Is aggression typical behavior for kids?We expect toddlers to act out and display some aggressive behaviors. This is quite often developmentally appropriate for them. Children may lean into physical expressions of anger or frustration at a young age because they do not yet have the right language skills that they need to express what they are thinking or feeling. For example, if a toddler pushes a friend down during a playdate, this may be considered typical behavior. It may not necessarily be an indicator of aggression unless it becomes apparent that it’s part of a pattern.
Recognizing whether it’s true aggressionHow can you tell whether your child is demonstrating age-appropriate behavior or acting out with true aggression? By the time neuro-typical children are at an age where they have the verbal skills needed to communicate what they are feeling, their aggressive behavior should naturally taper off. If this doesn’t happen, it may be time to be concerned about your child’s aggressive behavior. This is particularly the case if the child is acting out violently and putting himself and others in the path of injury. Aggression can take on different forms and could look like any of the following:
- Property destruction
- Throwing things, either at someone or just out of rage
- Verbal attacks
- Threats to harm themselves and others
- Difficulty with schoolwork and homework
- Having trouble with relating to peers
- Frequent disruptive behavior within the home, or when visiting friends
- Learning disabilities not yet diagnosed
Strategies and tips for managing aggressive behavior in childrenIt is important to get to the root of aggressive behavior. However, no matter the cause, if the aggressive outbursts take a toll on the child’s daily life, it is time to consider a new approach.
Remain calm, cool, collectedThis can feel like an impossible task when faced with a child demonstrating aggressive and defiant behavior. However, when a child shows outbursts of emotion, it can make the situation much more emotionally charged if a parent meets the child’s emotion with even more emotion. It may even increase the aggression that the child is displaying. Instead, the better direction for parents is to demonstrate emotional regulation. Keeping calm, cool, and collected, with a level head, can be the first step in diffusing a tense situation. What this looks like may be different each time that you are faced with aggressive and otherwise unacceptable behavior. You may need to take several deep breaths to clear your head. Or you may need to separate the child by putting him in a timeout or his bedroom until things have settled.
Don’t give into the behaviorIf your child is having a meltdown because you won’t buy something they want when running errands, it can be tempting to give in so that the aggressive behavior stops. Perhaps your child doesn’t want to do his homework and is screaming or throwing things. Certainly, it’ll be understandable if you give in just to restore peace in your home. Unfortunately, this is only going to serve to reward and reinforce the aggressive behavior. Your child will learn that all he needs to do is throw a tantrum, scream, hit or insult and he will get his way.
Reward the good thingsIt can be all too easy to focus on aggressive and negative behaviors. These are situations infused with high levels of emotion, but it is important to reward positive behavior even if it isn’t anything beyond meeting expectations. Handing out prizes or treats isn’t necessarily the best approach unless your child seems to be ultra-motivated to earn extra screen or game time. Rewards could also look like picking out dinner for the family or picking out a movie and snacks for family movie night. Recognition for good behavior and praise for trying hard carry a power all of their own. Examples of verbal praise may include:
- “You did your homework so well.”
- “Thank you for tidying up your bedroom.”
- “I appreciated your help putting the dishes away.”
Identifying patterns and triggersChildren of all ages can often be seen expressing several emotions as aggressive behavior. For some, this expression of anger can be due to being triggered by something that is upsetting them. They may not yet know how to recognize what is upsetting them and may not know how to use their words to express these feelings. By observing them and identifying when the aggressive behavior kicks off, you can potentially find a better way to manage this behavior. Questions to ask yourself to start identifying behavior patterns:
- Does the behavior get worse in the mornings?
- Does it tend to accelerate at school or home when doing homework?
- Does the behavior tend to be explosive when certain people come over?