What to Do When Your Young Child Is Aggressive

Reviewed May 31, 2016

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Summary

  • certain amount of aggression normal
  • problem when frequent and intentional
  • teach him to use words instead of actions to express himself

Every parent dreads a report that their child has been biting, kicking or abusing others. Believe it or not, some kids get expelled from day care, and biting is the No. 1 cause. Persistent aggressive behavior also can lead to lost friends and hard feelings among neighbors, relatives and peers.

Normal vs. problem behavior

A certain amount of aggression is normal. Some children exhibit aggressive actions as early as age 1. But for most, it surfaces during the terrible 2s and 3s.

Aggression becomes a problem when kids frequently and intentionally hurt other kids, animals or property. Experts speculate that most aggressive behavior stems from anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety or “accidental” behaviors that turn into habit. For example, a baby reaches over and grabs a toy from another child. If he gets to keep the toy, then he has achieved his desired result, and probably will try the same technique again.

Keep in mind that assertive behavior is different from aggressiveness. All children need to learn how to stick up for themselves.

It’s also important for parents and caregivers to model self-control and cooperation. Unfortunately, aggressive behavior is often associated with exposure to family violence. So parents need to ask themselves how their family deals with problems. Is there a lot of hitting, screaming or ridiculing? Is there a possibility of physical or sexual abuse at home, school or day care?

What parents can do

Intense emotional or behavioral problems in a child require professional help. But parents can use many common-sense techniques to curb the onset of aggressive behavior:

  • Be firm, clear and consistent. Use words your child can understand. Say “no” at the first sign of trouble.
  • Do not use physical punishment. This only reinforces the idea that violence is acceptable.
  • Do not ridicule or tease an aggressive child as this adds to feelings of frustration, anger and sadness.
  • Pick up your child if she’s hurting someone. Hold her securely and tell her that hitting hurts people. Remove her from the scene if necessary.
  • Tell your child in advance that certain behaviors are not allowed: No biting, pushing, pulling, kicking.
  • Anticipate problems. If you know a certain toy leads to fights, put it away. If you’re in tight quarters, plan activities to occupy your child.
  • Teach your child to use words instead of actions to express himself. He could say, “I don’t want to share right now” instead of pushing another child away.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings: “I know you’re mad, but don’t hit.”
  • Reinforce good behavior. Be generous with affection, hugs, praise and rewards.
  • Make sure an aggressive child has plenty of positive physical outlets to expend excess energy.
  • Do not let children watch violent television shows and movies or play violent video games. More than 1,000 studies connect repeated exposure to violent entertainment with aggressive behavior in children.
  • Don’t ignore aggressive behavior toward siblings.
  • Take verbal threats seriously. Keep in mind that past aggression is the best predictor of future aggression.
  • If in doubt, seek professional help.
By Amy Fries
Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families www.aacap.org; National Parent Information Network

Summary

  • certain amount of aggression normal
  • problem when frequent and intentional
  • teach him to use words instead of actions to express himself

Every parent dreads a report that their child has been biting, kicking or abusing others. Believe it or not, some kids get expelled from day care, and biting is the No. 1 cause. Persistent aggressive behavior also can lead to lost friends and hard feelings among neighbors, relatives and peers.

Normal vs. problem behavior

A certain amount of aggression is normal. Some children exhibit aggressive actions as early as age 1. But for most, it surfaces during the terrible 2s and 3s.

Aggression becomes a problem when kids frequently and intentionally hurt other kids, animals or property. Experts speculate that most aggressive behavior stems from anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety or “accidental” behaviors that turn into habit. For example, a baby reaches over and grabs a toy from another child. If he gets to keep the toy, then he has achieved his desired result, and probably will try the same technique again.

Keep in mind that assertive behavior is different from aggressiveness. All children need to learn how to stick up for themselves.

It’s also important for parents and caregivers to model self-control and cooperation. Unfortunately, aggressive behavior is often associated with exposure to family violence. So parents need to ask themselves how their family deals with problems. Is there a lot of hitting, screaming or ridiculing? Is there a possibility of physical or sexual abuse at home, school or day care?

