5 Keys to Understanding How Children Feel

Is it possible to really understand how children feel? How can we access their inner world from a very young age? Here are 5 key ideas to doing so.
5 Keys to Understanding How Children Feel
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Understanding how children feel isn’t always an easy task. When we try to do so, we must take into account that factors such as their age, their temperament, their way of being, their fears, the relationship we have with them, the bond we’ve established, the tools we use, etc., all come into play.

Therefore, we must adapt our efforts to our child’s age and developmental stage. In the following article, we’ve distinguished two important evolutionary stages in order to know what aspects we must take into account when connecting with children. And, by extension, understanding them.

Finally, we’ll reflect on 5 key ideas to understanding how children feel. Through them, you’ll be able to gradually work on your bond and encourage them to open up to you. In turn, you’ll actively listen to them, observe them, and analyze what may be happening to them, both for better and for worse.

5 Keys to Understanding How Children Feel

Children from 3 to 6 years old

Between the ages of 3 and 6, play is the ideal way to access children. Stories and invented worlds are also useful resources to work with them and empathize, since they’re tools that symbolize their realities, through which they can understand.

That is, through these tools, children reason, understand and express their inner world. In fact, they’re immersed in the egocentric stage, according to Piaget, where they begin to acquire symbolic thinking. To enter this world, we can actively participate with them when they play or draw, when we read them stories and ask them questions…

In addition, it’s a good opportunity to share fun moments with them, through which we can also work on values and, ultimately, understand how children feel.

Positive reinforcement is also important at this stage: children are growing and defining themselves, even though they’re small. Therefore, reinforcing their progress, their learning, and their good behaviors will help them in their development.

In addition, this technique will allow us to strengthen the bond with them. It’s also a good time to give them autonomy and responsibilities and, through them, access how they feel.

“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is to have a happy childhood.”

– Agatha Christie –

Children ages 6 to 11

When they’re a little older, children change the way they play. Just the same, they continue to discover things every day. At this stage, socialization is very important, as they place a lot of importance on what others think of them.

It’s a good time to care for their self-esteem, to answer their questions (they usually have many), and to continue fostering their autonomy.

At this stage, we can begin to probe their feelings in a more direct, but non-intrusive way, asking them how they’re doing, how they feel, what they need, etc.

Positive discipline is a good tool to educate them and to access them. Therefore, norms and rules provide them with security and teach them to know the limits, while respecting their own autonomy.

At the same time, at this stage, according to Piaget, we should help them to enhance their reversible thinking; that is, to enhance their logical and reasoning capacity.

By working on these aspects, it’s also possible to understand how children feel. Reasoning about emotions can often help to identify and understand them.

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

– Graham Greene –

5 keys to understanding how children feel

We’ve differentiated between two evolutionary stages that are important for understanding how children feel. Therefore, at each stage, it’ll be important to prioritize some aspects or others.

However, there are some common resources that we can use in a generic way when it comes to understanding children. We suggest the following:

5 Keys to Understanding How Children Feel
  • Active listening: This is the key tool for connecting with people. Listening, getting involved, and doing it with all our senses in place will allow us to understand what’s happening to the child and, in turn, will allow them to express themselves when they have a need.
  • Observation: Observing is essential to understanding not only children, but people in general. Look at their behavior, their gestures, their words, their moods… There’s a lot of relevant information there.
  • Creating the bond: To be able to understand a child, working on the bond we have with them beforehand is essential. This will allow us to gain their confidence. This way, in the future, if they’re worried about something, they’ll be able to come to us.
  • Conversations and questions: Asking, dialoguing, talking… These are essential tools in order to know how children feel. When they’re younger, we must prioritize closed questions and open them up as they grow.
  • Encourage patience: Many times, when children are young, they have fears or insecurities that prevent them from expressing how they feel. Therefore, we must be patient. The time will come when they’ll be able to tell us what’s happening to them. If not, we’ll continue to work on the bond in order to achieve this.

Helping a child understand how they feel is, in turn, a way to help them in their development. That’s why emotional education is so important, even from early childhood. So, as the writer Astrid Lindgren, creator of the character Pippi Longstocking, said:

“If I have managed to brighten up even one gloomy childhood – then I’m satisfied.”


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bradley, B.S. (1992). Concepciones de la infancia. Introducción crítica a la psicología del niño. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Feldman, R.S. (2007). Desarrollo psicológico a lo largo de la vida. Méjico: Pearson.
  • Piaget, J. (1986). Psicología evolutiva. Madrid: Editorial Paidós.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.