Your preschooler’s ability to describe a variety of feelings is one sign of emotional thinking. A year ago your child may have acted out angry feelings through aggressive behaviors, but more recently you may be noticing that he or she expresses ideas about anger through pretend play. For example, two favorite stuffed animals may have a heated squabble that ends with one saying to the other, “I am really, really mad at you!” At another time, the same stuffed animals may express to one another “I love you” or “I hope you come back soon.” Your preschooler may also be able to tie his or her feelings to an event, such as “I feel so happy when Mommy gets home.”

Developing emotional awareness and the ability to verbalize that awareness takes time, so you may notice that your child can express certain emotional themes verbally but has to fall back to expressing other emotional themes through actions rather than words. Certain children may be able to describe feelings of pleasure but not feelings of discomfort. For other children, it will be the other way around. If you watch and listen, you will be able to identify which emotional themes are easy for your child to verbalize and which are not.

As your child investigates various emotions and themes through play and words, he or she will move from connecting two or more logically linked ideas to associating three or more complex ideas. Enjoy observing the process as your child develops the important ability to describe a wide range of emotions.
More to consider: “I don’t want to because . . .”

As your child approaches her fourth birthday, don’t be surprised if she dishes out some verbal challenges to you. She is thinking more logically and is more willing to challenge your authority. In fact, she can provide you with many good reasons why she doesn’t need to do as she is told all of the time. This “playful” exchange simply gives a voice to your child’s increased sense of power, which does not erase her feelings of vulnerability. She still desperately needs your love and empathy as she grows and develops.