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Emotions: school-age children

5-8 years

Emotion and kids – it’s no surprise that feelings sometimes run high when children start school. It’s a time of new experiences and challenges. Children start to feel a lot of new emotions too, which you can help them explore and express through play.

School-age kids, emotions and play

School-age children start putting into action all the things they’ve learned about feelings in their early years. Controlling emotions, and expressing them in an appropriate way, is an important part of making friends at school and learning in a formal classroom setting.

Play is still one of the main ways that children explore feelings and practise how to express and manage them.

Your child might have lots of opportunities to play with other children, but play with you still has an important and special role.

Playing with your child – for example, throwing a ball to each other or playing a board game together – gives her the chance to experience and express new and familiar feelings with your support. It strengthens your relationship too. And the practice helps your child deal better with her emotions when you’re not around.

What to expect from school-age kids and emotions

Once at school, your child will probably:

  • start to learn about being independent
  • start to experience strong emotions like jealousy, envy and anger, or joy and pride
  • understand that other people can have strong feelings
  • start understanding other people’s points of view by 8-9 years
  • have some understanding of right and wrong, but might also do things like tell lies or steal.

Some children go through stages of being loud and confident and then quiet and shy.

Your child will probably start forming closer friendships from about eight years. Boys often form a group of friends, whereas girls might prefer to be in smaller groups or even pairs. But this is just the general pattern, and your child will make his own choices.

At this age, children are often very keen on rules. Sometimes disagreements about rules can cause arguments between school-age children. Your help is still important to keep play going smoothly.

School-age children often go through lots of new emotions, which might be overwhelming for your child. Listening to your child when she wants to talk and giving her lots of affection and support will help her to feel secure, valued and loved.

‘How was school?’ is a big question. To answer, your child has to sum up a whole day of activities and emotions. That’s hard for children – and even grown-ups – to do. Here are some ideas to help you and your child with talking about school.

School-age kids and emotions: play ideas

Play is one of the best ways for children to explore, express and manage their emotions. Your school-age child can explore feelings through:

  • making art – try painting and drawing
  • having fun with music, including jumping around and ‘acting out’ music, creating music with odds and ends around the house, and learning to play an instrument
  • messy play, like playing with sand or mud
  • playing with puppets or toys
  • playing dress-ups
  • going to a park or open space for outdoor play like running, tumbling or hitting a ball around – there’s nothing like kicking a ball really hard to help release tension.

Your child might find it easier to express feelings if he feels that he’s in charge. Letting your child choose what and how to play can help with this.

Bullying at school is more common than you might think. If you think your child is being bullied – or is bullying others – it’s important to step in. Your child needs help to sort out bullying problems. It’s often a good idea to talk about it with your child’s teacher.

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Last updated or reviewed
10-03-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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