Anger amongst Infants
Anger is the distress that accompanies being restrained or blocked in progress toward some sort of fulfillment. Anger involves lashing out rather than withdrawing as in fear. The crying and bodily activity of infants under conditions of bodily tension, such as hunger, look like anger. They seem to be reacting similarly to children and adults who are known to be angry. During the first year, babies learn to use anger for solving some of their problems, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how successful it is. Some anger expressions seem to be only release of emotional energy.
During the second year, when the desire to establish autonomy is strong, interference with choice making is likely to bring angry resistance, crying, screaming, kicking, perhaps hitting, throwing, and biting. For establishment of a sound sense of autonomy, a baby grows by having many experiences in successful choice making and few in choosing activities where he cannot succeed.
Goodenough’s comprehensive and classic study, Anger in Young Children, describes and analyzes 1878 anger outbursts of children in the first 8 years of life. Since the observations were recorded by parents, the cases were necessarily selected from families where parents were unusually cooperative and intelligent. As can be seen in Figure 4—8 there was a marked peak in anger outbursts during the second year and then a rapid decline. Little sex difference appeared in infancy, but during the preschool period, boys had significantly more outbursts than girls. At all ages, however, differences between individuals were greater than differences between the sexes.
Anger behavior changed with age. Most of the outbursts during the first 3 years involved display or undirected energy. Such behavior included crying, screaming, stiffening the body, throwing self on floor, stamping, jumping up and down. With age, such primitive bodily responses tended to be replaced with more directed, less violent, more symbolic expressions. The duration of outbursts changed very little, however.
Physical factors were influential. Anger occurred before mealtimes more than at any other times of day. Children were angry more when ill, even with slight colds or constipation. Outbursts were more frequent among those who had recovered from one or more fairly serious illnesses than among children who had not been ill.
Many psychological factors were shown to be significant. Children who were being toilet-trained showed more anger on days following bedwetting than on days following dry nights. The more adults in the home, the more likely was a child to become angry. When parents shifted from one method of control to another, the child tended to have more outbursts. “Giving the child his own way” was reported more often for children who had many outbursts than for those who had few.
Goodenough comes to this conclusion:
The control of anger in children is best achieved when the child’s behavior is viewed with serenity and tolerance, when the standards are adhered to with sufficient consistency to permit the child to learn through uniformity of experience, without such mechanical adherence to routine that the child’s emotional or physical well-being is sacrificed to the demands of an inflexible schedule. However, when departures from the established schedule are made, they should be determined by recognition of the needs of the child and not simply by the convenience or mood of the adult in charge. Self-control in the parents is, after all, likely to be the best guarantee of self-control in the child.
Hostile aggression is a type of anger expression which frequently shows up in relation to the preschool child. The roots of hostile aggression may lie in the infant—mother relationship. If it happens that the mother answers the baby’s calls after he has become angry through frustration, he may learn to be aggressive with his mother. She thus reinforces his angry behavior because she follows it with satisfactions. He also learns that it hurts her when he does not do what she wishes. If he repeatedly perceives hurt in the other person as he achieves his ends (overcomes his frustrations), then hurting another person may become pleasant to him.
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