The Development of Anger from Preschool to Middle Childhood: Expressing, Understanding, and Regulating Anger

  • Elizabeth A. Lemerise
  • Bridgette D. Harper


A review is provided of the developmental course of anger during the preschool years (3–5 years) and middle childhood (6 –12 years). In addition, individual differences in anger during these developmental periods are reviewed. Three main aspects of anger are the focus of this chapter: (a) expression of anger, (b) perception and understanding of anger, and (c) regulation of anger. From the preschool years through middle childhood and beyond, children make great strides in the perception and understanding of anger and in regulating the anger they feel and express. These developmental changes are supported by advances in children’s perceptual and cognitive development and by sensitive and responsive caregiving. The preschool years are a key time in the socialization of anger as perceptual, cognitive, and language development provide important tools for identifying, understanding, and regulating anger. Converging evidence demonstrates that, by the time of school entry, those children who have not mastered these skills are at risk for peer relations problems, poor adjustment to school, and a variety of externalizing problems.

In this chapter, we trace the developmental course of and individual differences in three aspects of anger: (a) expression of anger, (b) perception and understanding of anger, and (c) regulation of anger. Our focus is on the preschool period (3–5 years) and middle childhood (6 to 11–12 years), but some reference will be made to both earlier and later periods of development. We argue that all three aspects of anger develop in the context of interpersonal interactions in transactions with the social environment. In addition, perceptual/cognitive development and individual differences in temperament are essential to understanding the developmental course of anger in childhood.


Emotion Regulation Middle Childhood Secure Attachment Emotion Regulation Strategy Emotional Expressiveness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1979). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Arsenio, W., Cooperman, S., & Lover, A. (2000). Affective predictors of preschool children’s aggression and peer acceptance: Direct and indirect effects. Developmental Psychology, 36, 438–448.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arsenio, W., & Killen, M. (1996). Conflict-related emotions during peer disputes. Early Education and Development, 7, 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barefoot, J. C., Dodge, K. A., Peterson, B. L., Dahlstrom, W. G., & Williams, X. B. (1989). The cook-medley hostility scale: Item content and ability to predict survival. Psychosomatic Medicine, 51, 46 –57.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Blair, C. (2002). School readiness: Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of children’s functioning at school entry. American Psychologist, 57, 111–127.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blair, R. J., Colledge, E., Murray, L., & Mitchell, D. G. (2001). A selective impairment in the processing of sad and fearful expressions in children with psychopathic tendencies. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29, 491–498.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bohnert, A. M., Crnic, K. A., & Lim, K. G. (2003). Emotional competence and aggressive behavior in school-age children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 79–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bradmetz, J., & Schneider, R. (2004). The role of the counterfactually satisfied desire lag between false-belief and false-emotion attributions in children age 4 –7. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 22, 185–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bugental, D. B., Blue, J., & Lewis, J. (1990). Caregiver beliefs and dysphoric affect directed to difficult children. Developmental Psychology, 26, 631–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buss, K. A., & Goldsmith, H. H. (1998). Fear and anger regulation in infancy: Effects on the temporal dynamics of affective expression. Child Development, 69, 359–374.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Calkins, S. D., Dedmon, S. E., Gill, K. L., Lomax, L. E., & Johnson, L. M. (2002). Frustration in infancy: Implications for emotion regulation, physiological processes, and temperament. Infancy, 3(2), 175–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carpenter, S., & Halberstadt, A. (2000). Mothers’ reports of events causing anger differ across family relationships. Social Development, 9, 458–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Casey, R. J., & Schlosser, S. (1994). Emotional responses to peer praise in children with and without a diagnosed externalizing disorder. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 40, 60–81.Google Scholar
  14. Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Morgan, J., Rutter, M., Taylor, A., Arseneault, L., et al. (2004). Maternal expressed emotion predicts children’s antisocial behavior problems: Using monozygotic twin differences to identify environmental effects on behavioral development. Developmental Psychology, 40, 149–161.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Castelli, F. (2005). Understanding emotions from standardized facial expressions in autism and normal development. Autism, 9, 428–449.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cole, P. M., Tamang, B. L., & Shrestha, S. (2006). Cultural variations in the socialization of young children’s anger and shame. Child Development, 77, 1237–1251.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cole, P. M., Teti, L. O., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2003). Mutual emotion regulation and the stability of conduct problems between preschool and early school age. Development & Psychopathology, 15, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cole, P. M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Smith, K. D. (1994). Expressive control during a disappointment: Variations related to preschoolers’ behavior problems. Developmental Psychology, 30, 835–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Coles, C. J., Greene, A. F., & Braithwaite, H. O. (2002). The relationship between personality, anger expression, and perceived family control among incarcerated male juveniles. Adolescence, 37, 395–409.