The ability to use words as a toddler may affect the way a child manages anger later in life, a new study suggests.
Children with good language skills at age 2 expressed less anger during frustrating situations at age 4 than did those 4-year-olds with less advanced language skills, according to the study's findings.
Children whose language skills developed quickly also expressed less anger at age 4.
While previous research suggested a link between language skills and the expression of anger in young children, few studies had followed children over time. [See Kids' Tantrums As Disorder Concern Doctors.]
The new study followed 120 children from 18 months old until they were 4. Children periodically underwent tests that assessed their language skills and their ability to cope with frustrating tasks. One task asked children to wait for eight minutes before opening a present while their mother finished work.
Two aspects of language appeared to help children rein in their anger. First, more-developed language skills allowed kids to ask for support from their parents during a frustrating situation (for instance, asking the mother whether she was finished with her work). Children also used language to occupy or distract themselves from becoming angry. (One child dealt with the waiting task by counting for a full minute.)
"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 study researcher Pamela Cole, a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University.
The study appears today (Dec. 20) in the journal Child Development.
Pass it on: Toddlers with good language skills are better able to manage anger when they enter preschool.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.