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



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 
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Authors and Affiliations

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

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