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Crick, N. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1994). A review and reformulation of social-information- processing mechanisms of children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 74–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Davies, P. T., & Cummings, E. M. (1995). Children’s emotions as organizers of their reactions to interadult anger: A functionalist perspective. Developmental Psychology, 31, 677–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Denham, S. A. (1993). Maternal emotional responsiveness and toddlers social-emotional competence. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 34, 715–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Denham, S. A. (1998). Emotional development in young children. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  24. Denham, S. A., Blair, K. A., Schmidt, M., & DeMulder, E. (2002). Compromised emotional competence: Seeds of violence sown early? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 70–82.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Denham, S. A., Mitchell-Copeland, J., Strandberg, K., Auerbach, S., & Blair, K. (1997). Parental contributions to preschoolers’ emotional competence: Direct and indirect effects. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 65–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dodge, K. A., & Pettit, G. S. (2003). A biopsychosocial model of the development of chronic conduct problems in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 39(2), 349–371.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., McClaskey, C. L., & Brown, M. (1986). Social competence in children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Serial No. 213, Vol. 51, No. 2).Google Scholar
  28. Dodge, K. A., & Somberg, D. R. (1987). Hostile attributional biases among aggressive boys are exacerbated under conditions of threat to the self. Child Development, 58, 213–224.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 241–273.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Guthrie, I. K., Murphy, B. C., Maszk, P., Holgren, R., et al. (1996). The relations of regulation and emotionality to problem behavior in elementary school children. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 141–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Guthrie, I. K., & Reiser, M. (2000). Dispositional emotionality and regulation: Their role in predicting the quality of social functioning. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 78, 136–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Nyman, M., Bernzweig, J., & Pinuelas, A. (1994). The relations of emotionality and regulation to children’s anger-related reactions. Child Development, 65, 109–128.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Shepard, S. A., Murphy, B. C., Guthrie, I. K., Jones, S., et al. (1997). Contemporaneous and longitudinal prediction of children’s social functioning from regulation and emotionality. Child Development, 68, 642–664.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Eisenberg, N., Sadovsky, A., Spinrad, T. L., Fabes, R. A., Losoya, S. H., Valiente, C., et al. (2005). The relations of problem behavior status to children’s negative emotionality, effortful control, and impulsivity: Concurrent relations and prediction of change. Developmental Psychology, 41, 193–211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Fabes, R. A., Hanish, L. D., Martin, C. L., & Eisenberg, N. (2002). Young children’s negative emotionality and social isolation: A latent growth curve analysis. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 48, 284–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Fine, S. E., Trentacosta, C. J., Izard, C. E., Mostow, A. J., & Campbell, J. L. (2004). Anger perception, caregivers’ use of physical discipline, and aggression in children at risk. Social Development, 13, 213–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Goodenough, F. L. (1931). Anger in young children. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  38. Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1997). Meta-emotion: How families communicate emotionally. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  39. Hanish, L. D., Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Spinrad, T. L., Ryan, P., & Schmidt, S. (2004). The expression and regulation of negative emotions: Risk factors for young children’s peer victimization. Development & Psychopathology, 16, 335–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hayden, E. P., Klein, D. N., & Durbin, C. E. (2005). Parent reports and laboratory assessments of child temperament: A comparison of their associations with risk for depression and externalizing disorders. Journal of Psychopathology & Behavioral Assessment, 27, 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Herba, C. M., Landau, S., Russell, T., Ecker, C., & Phillips, M. L. (2006). The development of emotion-processing in children: Effects of age, emotion, and intensity. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 47, 1098–1106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hubbard, I. A., & Coie, J. D. (1994). Emotional correlates of social competence in children’s peer relationships. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 40, 1–20.Google Scholar
  43. Hubbard, J. A., Romano, L. J., McAuliffe, M. D., & Morrow, M. T. (in press). Anger and the reactive-proactive aggression distinction in childhood and adolescence. In M. Potegal, G. Stemmler, & C. Spielberger (Eds.), International handbook of anger: Constituent and concomitant biological, psychological, and social processes. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  44. Hubbard, J. A., Smithmyer, C. M., Ramsden, S. R., Parker, E. H., Flanagan, K. D., Dearing, K. F., et al. (2002). Observational, physiological, and self report measures of children’s anger: Relations to reactive versus proactive aggression. Child Development, 73, 1101–1118.Google Scholar
