Emotionally Intelligent Kids Share More with Others

By Whitney Patterson | May 12, 2011 | 7 comments

A new study suggests it's important to talk with young kids about emotions.

How does that make you feel?

You might think that’s a question more appropriate to an adult therapy session than a conversation with a toddler, but a recent study might make you think twice. The study suggests that encouraging young kids to identify and discuss emotions might make them more likely to act kindly toward others as they get older.

kristian sekulic

The study, published in the journal Social Development, involved 102 pairs of mothers and children living in the UK.

When the children were two years old, and again when they were three, the researchers measured their verbal ability and their ability to understand emotions. The researchers also observed interactions between the mothers and children and examined whether the children would share toys or food with a stranger his or her own age.

The researchers, who are based at the University of Cambridge, followed up with the children when they were four years old, again measuring their verbal abilities, emotion understanding, and relationship with their mothers. But this time the researchers also conducted an experiment to see if the children would share stickers with a friend or keep the stickers for themselves.

They found that children who showed a greater understanding of emotions at age three were more likely to share with a friend at age four. They also found that kids who had stronger verbal skills or seemed closer and more in-tune with their mothers at age two were also more likely to share at age four, as long as they’d also demonstrated a strong understanding of emotions at age three.

Taken together, the results suggest to the researchers that “children’s abilities to detect and reflect on feelings” are strongly linked to kind, helpful—or “pro-social”—behavior.

So “how do you feel?” might not be such an inappropriate question for children after all: The researchers suggest that talking about emotions might be a key to developing this type of emotional intelligence in kids. Young kids who have a close, connected relationship with their mothers frequently discuss their feelings and other people’s feelings, note the researchers, and these types of conversations might deepen their understanding of emotions—which, in turn, makes them more likely to help others.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Whitney Patterson is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:


yes kids are truly emotional

Crazy Vision | 9:16 pm, September 22, 2011 | Link


that pic is so amazing ..
very emotional

اصالة | 6:34 am, September 23, 2011 | Link


i’ve read this study in Social Development
it’s very interesting
thank you for sharing

Salah Jahin | 4:41 pm, October 10, 2011 | Link


Thank you for this very important article.  I have 4 children and two who are highly emotional.  Sometimes society looks at that as a negative.  Our Charlotte pediatrician has shared many similar thoughts as this article that we need to openly talk about feelings (“I’m sad, angry, hurt, happy…”) with these kiddos so they can appropriately express themselves.  When they understand their own feelings and emotions then they can better understand their friends, parents, siblings, etc.  Great article.  Thank you!

Momof4 | 12:19 pm, December 2, 2011 | Link


“The study, published in the journal Social Development, involved 102 pairs of mothers and children living in the UK.” That should be pretty well rounded….

Pictures of Jesus | 2:34 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link


Good study. Thanks for the article!

Easytether | 2:36 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link


That’s an interesting study, especially the part that connects verbal skills at age 2 to willingness to share at age 4. My daughter is 2.5, she doesn’t really talk- just babbles in her own kid-speak. Her verbal skills are far below those of her younger cousins, yet (and she’s an only child), she’s got to be one of the most generous kids I know. I wonder if this willingness to share will change by the age of 4.

Care homes | 1:31 pm, May 2, 2012 | Link

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement