If you have a toddler at home, you’ve likely witnessed it. Something extremely trivial, like cutting a slice of toast ‘wrong’, sets them off. Their facial expressions change. Their spoons and forks become weapons. You’re at the receiving end of a high-pitched scream at a volume you wouldn’t believe from such a tiny human. It’s a temper tantrum, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we study the science underlying ‘angry’ emotions.
Anger is such a primitive emotion, even the youngest humans experience it. Psychologists from the University of Minnesota, US, decided to study toddler meltdowns in 2017, according to a May 2019 report in UK-based news website The Guardian. They treated them as natural phenomena, like thunderstorms or volcanoes – something to be analysed and understood.
Capturing the audio from more than 100 tantrums, the researchers studied toddlers in their daily lives, and found that tantrums followed a predictable trajectory. At their essence, they comprised two emotions – anger and sadness. The researchers found that sounds of sadness, like crying and whining, were a constant undercurrent in the tantrum, but the toddlers’ anger would build up, reach a peak, and then disappear.
So, what is the trick to ending a tantrum? According to scientists – the key is to get the toddler over his/her peak of anger as quickly as possible. But here’s the catch. To do that, you have to do absolutely nothing. Even intervening to ask what was wrong, was seen to prolong the process.
Science is helping make sense of this volatile emotion, which causes adults to lose control, too. In a series of studies published in 2016 in the US-based Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that anger makes us more impulsive and causes us to underestimate the possibility of bad outcomes. It’s why actions taken when angry, or things said, usually seem out of character for the person involved.
Unlike toddlers, who need to just push through their anger to get to the other side, adults can do something about the emotion. While managing your anger doesn’t mean you will be able to stop yourself from getting angry, it does involve recognising the emotion, coping with it, and expressing it in a healthy, productive way.
Here are some strategies to get anger under control:
1. Step away
If possible, remove yourself from the situation before your anger is fuelled any further. You can let people around you know that you need to step away because you cannot have a productive conversation when you’re upset. When you’re feeling calmer, you can rejoin the discussion and address the issue with a clearer frame of mind.
2. Talk through your feelings
If you know someone who has a calming effect on you, it’s worth talking through the issue or expressing your feelings. But be careful about venting – it has been known to backfire. A 2016 study in the journal PLoS One found that smashing things or releasing your anger by venting doesn’t really do anything to help you cope – in fact, it may make you angrier. So, when talking with someone about an issue, try to work on developing a solution or reducing your anger, and not just ranting.
3. Work out
Anger gives you a rush of energy, and one of the best ways of managing it is to channel it into exercise or physical activity. Working out can burn off the extra tension and help you decompress. A 2019 study in the South Korean journal Asian Nursing Research found that aerobic activity reduces stress, and can help in improving frustration tolerance. Exercise also helps clear the mind, so that you get a clearer perspective on the issue that’s troubling you.
What do you think of these strategies? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at email@example.com.