5-8 years

Emotions are often intense when kids start school. It’s a time of new experiences, which are often exciting and sometimes challenging. Children start to feel a lot of new emotions too, which you can help them explore and express in many ways, including 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. For example, managing emotions and expressing them in appropriate ways are important parts of making friends at school and learning in a classroom.

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

At school 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 feelings like happiness and disappointment in a supportive environment. It strengthens your relationship too, and it’s all good practice for when your child is playing with others. 

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 and envy
  • understand that other people have feelings too
  • 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. There are lots of things you can do to get your child 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 – painting and drawing is a great way to manage and express big emotions like disappointment or sadness
  • having fun with music – for example, jumping around and ‘acting out’ music, creating music with odds and ends around the house, or learning to play an instrument
  • messy play, like squishing sand or stomping in mud
  • pretend play using puppets, toys or old clothes – this lets your child try out different situations and the emotions that might go with them, like being a brave firefighter or a lost explorer
  • going to a park or open space for outdoor play like running, tumbling or hitting a ball around – kicking a ball really hard is great for releasing tension
  • reading stories that feature characters who are going through emotions that your child is also feeling – this can really help your child understand new emotions.

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Last updated or reviewed
26-03-2018

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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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