"This is the first longitudinal evidence of early language abilities predicting later aspects of anger regulation," says Pamela M. Cole, research professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, who was the principal study investigator.
Angry outbursts like temper tantrums are common among toddlers, but by the time children enter school, they are expected to have more self-control. To help them acquire this skill, they are taught to use language skills like "using your words", the journal Child Development reports.
This study sought to determine whether developing language skills relates to developing anger control. Does developing language ability reduce anger between ages two and four?
Researchers looked at 120 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, according to a statement.
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-minute wait. 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 four than their peers whose toddler language skills were not good.