4–5 years old: Emotional development

4–5 years old: Emotional development

Your child’s emotional development at 4–5 years old. Follow your child’s milestones step-by-step.

Emotional development allows children to understand, express, and manage their emotions as they grow. Children also develop the ability to recognize and interpret the emotions of others, which helps them build relationships with those around them.

Emotional development: 4–5 years old

At this age:

  • Your child can recognize emotions such as joy, sadness, and anger in others by observing their facial expressions and gestures, both in person and in photographs.
  • They often play make-believe and invent characters that are experiencing scary, frustrating, or exciting situations. This is how they practise coping with life’s experiences.
  • Their emotional reactions are more appropriate to the situation. They may hold back tears and wait to be near you to express grief over a conflict with a friend.
  • When they’re upset, they can explain how they’re feeling and ask an adult for reassurance or help solving the problem.
Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • They’re gradually able to hide certain emotions when it feels necessary. If they make a mistake, for example, they may try to hide their embarrassment to avoid unwanted attention.
  • They have more confidence in their abilities and know what qualities and strengths set them apart.
  • They have a better understanding of rules and comply more easily.
  • They’re increasingly able to express their anger with words rather than aggressive behaviour.
  • Your child is more independent and focused, and can occupy themselves for longer periods of time.
  • They interact more frequently with other children and can collaborate to achieve a common goal.
  • They can work on a difficult task for a longer stretch without giving up.
  • They’re less egocentric. They’re starting to consider other people’s points of view and develop empathy.
  • They may show more interest in the parent of the opposite sex.

Over the next few months, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Recognize their emotions, determine the cause, and develop coping skills.
  • Show more interest in taking care of themselves (e.g., cleaning their room, taking their bath alone).
  • Question themselves and reflect on the impact of their actions. For example, they might think to themselves, “I was mean to my friend.”
  • Make a clear distinction between reality and fantasy.
Find out how to support your child’s emotional development through books.

How can you help your child progress?

Every child is different and develops at their own pace. That said, you can help foster your child’s development by adopting the Comfort, Play, and Teach parenting approach, which can easily be integrated into your daily routine. The table below outlines small, age-specific actions you can take that will benefit your child’s emotional development.

When you put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to understand what triggered their emotional reaction,
they feel respected and, with your help, learn to recognize what makes them tick.
When your child is in turmoil and you find ways to calm them down with affectionate words and gestures,
they learn that they can count on your loving presence, even when they’re overwhelmed.
When you give your child crayons, paper, and markers and encourage them to draw and talk about their creations,
they learn that they can express their emotions and explore subjects that interest them through art.
When you use figurines or puppets to act out situations and emotions,
your child uses their imagination and gets to experience different feelings.
When you participate in your child’s favourite activities and let them take the lead during play,
they’re proud to show you what they can do.
When you show your child how to deal with their emotions,
they learn to express their anger and frustration in a safe environment.
When you support your child and encourage them to try new activities or take risks in certain situations,
they learn that it’s okay to try new things and that, by persevering, they can succeed.
When you give your child the opportunity to showcase their strengths and talents,
they start to feel competent in various areas, such as sports, music, or drawing.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Chloé Gaumont, M.Sc., psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2020


Photo: GettyImages/zeljkosantrac



Please note that hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. It is therefore possible that a link may not be found. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Emotional Development in Childhood.” September 2011. www.child-encyclopedia.com
  • Ferland, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien : de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • Shaffer, David, et al. Developmental Psychology: Infancy and Childhood. 5th ed., Quebec, 2019, 613 pp.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Your child’s development: What to expect.” www.caringforkids.cps.ca
  • Sunderland, Margot. The Science of Parenting: How Today’s Brain Research Can Help You Raise Happy, Emotionally Balanced Children. DK, 2008, 288 pp.
  • Université de Montréal. “Portail enfance et familles : Les étapes de développement de l’enfant de la naissance à l’adolescence.” www.portailenfance.ca
  • Zeanah, Charles H. Jr., editor. Handbook of Infant Mental Health. 4th ed., Guilford Press, 2018, 678 pp.