Updated: Jun 13, 2019
Children are learners by nature and instinct. Researchers confirm that the fastest rate of growth happens during the period between birth and the age of three (How Children Learn) (1). Learning of course does not stop at any particular age, instead the ways in which a child is learning and understanding the world change.
Babies observe faces, listen to sounds and voices, grip fingers, pull hair, grab things and put them in their mouths. As they develop into crawling and walking, they prefer holding larger objects like blocks and balls, and toys that they can push around or ride in. They are learning by using all their senses and constantly improving their overall physical coordination. As toddlers, they express curiosity by further exploring the world through dress-ups and imitating adults. And as preschoolers, they start to ask questions and want to know even more about their world. They enjoy being with other kids, running around, coloring, and making or building things. Whilst at two or three years old, they were not good at sharing their toys, now, at the age of four to five, they begin to examine the world from other people's perspective. They can show some "reflective empathy" and even learn how to comfort someone in distress, a big step in their social and emotional development.
For example, if the child's friend cut his finger and started to cry, the child may comfort him, by saying that he will find his mom. Whereas before, the child may react to his friend's mishap by crying too, reacting the way he would if it actually had happened to him, i.e. imagining the situation from his perspective only.
Where does language fall into this? Developing important social skills, like empathy is strongly tied with the development of cognitive thinking and abstract learning, and of course the development of language. Through language children learn to express their emotions and re-imagine the world from different perspectives, not just theirs. And since children learn by imitation, it is important to role model and show them how to handle different situations.
For example, if you're frustrated while being stuck in the morning traffic to school, you may say something in front of your child like "I'm upset" or "stressed out". You may also give physical ques through the tone of your voice, your facial expressions, or the movement of your arms. By doing that you have named the emotion