There's no denying that being a parent is hard, whether its dealing with constant spit up with a newborn, never getting a break from sickness and sniffles with a toddler, or handling a preschooler who won't follow rules, parenting can definitely have its rough moments. Something many parents face is how to handle their child's aggressive behavior. Having an aggressive, angry child is something we all hope won't happen, but in all honesty it can happen no matter how hard you try to avoid it, so let's talk about how to handle your aggressive child and teach them how to control their emotions and learn to express themselves peacefully.
First off, let me just say that you are not a bad parent for feeling like you can't control your child.
According to BoysTown.Org, "Some aggressive behavior is a typical part of child development, especially between the ages of 3 and 9."
What Does Aggressive Behavior Look like?
- Throwing objects
- Screaming or yelling
- Full-on heated tantrums/outbursts
What Causes Aggressive Behavior?
You child is probably lashing out in frustration because a problem may feel too big for them. They haven’t yet learned how to control their impulses or work out conflicts in socially acceptable ways.
It can also be that (especially with toddlers or young kids) that they don't know how to express themselves with words so they express themselves physically.
Aggressive behavior can also be a signal that your child is going through something stressful, such as a lack of routine, overstimulation, self-defense, exhaustion, feeling of lack of attention, hyperactivity, or emotional regulation problems.
Aggression in children can also be influenced by environmental forces outside the home. Peers, teachers, neighborhoods, media messages, ideologies, and cultural factors all play a role.
What Steps Can We Take to Help?
1. Step In and Stop It
As soon as you see that your child is about to become aggressive, it is important to stop the behavior, remove them from the situation, and then handle it (with points from bullet 2 & 3 below). Be careful not to give too much attention to your child so that you do not give any positive reinforcement of the bad behavior (like talking too much through the problem).
2. How You Respond to Your Child is Key
Like I mentioned above, make sure to respond to them in a calm, collective manner. Yelling at them will only make it worse and won't create a winning solution in stopping it.
Believe me when I say that they are always watching you and notice how you react. It is important to understand the 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.
Give them consequences and follow through. Something I do when one of my children is having a rough moment is that I get on their level when speaking to them. If the situation allows, teach them breathing techniques and ask them to share why they are upset. This allows them to practice how to cool down and how to express themselves correctly.
3. Refocus Their Attention
It is always more effective to positively reinforce desired behaviors and to teach children alternative behaviors rather than just saying "no" or "stop" or feeling like or that you’ll bribe them with sweets (as an example) if they don't stop.
And though time-outs are okay, also try to tell them that the next time they are angry, they should use their words instead.
4. Set Realistic Expectations about Your Child’s Ability to Follow Rules and Comply with Requests
Remember that younger children have short attention spans and are easily distracted. That is why it's important to keep your instructions to them simple and clear. Clear directions are the most beneficial way for them to learn.
Also, give them time to switch gears and do not expect them to immediately grasp what you say or perfect what needs improvement. Younger kids learn at a slower pace than older kids, and we simply need to keep reminding them calmly, practicing with them, and patiently encouraging them. Doing this is when we will be able to see changes.
5. Fix Bad Behavior and Praise Good Behavior
It is important that you help children identify triggers that lead to their aggressive behaviors and prompt them to cool down when they’re upset. Not only is fixing their behavior important, but when you praising them for expressing their feelings correctly, it lets them know that you don’t only see their mistakes but that you notice all the good they do and the ways they are improving! Reward and praise children when they use words rather than aggressive actions when frustrated.
6. Watch Them
Watch your child during aggressive outbursts and see if there is a pattern of behavior that occurs before his or her actions. For example: does he bite one person in particular? Are they triggered by frustration or excitement? Are there too many toys around? Does it happen whenever they don't want to share? Is there too much going on?
If we watch them enough, we will be better able to predict, prevent, and handle angry outbursts before or during their moments of aggressive expression.
- Minimize “high risk" situations that can lead your child to use aggressive behaviors
- Have your child count from 1-5 or 1-10 and slowly after letting out a deep breath
- Educate them that aggression hurts and is wrong
- Don’t let your kids watch violent TV or play violent games
- Don’t take it personally
- Appreciate their efforts big or small!
- Let books like Slumberkins or shows like Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street, and Esme & Roy help influence your child on good behavior and problem solving skills.
We know that this may feel overwhelming as you (and they) navigate through their development, but I promise you it is not impossible to educate your kids and improve their behavior. Don't be afraid to try new ideas to teach them to interact appropriately with kids and adults.
It really is all about being clear, simple, having a patient and soft attitude, and being consistent. Soon you will start to see your child's behavior improve and change. Know you're not alone in this! Soon the tantrums and hitting will be a distant memory. We know you and your child got this and we are cheering you on!