Toddlers with more developed language skills are better able to manage frustration and less likely to express anger by the time they’re in preschool, according to new research.
Angry outbursts like temper tantrums are common among toddlers, but by the time children enter school, they’re expected to have more self-control, according to Dr. Pamela M. Cole, a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University and principal investigator of the study.
To help them acquire this skill, they’re taught to use language skills like “using your words,” she noted.
The study sought to determine whether developing language skills relates to developing anger control. To do this, researchers looked at 120 predominantly white children from families above poverty but below middle income from the time they were 18 months to 48 months. Through home and lab visits, they measured children’s language and their ability to cope with tasks that might elicit frustration.
In one lab-based task, children were asked to wait eight minutes before opening a gift while their moms finished “work” (a series of questions about how the child usually coped with waiting). Children’s anger and regulatory strategies were observed during the eight minutes.
Among the strategies the children used were seeking support (“Mom, are you done yet?” or “I wonder what it is?”) and distracting themselves from the gift (making up a story or counting aloud).
Children who had better language skills as toddlers and whose language developed more quickly expressed less anger at age 4 than toddlers whose language skills weren’t as good.
Children whose language developed more quickly were more likely to calmly seek their mother’s support while waiting when they were 3, which in turn predicted less anger at 4, the researchers report.
Children whose language developed more quickly also were better able to occupy themselves when they were 4, which in turn helped them tolerate the wait.
“Better language skills may help children verbalize rather than use emotions to convey needs and use their imaginations to occupy themselves while enduring a frustrating wait,” said Cole.
The new study appears in the journal Child Development.