Toddler Tantrums? Tame Them With Talk

Angry outbursts like temper tantrums are common among toddlers, but by the time children enter school, they’re expected to have more self-control. In a longitudinal study published in Child Development, researchers  sought to determine whether developing language skills relates to developing anger control.

Language Development

The researchers found children’s growth in language development contributes to the decline in tantrums in early childhood and was used as a way to regulate frustration. In addition to the child’s language skills, the rate of language growth contributed to better anger regulation.

Children whose language skills increased appeared less frustrated when they experienced a delay for a reward (e.g. the child has to wait until after the trip to the grocery store to eat their cookies) by preschool age. Their anger expressions also improved more over time than the children whose language skills were not developing as quickly. These individual differences in language skills during the toddler years (18-24 months) were associated with less quick, intense, and sustained anger by preschool age.

Communication is the Key

Researchers believe that the correlation between language development and a child’s frustration and anger is their ability to communicate. When a child has a vocabulary from which to draw they are able to successfully put words together, thus enabling them to verbalize their needs without expressing frustration nonverbally (think less tantrums). The more developed their language skills become the sooner the child may be able to reflect on and understand emotional experiences to share with those around them. Frustration and anger can also compromise higher order thought and language processing that can affect the various stages needed for learning.

NeuroNet Note

The frustration and anger a child is feeling (and perhaps expressing during a tantrum) can be mistaken as bad behavior, but more often it is the child’s inability to communicate verbally. This type of nonverbal communication is not only upsetting for the caretakers, but also for the child. NeuroNet is designed for children that are experiencing difficulties with speech and language development. The programs are effective in integrating areas of the brain that are critical for learning. Young children with better language skills will be able to communicate more thoroughly and therefore have greater control over their emotions.

At home, you can help improve your child's grasp of language, as well as, his or her ability to listen and follow directions by:

  • reading to your child and asking what happened in the story.
  • narrating daily activities with descriptive words about how it looks, feels, tastes, and sounds.
  • playing Simon Says with instructions like, "Reach for the ball and toss it to me" and "Bend down and touch your toes."
  • making scavenger hunts by hiding a toy and instructing "look under the smallest pillow" or "reach behind the blue lamp."
  • listening to music together, with dancing and singing along too.

P.S. If you liked this post, why not get our Learning in Motion email? Awesome, research-based ideas for learning enrichment. Delivered weekly. Get on the list.