  45. Hughes, C., & Dunn, J. (2002). “When I say a naughty word.” A longitudinal study of young children’s accounts of anger and sadness in themselves and close others. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 20, 515–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jenkins, J. M. (2000). Marital conflict and children’s emotions: The development of an anger organization. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 62, 723–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Jenkins, J. M., Shapka, J. S., & Sorenson, A. M. (2006). Teenage mothers’ anger over twelve years: Partner conflict, partner transitions and children’s anger. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 47, 775–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Keltner, D., Moffitt, T. E., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (2005). Facial expressions of emotion and psychopathology in adolescent boys. In Ekman, P. & Rosenberg, E. (Eds.), What the face reveals: Basic and applied studies of spontaneous expression using the facial action coding system (FACS) (pp. 532–550). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Kochanska, G. (1991). Socialization and temperament in the development of guilt and conscience. Child Development, 62, 1379–1392.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kochanska, G. (2001). Emotional development in children with different attachment histories: The first three years. Child Development, 72, 474–490.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kochanska, G., Aksan, N., & Carlson, J. J. (2005). Temperament, relationships, and young children’s receptive cooperation with their parents. Developmental Psychology, 41, 648–660.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lemerise, E. A., & Arsenio, W. F. (2000). An integrated model of emotion processes and cognition in social information processing. Child Development, 71, 107–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lemerise, E. A., & Dodge, K. A. (2008). The development of anger and hostile interactions. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland, & Barrett, L. F. (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 727–739). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  54. Lemerise, E. A., Fredstrom, B. K., Kelley, B. M., Bowersox, A. L., & Waford, R. N. (2006). Do provocateurs’ emotion displays influence children’s social goals and problem solving? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 559–571.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lemerise, E. A., Gregory, D. S., & Fredstrom, B. K. (2005). The influence of Provocateurs’ emotion displays on the social information processing of children varying in social adjustment and age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 90, 344–366.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lewis, M., & Ramsay, D. (2005). Infant emotional and cortisol responses to goal blockage. Child Development, 76, 518–530.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lochman, J. E., Barry, T. D., & Pardini, D. A. (2003). Anger control training for aggressive youth. In Kazdin, A. E. (Ed.), Evidence-based psychotherapies for children and adolescents (pp. 263–281). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  58. Malatesta, C. Z., Culver, C., Tesman, J. R., & Shepard, B. (1989). The development of emotion during the first two years of life. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 54 (1–2, Serial No. 219).Google Scholar
  59. Malatesta, C. Z., & Haviland, J. M. (1982). Learning display rules: The socialization of emotion expression in infancy. Child Development, 53, 991–1003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mangelsdorf, S. C., Shapiro, J. R., & Marzolf, D. C. (1995). Developmental and tempermental differences in emotional regulation in infancy. Child Development, 66, 1817–1828.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Matsumoto, D., Seung Hee Yoo, SH & Chung, J. The expression of anger across cultures (This book)Google Scholar
  62. NICHD ECCRN (2004). Trajectories of physical aggression from toddlerhood to middle childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Serial No. 278, Vol 69 , No. 4.Google Scholar
  63. Orobio de Castro, B., Merk, W., Koops, W., Veerman, J. W., & Bosch, J. D. (2005). Emotions in social information processing and their relations with reactive and proactive aggression in referred aggressive boys. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 34, 105–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Orobio de Castro, B., Slot, N. W., Bosch, J. D., Koops, W., & Veerman, J. W. (2003). Negative affect exacerbates hostile attributions of intent in highly aggressive boys. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 32, 57–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Parke, R. D. (1994). Progress, paradigms, and unresolved problems: A commentary on recent advances in our understanding of children’s emotions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 40, 157–169.Google Scholar
  66. Parker, J. G., & Gottman, J. M. (1989). Social and emotional development in a relational context: Friendship interaction from early childhood to adolescence. In T. J. Berndt and G. W. Ladd (Eds.), Peer relationships in child development (pp. 95–131). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Pollak, S. D., & Tolley-Schell, S. A. (2003). Selective attention to facial emotion in physically abused children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112(3), 323–338.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Potegal, M., Kosorok, M. R., & Davidson, R. J. (2003). Temper tantrums in young children: (II) Tantrum duration and temporal organization. J. Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 24, 148–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Reuter, M. Genetics of hostility and anger (this volume)Google Scholar
