As parents, few situations are more difficult to deal with than having a child who is showing aggressive behavior toward other children.
“I’m not allowed to bring Ben to play group anymore,” said Sarah, whose son is now five years old. “The last time we went, he bit another boy who was playing with a truck Ben wanted. And the time before that, he hit a little girl across the face. I try to tell him ‘no’ but he just doesn’t listen, so I just end up apologizing for him. I’m starting to feel like the world’s worst parent because I can’t control him when he acts out.”
As parents, few situations are more difficult to deal with than having a child who is aggressive toward other children. It can be embarrassing as well as frightening when your child bites, hits, scratches or kicks to get his or her way.
It’s not uncommon for younger children to engage in this type of aggressive behavior at various points in their development and in a variety of settings.
However, when it becomes very frequent or seems to be their consistent way of reacting to something they don’t like, it’s time to step in and help them change their aggressive behavior.
The first step is understanding the underlying reasons why your child is choosing to act out this way. The more you understand what’s happening, the better you’ll be able to help them find other, non-aggressive ways to solve their problems.
Initially, between the ages of 18 months to 2 years, children find it extremely hard to communicate their needs to their parents, caregivers, and other children. Negative or aggressive behavior is one way they may choose to get their point across.
For older children between the ages of three and six, such behaviors may be the result of never having learned appropriate, non-aggressive ways of communicating when they were faced with a difficult situation.
The cause of aggressive behavior may be due to any or all of the following:
- Being placed in a stressful situation
- Lack of routine
- Extreme frustration or anger
- Inadequate speech development
- Lack of adult supervision
- Mirroring the aggressive behaviors of other children around them
One place to begin is to watch your child for cues to see if any of the situations described above brings about aggressive behavior. Learning as much as you can about the factors that trigger bad behavior is the best way to combat it when it occurs next time.
Some questions you should ask yourself about your childs aggressive behavior:
- Who does my child hit, bite or kick? Does he do it to one friend in particular? Does he only do it to me? Or does he tend to be aggressive with whomever he is with? If it’s one person in particular, try to find out if there’s a reason why he’s attacking that child such as engaging in overly aggressive play, a poor match of temperaments or a lack of clear cut rules before play begins.
- Also, what seems to cause your child to act out in an aggressive fashion? Is it triggered by frustration, anger, or excitement? Notice if there are patterns. Does he act this way when toys are involved, and he’s frustrated about sharing? Or does he become aggressive when there is too much going on and he’s over-stimulated? If you observe the situations carefully, you will likely notice patterns.
- Finally, how is his aggressiveness expressed? Is it through angry words or through angry behaviors? Does he become verbally aggressive first and then physically aggressive, or is his first response to strike out and hit?
By answering these questions, you are on your way to successfully limiting your child’s aggressive behavior in the future.
In this article, I’ll outline some ways that you can help your child become more aware of his aggressive feelings and teach him to calm himself down, or find alternative ways to solve his problems. We’ll also talk about giving consequences to kids when they do lash out and hurt someone. In my experience, consequences are imperative to ending aggressive behavior in young children.
They teach your child that all behaviors have a consequence, whether good or bad, and will help him make better choices in the future when he is with his friends. Once you’ve narrowed down the reasons why your child is behaving aggressively, it’s time to intervene.
Step in and Stop Aggressive Behavior Immediately
At the first sign that your child is about to become aggressive, immediately step in and remove him from the situation. Be careful not to give too much attention to your child so that you do not give any negative reinforcement for the bad behavior. Too much attention can include trying to “talk through” the problem.
Young children are not able to hear long explanations of why their behavior was offensive. A simple yet firm statement such as, “We don’t bite” should suffice while you turn your attention to the victim. Other examples of too much attention include yelling at your child while attending to the victim, forcing your child to apologize immediately or continuing to talk to the other parents around you about how embarrassed or angry you are.
Make a point of consoling the victim and ignoring the aggressor. If your child cannot calm down, remove him or her from the situation without getting angry yourself. When they are calm and ready to talk, you can discuss what happened.
If it’s physically impossible to remove your child, you will have to remove yourself and the victim from the situation. By walking an age-appropriate distance away from your child after he has acted out, you are sending the message that you will attend to him when he can calm down.
In doing so, you are teaching your child that it is his responsibility to learn to calm himself and act appropriately.
Lower Your Voice—Don’t Raise It
As parents, we need to show self-control and use gentle words if we want our kids to do the same. Continue reading…
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals.
She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in the Boulder area with her husband and three energetic children, ages 14, 11, and 9.