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Preschooler Emotional Development

Even at age 3 or 4, your child is very much her own person. She has distinct likes and dislikes, and her personality is developing more every day. She is getting better at using words to express how she's feeling, which means fewer tantrums. Her mood may still change drastically from one moment to the next, but she is more likely to talk about being angry or sad rather than having a meltdown.

Preschoolers: Ruled by Emotions

Though your 3-year-old is beginning to understand the emotions he's feeling, he still has very little control over them. If he finds something funny, he'll laugh hysterically. If something makes him feel sad or angry, he'll burst into tears.

At this age, your preschooler still hasn't developed much impulse control. If he feels something, he's likely to act on it. This may mean snatching a toy away from another child if he wants to play with it, or getting upset when he wants a snack after being told he has to wait until dinnertime. Delayed gratification means nothing to him -- he wants it, and he wants it now.

Three- and 4-year-old children may use hitting, biting, or pushing as a way to solve conflicts. They simply don't understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate interactions yet. It's your job to teach your child that there are right and wrong ways to express emotions and resolve problems with others.

As your child gets older, she'll begin to see a connection between emotional outbursts and negative consequences. Throwing a tantrum may result in a "time out" or a favorite toy being taken away. These consequences are helping your 4-year-old understand a tantrum isn't an acceptable way to show emotion.

Your 4-year-old is also a budding comedian. He's starting to develop a sense of humor, and he loves being silly and making people laugh. Don't be surprised if you hear him calling his friend a "poo-poo head" and then laughing hysterically; 4-year-olds find potty talk highly entertaining.

Empathy also begins to emerge around age 4. Four-year-olds are starting to understand that others have feelings, too, and they can relate when a friend is feeling sad or hurt. They may want to give a crying friend a hug or kiss his boo boo.

By age 5, your child has made leaps and bounds in her emotional development. She's gotten much better at regulating her emotions, and she talks about her feelings easily. She has also gotten better at controlling her impulses. She patiently waits her turn, and she often asks first before taking something that isn't hers. 

When something makes your 5-year-old mad, she's much more likely to express her anger using words instead of getting physical or throwing a tantrum. The downside to this is that she may begin to use mean words and name-calling when she's angry or upset. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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