Tips to Manage Aggressive Child Behavior

It can take you by surprise to see your child acting out with aggressive behavior. Whether it has been slowly escalating or has hit you out of nowhere, aggression can take a toll on the whole family. It can leave you feeling concerned and potentially a bit fearful.

As a parent, you have likely faced your fair share of emotional outbursts, tantrums, and meltdowns. Toddlers and young children need to learn emotional regulation, which is something we all learn at our own pace.

How can you tell whether your child’s aggressive behavior is a part of their learning self-control or whether it’s something that’s getting out of hand, though?

Learning how to help your child manage aggressive behaviors will help them to prepare for the challenges that life will bring their way.

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 aggression

How 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
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Verbal attacks
  • Threats to harm themselves and others

Signs that aggressive behavior is taking a negative toll in several areas of the child’s life include:

  • Difficulty with schoolwork and homework
  • Having trouble with relating to peers
  • Frequent disruptive behavior within the home, or when visiting friends

These are warning signs that may be cause for concern. You should not ignore them. The behavior that your child is displaying may have an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Underlying behaviors that can cause aggressive outbursts include:

  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Learning disabilities not yet diagnosed

Strategies and tips for managing aggressive behavior in children

It 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, collected

This 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 behavior

If 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 things

It 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.”

You might be surprised at how much your child needs to hear this positive reinforcement and to be validated for even simple tasks.

Identifying patterns and triggers

Children 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?

By understanding what may be potentially triggering the aggressive behavior can be so important. You can add some structure to your mornings, add in a to-do list for what an afternoon after school should look like, and you can work on managing the reactions by setting expectations for your child.

Remember that aggressive behavior doesn’t necessarily take place because your child has a conduct disorder. We all can behave with aggression, but many factors can impact how we react. Stressful situations at home or school, autism, ADHD, emotional regulation challenges, and even genetic factors may impact your child’s potential for aggressive responses.

Genetic factors put some kids at higher risk for trouble. So does early life stress. As a parent, it’s important that you don’t take their aggressive behavior personally. It is just as important that you find the right help for your whole family.

A residential treatment center staffed by mental healthcare professionals can provide your child with the structure and security needed to work through aggressive behavior. Call Liahona Treatment Center to be connected with the resources that can address the needs of your family.

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