Tell Me How You Really Feel, Kiddo

Toddler language development linked to less anger and frustration in preschool

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Temper tantrums are typical for toddlers ages 2 and 3. They are supposed to get better as children get older. But a child with good language skills may improve even more quickly.

A recent study found that toddlers with better language skills have fewer tantrums by age 4.

The better the child's language skills are, the better the child can deal with frustration as he or she gets older.

"The findings support the view that language skills in toddlerhood could help children regulate their emotions as they reach preschool age," the authors wrote.

"Read to your young children frequently."

The study, led by Caroline K.P. Roben, from the Department of Psychology at Pennsylvania State University, sought to find out whether children's language development was related to their self-control development.

The study tracked 120 children from when they were 18 months old until they were 4 years old. The children were mostly white and came from lower middle class families.

The researchers assessed the children's language skill development over that time as well as how the children expressed anger.

They also tested the children in a task that involved a delay to see how the child coped with frustration. One of these tasks was waiting eight minutes before opening a gift while waiting for their mothers to finish a questionnaire.

Overall, the children whose language was better at a younger age and who learned new words more quickly appeared less angry when they were 4 years old. This included both grammatical development and vocabulary development.

The children with stronger language skills also were more likely to have their anger decline over the course of the study. The kids with the better language skills were more likely to ask their mom for support more calmly when they were 3 years old, and these children were then less likely to be angry when they were 4.

When the researchers looked at how the toddlers acted during the gift-waiting, they found that the children with less anger and better language skills were more likely to use two different coping strategies.

One of these strategies was distraction: the child would distract themselves with something else, such as counting or telling a story.

The other strategy was seeking support: the child would ask questions, such as whether their mother was done yet or wondering out loud what the present might be.

"Children whose language skills increased more than other children’ s appeared less frustrated by a delay for a reward by preschool age, and the nature of their anger expressions improved more over time," the researchers wrote.

"Moreover, these relations between language skill and anger expression were partially explained by children’s initiation of regulatory strategies," they went on. Asking for support started occurring at about 3 years old, and distraction started occurring at 4 years old.

The study was published December 20 in the journal Child Development. The research was funded by the National Institute on Mental Health and the National Institute on Child Health & Human Development.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 30, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2013