Aggression In Young Children

Aggressive behavior is common but unacceptable in children. What can you do to stop it?

There are many reasons that children behave aggressively. Contrary to popular belief, it may not have anything to do with how the child is being raised. Let's take a look at some of the causes, and how this behavior can be addressed.

Young children do not have good language skills compared to older children and adults. Often, a child may act aggressively because he feels angry or helpless and has no way of expressing these feelings verbally. Children generally understand language better than they can use it, so talk to the child in age-appropriate language about why it is important not to hit others, and how it makes them feel. Encourage your child to use the language that he does have at his disposal to make his feelings known. Role-playing with children this age can be helpful.

Some children do not have good language skills because of a disability. With young children, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a disability and normal development, since children develop linguistically at different rates. If you suspect that your child has trouble with verbal communication, hearing, or understanding, you should take him to a neurologist or speech language pathologist to begin ruling out a disability as a possible cause of aggression. It can be very frustrating for a child to want to understand and be understood, but not be able to. It can set up a very negative cycle of behavior and consequences that the child may not fully understand. If it does turn out that a disability is the cause of the aggression, the professional that you are working with will be able to give you tips on how to limit your child's aggressive behavior.



If your family engages in frequent horseplay at home, your child may not see the difference between acceptable behavior at home and acceptable behavior with peers. If he can shove his dad or older brother at home and get into an exciting wrestling match, he may not understand that shoving is not an acceptable behavior to others. You will need to discuss this with him, and if necessary, cut down on the amount of horseplay in your home until he is old enough to understand the distinction.

As with horseplay, television can model behavior that your child may think is acceptable in everyday life. Children's television programming is becoming more and more violent, and young children simply do not understand the distinction between pretend and reality when it comes to television, especially since often, violence can look extremely authentic on television. If you think this is the case, limit your child's time watching television, and closely monitor the shows that he is watching. If you encounter him watching a show that contains violent behavior, it can be a good opportunity to watch a bit of the show with him, and explain why it is not okay for people to behave in the manner depicted on the show.

Some children act out aggressively because they have been treated in the same manner, or because they are angry about something that is happening in their lives that they have no control over, such as parental arguments or divorce. Even a change in a parent's work schedule can trigger a bout of aggression. If your child has not been acting aggressively, and suddenly begins to do so, take a look at what may be happening in his life that may have triggered the aggressive outbursts.

Children also need to feel as though they have some control over their environment, and this need can certainly manifest itself through aggression. Sometimes a child may act aggressively merely to get a reaction or to regain control over a situation with another child when the other child is taking his toy, for example. This sort of aggression is very common, and is normal in toddlers. It is very difficult for very young children to separate what they are feeling from how they are acting. If they are feeling happy, they act happy and are pleasant to be around. If they are feeling angry, they act angry, and this includes aggression behavior. Over time, your child will come to have more self-control over his aggression and be able to separate his feeling from his behavior if given the proper guidance.

Regardless of the reason behind the aggression, there are some things you can do to reduce it. The most important thing is to be consistent with your expectations and discipline. If your child gets sent to time-out for hitting once, then he should be sent to time-out every time he hits. Otherwise, he will not know where the boundary lies, and will continue to test it, and possibly become more aggressive, because he is confused and does not know when he should stop or what the consequences will be. Children need to know what the consequences are for their behavior, as it makes them feel emotionally safe.

Let your child know that having angry feelings is okay, but that hitting and biting people is not. Give your child the choice of taking a time-out before his anger reaches the level of aggression, if possible. This way, time-out is not a punishment so much as it is an opportunity for the child to get himself under control. You can even explain that grown-ups also take time-outs when they feel angry and do not want to talk to people nicely. You also want to try to catch the child behaving appropriately when he is angry, and praise him for his self-control. For example, you could say, "I know you were angry when Jonathon took your truck, but you used your words and did not hit. I'm very proud of you!"

With a stable environment, consistent expectations and discipline, appropriate interventions as needed and lots of patience on your part, you can help your child learn to control his aggression. Never hesitate to ask for help from your child's pediatrician if the child's aggression escalates or does not decrease after you have given the situation some time. Your pediatrician may be able to give you referrals to other experts as well, if needed. Whatever the case, remember that you are not alone. Aggression is a very common behavior with the small set, and chances are, with the right training, your child will outgrow it fairly quickly.

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