Stepping Into Science – E for Emotions

5 min read

Stepping Into Science is a series where we will explore exciting science from A-Z. There will also be activity ideas accompanying each post to extend your child’s learning.

The word “emotion” dates to the 17th century. Its origin was adapted from the French word émotion, which means a physical disturbance. It was however, only popularised in 18th century English under the influence of philosopher-physicians Thomas Brown and Charles Bell- the key thinkers behind the philosophy of emotions. Human emotions are complex and intriguing, and contemporary theorists continue their quests to conceptualise this realm of science. How well can you and your child identify emotions? Let’s find out through the activity below:

Did your child guess all of them correctly? Humans are particularly adept at discerning the emotions of others. We usually succeed at identifying emotional expressions and adjusting our behaviours accordingly in these social situations. This vital social skill allows us to respond appropriately, and provides support and empathy to others. In fact, infants display signs of discrimination between different emotions, through facial expressions and vocal tones. The ability to detect positive and negative emotions are the fundamentals to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development theory. The first three stages in the early years of psychosocial development are as follows:

The eight stages of psychosocial development, as proposed by Erik Erikson


Stage 1: Birth to 18 months old – Trust vs Mistrust 

Babies learn to communicate through non-verbal strategies to express their physiological and emotional needs. During this stage, babies learn to model their caregivers’ facial expressions, and are aware of the appropriate ways to express happiness, fear, and anger. Emotional intelligence is hugely reliant by the process of mirroring, in which the caregiver and child reflect each other’s facial expressions. If babies receive consistent and predictable care, they will develop a sense of trust and feel secured. However, if their needs are met inconsistently, babies will develop mistrust, insecurities, and anxiety.

Tips for Parents

  • Establish a daily routine
  • Acknowledge their emotions
  • Attend to their needs/ cries 
  • Respond positively through words, tone and touch

Stage 2: 18 months to 3 years old – Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt

Toddlers participate more interactively with their peers and caregivers. During this stage, they also learn to empathise. Hence, it is common for toddlers to feel upset if they notice someone crying. They are learning how to express their emotions in acceptable ways. Toddlers rely on adults as models to find out how they should react to different emotions. Toddlers also start to develop self-control as they become more mobile and discover their skills. When supported by encouraging caregivers, they become more confident, have higher self-control and a sense of independence. If toddlers are often criticised or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to develop low self-esteem and a sense of shame and doubt in their abilities.

Tips for Parents

  • Provide choices
  • Encourage curiosity and independence
  • Acknowledge and address the emotions
  • Keep calm and offer comfort after outbursts

Stage 3: 3 to 6 years old – Initiative vs Guilt

During this period, pre-schoolers start to engage in cooperative play, where they learn how to control and regulate their emotions and impulses to be socially acceptable by their peers. Play is central to this stage, as it provides pre-schoolers the opportunities to explore interpersonal skills. Through planning activities, initiating play and asking questions, children develop a sense of initiative and feel secure in their abilities to make decisions and lead others. If pre-schoolers are in an environment that is overly structured or controlling, they may not develop the ability to initiate on their behalf and may feel guilty for proactively getting their needs met. 

Tips for Parents

  • Provide opportunities for free play with other children 
  • Point out mistakes and help the child to problem-solve
  • Encourage turn turning in leadership and followership roles 
  • Set limits on behaviours and encourage to voice out their feelings


Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development theory sheds some light on how social relationships are critical at each stage of our social-emotional development, which can impact our relationships, personal development, and fulfilment in life. Understanding the stages of psychosocial development can help us to better understand what our little ones are going through and better prepared ourselves on how to react appropriately. The parenting tips are not exclusive to each stage of development and can be applied to other age groups depending on the child’s interests and needs. It is also important for children to know that it is okay to not feel good and parents should encourage their children to share their feelings with each other. A great way to start helping children to identify and express feelings is to head down to KidsSTOP™ and visit the Emotion Pods! 

Written by Astra Yap
Illustrated by Chua Jia QI


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