Primary emotions, also called basic or universal emotions, are the first ones your child will experience.
Primary emotions, also called basic or universal emotions, are the first ones your child will experience. The 6 main ones appear during the first year of life: joy, sadness, disgust, fear, anger and surprise. Nathalie still remembers the first time she saw Arthur show surprise. “He was 6-months old, and it was the first time I was giving him cereal. I offered him the first spoonful, he looked at me, opened his eyes wide and backed up in his chair. It was so funny!”
Secondary or mixed emotions appear between 15 and 24 months old as your child becomes aware that he’s different from others and that he is his own person, explains Sylvain Coutu, psycho-education and psychology professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais who leads studies on emotional development in children. This discovery allows your toddler to feel emotions related to self-awareness such as shyness and jealousy. He may feel shy when he understands that people are paying attention to him, and jealous when he realizes that others have what he wants.
A little later, sometime during his third year, he’ll experiment with secondary emotions that require an understanding of rules, standards and goals to reach. This is the case for emotions such as guilt, embarrassment and pride. If, for example, your child knows he mustn’t draw on the walls and does so anyway, he may feel guilt. And if he succeeds in riding his tricycle or assembling a big puzzle after putting in a lot of effort, he will feel pride.
As you child grows and develops his thought processes, he will perceive and interpret situations differently, and this will have an effect on his emotional reactions. For example, your 3-year-old toddler may be petrified if he sees someone disguised as a monster, but at 5 years old, he will no longer be afraid because he understands that it’s a disguise. With time, as he develops a greater understanding of the world he lives in, your child will also become much more skilled at controlling his emotions.