
  • Is the child tired?
  • Is the child ill?
  • Does the child have pent up energy?
  • Did something unusual/distressing/unexpected take place during the child’s day?
  • Have there been recent changes at home, school, daycare, and other areas of life?
  • Has the child a disruption to his or her normal structure or routine?

The answers to these questions may help adults determine the best way to approach helping children explore and cope with their emotions.       Perhaps, the approach will be to say, “I notice you are quieter than usual….” Or “I wonder if you are frustrated because…”.   Perhaps the approach will be to ask the child a question in order to gather more information.   Or perhaps the approach will be to offer the child a hug.

The possibilities about how to approach our children are endless, but sometimes taking a moment to run through the above questions and assess what is going on helps us formulate the best way to approach our child.  When we take a moment to assess the situation, we can be more mindful about the ways in which we are teaching children to identify, share and cope with their emotions.

Based on your own experiences with your children, you may have additional questions that you may want to add to the above list.

If you need additional support in helping your child identify, share and cope with their emotions in healthy ways feel free to contact me at

12 thoughts on “Assessing Your Child’s Emotions

  1. This is a very important topic as the responsibility falls completely on the parents since this is not something learned in school. I believe we can all do a better job at improving our “emotional IQ” and the best time to start is with children. Great tips for parents!

  2. Thanks very much for your comment, Stacey. I agree, we can start teaching children about emotions from a very young age!

  3. I almost always start by assessing if my child is hungry or tired. It’s amazing what food or sleep can do for a child!

  4. This is something I am working on. Our 11 year old is a very unhappy child and it’s hard to assess her moods a lot of the time. She is a product of divorce (she was 7 at the time), is an emotional eater, and is consequently overweight. I suspect she’s bullied in school and doesn’t talk about it. There’s a lot of issues, so how to sort through them can be a challenge. Her mother has her in counseling, but she goes grudgingly.

  5. Thanks for sharing this post, Dayne. I hope your sister will find it to be helpful with her daughters.

  6. It can be so challenging to figure out what emotions are underlying our children’s behaviors. It can be a combination of a variety of factors and stressors. I am happy to hear that your 11 year old is in counseling, I hope this will be a space where she can explore and cope with her thoughts, emotions and experiences.

  7. Yes! I know I get cranky when I am tired or hungry so it makes total sense that these would be triggers for children, too. Thanks for commenting, Jenny.

  8. Thank you for commenting. I am happy to hear that you thought the post was helpful.

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