Why Kids with Language Delays Are More Aggressive

It has been documented that kids who are slower to develop language are more likely to show “externalizing behaviors,” meaning outwardly-focused problems like verbal or physical aggression (as opposed to “internalizing behaviors” like being withdrawn or anxious).

But a new study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggests that aggressive behavior might not be a direct cause of slower language.The researchers see a step in between, and it has to do with peers.

The study followed 615 children from kindergarten to 4th grade.  They found that the kids who had average or above average language skills (specifically “receptive” skills, meaning the ability to understand language) showed a decrease in externalizing behaviors as time went on, whereas the ones with lower than average language skills showed an increase.

But they also saw that the better the language skills, the less likely a kid was to experience peer rejection. Not only that, after statistical analysis, the effects of peer rejection seemed to explain the whole phenomenon of aggression. In other words, language delays lead to peer rejection, which then leads to behavioral problems.

I thought that language delays caused kids to act out because when it’s hard to express yourself, it’s frustrating for a child. But this study is suggesting that it’s not necessarily the language delay itself, but how the child is received that is the start of the problem.

Image: Flickr/Lance Neilson

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