While most children become upset at one time or another, there are some children who react to negative situations with aggression. This can be either direct or passive aggression, both of which can present their own challenges. For many parents, dealing with an aggressive child can be complicated and may not come naturally. For this reason, it’s important to learn the definition of aggression and how to handle it when you have a child who displays this kind of behavior.
What is Aggression?
The first step is to define aggression. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of aggressive is “tending toward or exhibiting aggression.” From the same dictionary, the aggression definition is listed as “hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration.” While some children don’t show aggressive behavior on a regular basis and only in reaction to severely negative situations, there are others who exhibit this type of behavior on a regular basis, sometimes daily, causing extreme strife in the child’s life. These children can often be difficult to handle on a daily basis, both at home and in the school environment, as well as any other type of environment.
One of the most effective ways to fight against aggression in your child is to be consistent in your discipline. This should begin at an early age to set the foundation for a stable, loving home where the rules are understood. However, if you’ve already reached a point where your child is exhibiting aggressive behavior on a regular basis, consistency will be paramount in helping to break these bad habits. If you are consistent in your guidance and punishments, your child will begin to learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t. It’s important to make sure anyone who spends a significant amount of time with your child is following the same guidelines.
Aggressive Play Is a Different Matter
Some parents mistake aggressive play for unacceptable aggressive behavior. In aggressive play, no one is intentionally hurt physically or emotionally and everyone involved understands the difference between the fiction of the actions and the reality. The play is also mutual between friends. It’s when either of these elements are lacking when aggressive play moves to unacceptable behavior that needs to be corrected. Close adult supervision is a necessity to ensure children are simply playing rather than participating in negative behaviors that need to be stopped.
What Causes Aggression
Some level of aggression is normal in children. It’s when this behavior goes beyond the norm that it’s important for parents to reach out for assistance. There are many ways in which you can get your child the help he or she needs to become a productive member of society. Learning the triggers is one of the best ways to identify an issue and learn how to avoid it altogether is to identify the cause. Some of the most common causes of aggression include:
- Extreme anger and frustration
- Lack of adult supervision
- Stressful situations
- Lack of routine
- Mirroring displayed behaviors
Once you identify your child’s major triggers, you can work harder to eliminate the triggers to encourage better behavior. However, it’s important to remember that some triggers can’t always be avoided altogether, making it important to learn how to handle the behavior when it can’t be avoided.
Remove the Child Before the Situation Progresses
When possible, remove your child from situations that may eventually lead to aggression. While you may have already identified the triggers for your child, it’s also important to watch for signs that your child is getting stressed and may begin misbehaving in a way that is harmful to others or himself. Knowing your child can help you see when he is reaching his limit and remove him from the situation before he resorts to aggressive behavior to deal with it.
Don’t Reflect the Aggression
It’s human nature to act aggressively against someone who has exhibited aggressive behavior in an attempt to curb it. Unfortunately, this is the worst method of stopping a child who has expressed themselves in an aggressive manner. Children absorb and learn by watching those around them. If you attempt to curb their aggression by being aggressive in return, you are simply teaching them that aggression is an acceptable way to correct a conflict. Instead, try to stay calm and talk to the child about their behavior. If this is unproductive, remove your child from the situation and begin the talk again once he or she has had a chance to calm down.
Take a Time Out
Instead of removing the child from the situation altogether, sometimes a short break is all that is needed. Sitting your child to the side while the others continue to participate allows your child to calm down and shows him that his behavior is considered unacceptable. In many cases, he will be ready to rejoin the activity after a short break. With a clear head and a calm demeanor, your child will be refreshed and ready to rejoin.
Teach Him to Use His Words
One of the biggest reasons children turn to aggression is because they aren’t sure of any other way to express their feelings. They often feel frustrated or angry and don’t know how to tell someone else how they’re feeling. Talking to your child will help him understand it’s ok to express himself by talking it out. Role playing can be a great way to help your child learn how to talk about his feelings and express his anger or frustration with his words. Telling a friend, “I was playing with that toy,” rather than hitting the child is a more effective way to get what your child wants and won’t result in a punishment.
Talk to Educators and Caregivers
It’s essential to understand the level of aggression your child is exhibiting in all areas of life. While you can only watch your child at home, it’s necessary to find out what’s going on at school or in a daycare setting. Sometimes these behaviors aren’t happening somewhere else, but are caused by the conditions taking place there. Set up a meeting with the teacher or caregiver to talk about what’s going on and find out if they have noticed any issues in the school or daycare environment. If behaviors are happening both at school and at home, it’s important for consistency in both places. Together, you can create a plan that will help your child and ensure no one else is uncomfortable.
Teach Better Problem-Solving Skills
Teenagers are experts at using passive aggression. They may apologize, but they will add a statement that indicates the behavior was caused by something you did, shifting the blame. When your teen already knows how to express themselves verbally and still continues to be aggressive, even if it’s verbally, it’s important to have a talk about effective problem solving skills. Giving your child the tools necessary to solve their problems without being aggressive can serve them well in life. Passive aggressive behavior is one of the fastest ways to make a poor impression, whether your child is applying for college or trying to get a job.
It May Take a While
Correcting aggressive behavior isn’t something that will happen overnight. Children learn best through repetitive behavior. They will likely slide back into old habits before the new ones take solid hold. It’s important to understand this change will take time. As long as you are consistent with your guidance and corrections and manage them in love, your child will eventually learn how to handle his or her problems without resorting to aggression.
When to Seek Medical Help
Sometimes aggression in children can be related to a medical condition, such as ADHD. While some people feel this condition is diagnosed too often, it’s something to look into to ensure your child gets the help necessary to reduce aggression and become more productive. A trip to the pediatrician can help you identify whether there are any underlying medical conditions that may play a role.
In addition, it may be time to seek medical intervention when certain behaviors occur, such as:
- Physical injury to self or others
- Violent physical attacks
- Being sent home from school or banned from playgrounds or other areas
- Safety becomes a serious concern
For some aggressive children, psychiatric help may be necessary, including day treatments or even full-time hospitalization. The goal is to make sure your child gets the help necessary to react in an appropriate manner.
Aggression can be a serious concern, but as a parent, you can play a part in helping your child overcome these issues. With hard work, consistency and the help of medical professionals and other care providers, you can give your child the tools necessary to deal with their anger and frustration in a more productive manner. It’s your job to make sure your child can become a contributing member of society, not someone who will struggle through life because they don’t know how to treat others appropriately.