What parents can do

Intense emotional or behavioral problems in a child require professional help. But parents can use many common-sense techniques to curb the onset of aggressive behavior:

  • Be firm, clear and consistent. Use words your child can understand. Say “no” at the first sign of trouble.
  • Do not use physical punishment. This only reinforces the idea that violence is acceptable.
  • Do not ridicule or tease an aggressive child as this adds to feelings of frustration, anger and sadness.
  • Pick up your child if she’s hurting someone. Hold her securely and tell her that hitting hurts people. Remove her from the scene if necessary.
  • Tell your child in advance that certain behaviors are not allowed: No biting, pushing, pulling, kicking.
  • Anticipate problems. If you know a certain toy leads to fights, put it away. If you’re in tight quarters, plan activities to occupy your child.
  • Teach your child to use words instead of actions to express himself. He could say, “I don’t want to share right now” instead of pushing another child away.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings: “I know you’re mad, but don’t hit.”
  • Reinforce good behavior. Be generous with affection, hugs, praise and rewards.
  • Make sure an aggressive child has plenty of positive physical outlets to expend excess energy.
  • Do not let children watch violent television shows and movies or play violent video games. More than 1,000 studies connect repeated exposure to violent entertainment with aggressive behavior in children.
  • Don’t ignore aggressive behavior toward siblings.
  • Take verbal threats seriously. Keep in mind that past aggression is the best predictor of future aggression.
  • If in doubt, seek professional help.
By Amy Fries
Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families www.aacap.org; National Parent Information Network

Summary

  • certain amount of aggression normal
  • problem when frequent and intentional
  • teach him to use words instead of actions to express himself

Every parent dreads a report that their child has been biting, kicking or abusing others. Believe it or not, some kids get expelled from day care, and biting is the No. 1 cause. Persistent aggressive behavior also can lead to lost friends and hard feelings among neighbors, relatives and peers.

Normal vs. problem behavior

A certain amount of aggression is normal. Some children exhibit aggressive actions as early as age 1. But for most, it surfaces during the terrible 2s and 3s.

Aggression becomes a problem when kids frequently and intentionally hurt other kids, animals or property. Experts speculate that most aggressive behavior stems from anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety or “accidental” behaviors that turn into habit. For example, a baby reaches over and grabs a toy from another child. If he gets to keep the toy, then he has achieved his desired result, and probably will try the same technique again.

Keep in mind that assertive behavior is different from aggressiveness. All children need to learn how to stick up for themselves.

It’s also important for parents and caregivers to model self-control and cooperation. Unfortunately, aggressive behavior is often associated with exposure to family violence. So parents need to ask themselves how their family deals with problems. Is there a lot of hitting, screaming or ridiculing? Is there a possibility of physical or sexual abuse at home, school or day care?

What parents can do

Intense emotional or behavioral problems in a child require professional help. But parents can use many common-sense techniques to curb the onset of aggressive behavior:

  • Be firm, clear and consistent. Use words your child can understand. Say “no” at the first sign of trouble.
  • Do not use physical punishment. This only reinforces the idea that violence is acceptable.
  • Do not ridicule or tease an aggressive child as this adds to feelings of frustration, anger and sadness.
  • Pick up your child if she’s hurting someone. Hold her securely and tell her that hitting hurts people. Remove her from the scene if necessary.
  • Tell your child in advance that certain behaviors are not allowed: No biting, pushing, pulling, kicking.
  • Anticipate problems. If you know a certain toy leads to fights, put it away. If you’re in tight quarters, plan activities to occupy your child.
  • Teach your child to use words instead of actions to express himself. He could say, “I don’t want to share right now” instead of pushing another child away.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings: “I know you’re mad, but don’t hit.”
  • Reinforce good behavior. Be generous with affection, hugs, praise and rewards.
  • Make sure an aggressive child has plenty of positive physical outlets to expend excess energy.
  • Do not let children watch violent television shows and movies or play violent video games. More than 1,000 studies connect repeated exposure to violent entertainment with aggressive behavior in children.
  • Don’t ignore aggressive behavior toward siblings.
  • Take verbal threats seriously. Keep in mind that past aggression is the best predictor of future aggression.
  • If in doubt, seek professional help.
By Amy Fries
Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families www.aacap.org; National Parent Information Network

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