Facial expression recognition skills are known to improve across childhood and adolescence, but the mechanisms driving the development of these important social abilities remain unclear. This study investigates directly whether there are qualitative differences in child and adult processing strategies for these emotional stimuli. With a novel adaptation of the Bubbles reverse-correlation paradigm (Gosselin & Schyns, 2001), we added noise to expressive face stimuli and presented sub-sets of randomly sampled information from each image at different locations and spatial frequency bands across experimental trials. Results from our large developmental sample: 71 young children (6 –9 years), 69 older children (10–13 years) and 54 adults, uniquely reveal profiles of strategic information-use for categorisations of fear, sadness, happiness and anger at all ages. All three groups relied upon a distinct set of key facial features for each of these expressions, with fine-tuning of this diagnostic information (features and spatial frequency) observed across developmental time. Reported variability in the developmental trajectories for different emotional expressions is consistent with the notion of functional links between the refinement of information-use and processing ability.