  70. Rieffe, C., Terwogt, M. M., & Cowan, R. (2005). Children’s understanding of mental states as causes of emotions. Infant and Child Development, 14, 259–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Root, C. A., & Jenkins, J. M. (2005). Maternal appraisal styles, family risk status and anger biases of children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 193–204.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rubin, K. H., Burgess, K. B., Dwyer, K. D., & Hastings, P. (2003). Predicting preschoolers’ externalizing behaviors from toddler temperament, conflict, and maternal negativity. Developmental Psychology, 39, 164–176.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rydell, A., Berlin, L., & Bohlin, G. (2003). Emotionality, emotion regulation, and adaptation in 5- to 8-year old children. Emotion, 3, 30–47.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Saarni, C., Campos, J. J., Camras, L. A., & Witherington, D. (2006). Emotional development: Action, communication, and understanding. In Damon, W. & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.-in-chief), Eisenberg, N. (Vol. Ed.). Handbook of child psychology, 6th Ed.: volume three: Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 226–299). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  75. Salmivalli, C., & Nieminen, E. (2002). Proactive and reactive aggression among school bullies, victims, and bully-victims. Aggressive Behavior, 28, 30–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schudlich, T. D. D. R., Shamir, H., & Cummings, E. M. (2004). Marital conflict, children’s representations of family relationships, and children’s dispostions towards peer conflict strategies. Social Development, 13, 171–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schultz, D., Izard, C. E., & Bear, G. (2004). Children’s emotion processing: Relations to emotionality and aggression. Development & Psychopathology, 16, 371–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schultz, D., & Shaw, D. S. (2003). Boys’ maladaptive social information processing, family emotional climate, and pathways to early conduct problems. Social Development, 12, 440–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Shaw, D. S., Gilliom, M., Ingoldsby, E. M., & Nagin, D. S. (2003). Trajectories leading to school-age conduct problems. Developmental Psychology, 39, 189–200.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Shipman, K. L., & Zeman, J. (1999). Emotional understanding: A comparison of physically maltreating and nonmaltreating mother-child dyads. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 28, 407–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Shipman, K. L., Zeman, J. N., Nesin, A. E., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003). Children’s strategies for displaying anger and sadness: What works with whom? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 49, 100–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Smeekens, S., Riksen-Walraven, J. M., & van Bakel, H. J. A. (2007). Multiple determinants of externalizing behavior in 5-year-olds: A longitudinal model. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 347–361.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Snyder, J., Schrepferman, L., McEachern, A., & DeLeeuw, J. The contribution of child anger and fear, and parental discipline to early antisocial behavior: An integrative model (This book)Google Scholar
  84. Snyder, J., Stoolmiller, M., Wilson, M., & Yamamoto, M. (2003). Child anger regulation, parental responses to children’s anger displays, and early child antisocial behavior. Social Development, 12, 335–360.Google Scholar
  85. Tremblay, R. E., Boulerice, B., Harden, P. W., McDuff, P., Perusse, D., Pihl, R. O., et al (1996). Do children in Canada become more aggressive as they approach adolescence? In Human Resources Development Canada and Statistics Canada (Eds.), Growing up in Canada: National longitudinal survey of children and youth (pp. 127–137). Ottawa: Statistics Canada.Google Scholar
  86. Underwood, M. K. (1997). Peer social status and children’s understanding of the expression and control of positive and negative emotions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 43, 610–634.Google Scholar
  87. Van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Sagi, A. (1999). Cross-cultural patterns of attachment: Universal and contextual dimensions. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 713–734). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  88. von Salisch, M., & Vogelgesang, J. (2005). Anger regulation among friends: Assessment and development from childhood to adolescence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 837–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Vosk, B. N., Forehand, R., & Figueroa, R. (1983). Perception of emotions by accepted and rejected children. Journal of Behavioral Assessment, 5, 151–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Wellman, H. M. (1990). The child’s theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  91. Zeman, J., Penza, S., Shipman, K., & Young, G. (1997). Preschoolers as functionalists: The impact of social context on emotion regulation. Child Study Journal, 27, 41–67.Google Scholar
  92. Zeman, J., & Shipman, K. (1997). Social-contextual influences on expectancies for managing anger and sadness: The transition from middle childhood to adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 33, 917–924.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Zeman, J., & Shipman, K. (1998). Influence of social context on children’s affect regulation: A functionalist perspective. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 22, 141–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Zeman, J., Shipman, K., & Suveg, C. (2002). Anger and sadness regulation: Predictions to internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 31, 393–398.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWestern Kentucky UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyAuburn University at MontgomeryMontgomeryUSA

Personalised recommendations