Most of us have heard stories from our parents about how strict their parents were and how one beating session would be enough to bring the children back on track. Life was pretty simple back then, with more leisure time to play instead of spending nights stressing over project assignments and other things young people have to worry about these days. Times are changing, and no matter what kind of parenting our parents got, it just cannot be the same for us or the coming generations. We see little children throwing tantrums at every little disappointment and sometimes they even exhibit aggressive behaviors. While temper tantrums are quite normal, consistent aggressive behaviors can make the parents worried about the child, and at the same time, they have no clue why their child is behaving in such an aggressive manner, or what needs to be done to help them. With this article, I’m hoping to shed some light on the possible reasons and some parenting tips that could help.
Solution to any problem can only be found when reasons due to which the problem has occurred are clear. Here are some possible reasons that could explain aggressiveness in children:
- Mood disorders: Children suffer from mood disorders too, and it could be one possible reason to explain the aggressive behavior. Children suffering from bipolar mood disorder are found to frequently become aggressive during their manic episodes. They become really impulsive and often do not have any control over themselves.
- Psychosis: Certain psychotic disorders can also result in aggressive behavior. For instance, schizophrenic children are usually responding to their internal stimuli and thus behave in an aggressive manner because they aren’t really in touch with reality.
- Agitation: Children suffering from intellectual impairment or autism can also exhibit aggressive behaviors. Their aggressive behavior is a result of their frustration due to difficulties in dealing with their problems, and also because of their inability to express their feelings in words.
- Impulsivity: In children with disruptive behavior disorders, such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the aggressiveness occurs due to their impulsivity and lack of proper decision-making. These children don’t really realize or consider the possible outcome of their actions which may come across as callous, when in fact, they’re just not thinking.
- Conduct disorder: If your child shows aggressive behavior frequently, there is a high possibility that they may have conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. It presents itself through repetitive patterns of behavior in which norms related to age appropriateness are not considered and basic rights of others are violated. Unlike disruptive behavior disorders, aggressive behaviors in conduct disorder are not the result of innocence. Here, the aggression, and the maliciousness are well-intended. Lower level of fear is one symptom of conduct disorder. One research shows that negative emotionality or fear can predict a toddler’s level of empathy in response to stressful situations. The findings state that if the immediate caregiver is not able to respond to infant cues and the kid doesn’t learn to handle their fears, they might lash out at others, especially on other children.
- Stressful situations: Children exposed to extremely stressful situations, those that they aren’t ready to deal with yet, can cause frustration which may lead to aggressive behaviors. The stressors can include unhealthy or harmful environment, abuse, violent neighborhood, neglectful parents, or similar conditions.
Apart from these reasons, it is also likely that your child just needs a better parenting to teach them about the reasons and ways to keep their emotions in check. Some children behave aggressively just to attract attention. It is very important to understand when you can handle your child’s aggressive outbursts by yourself, and when you should consider getting help from a professional psychologist. I’m listing down certain dos and don’ts that you, as a parent, can use to regulate your child’s behavior. I would like to bring to your attention four major advises that are necessary for you to follow to make sure that your child learns to let go of the aggressive attitude and become a compassionate person. These are: teaching self-control, stopping aggression at the moment, modeling good behavior and connecting with the child.
Teach your children self-control.
- Discuss their feelings: It is important to talk to children when they are young and make them understand what emotion they may possibly be going through, so that when they get a bit older, they will be able to identify the emotions and it will be easier for you to talk to them about it.
- Set limits and boundaries: Parents need to make it very clear to their children about which behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not. This is necessary to guide their behavior. The set limits must be consistent with no scope of bending the rules whatsoever.
- Teach coping strategies: Sometimes, aggressive behaviors are results of children not being able to cope with their emotions. In such situations, teach them healthy strategies to express their feelings. Ask them to slowly breathe in and out, or count numbers to ten. This will give them a moment to themselves and they will learn self-control.
- Identify what triggers the aggressive behavior: Children are usually aggressive when hungry or sleepy. You can keep track of your kid’s aggressive behavior and recognize what triggers them, and then work on it. For instance, if your child gets cranky when sleepy, make sure they follow a bed time routine every night and they have a fixed nap timing for the day.
Stop aggression at the moment.
- Don’t let things escalate: Yelling or hitting the child when they’re behaving aggressively might seem like a good idea, but it’s not. When you hit your child or shout at them, they will feel that it’s okay to yell at or hit someone whose actions they didn’t like. Instead sit down with them and talk empathetically with a calm voice.
- Discuss their behavior: Sometimes all it takes for the aggressive behavior to come to an end is to just point it out that their behavior is hurtful to others. Tell them, properly, the right way to behave and redirect them to the coping strategies that you’ve taught them. Maintain eye contact and touch them in an empathizing way as you do so.
- Change the environment: If your child doesn’t seem to calm down, just take them away from the current environment to help them reset. Go for a walk or a short ride with them. Or if you’re in a situation from which you cannot walk out, like a funeral, give them a snack to munch on or some game to play on your phone. It might help in distracting them for a while.
- Encourage making amends: Encourage them to apologize when they have acted aggressively and make amends with the person involved. By learning to repair the relationships, your kid will develop a conscience which is important for long term relationships.
Be a good role model.
- Try not to show aggression: When your child sees your aggressive outbursts, they begin to think that it’s okay to be that way. Instead of yelling or shouting, keep your tone calm and even. Don’t hit your children on behaving aggressively because they might start thinking that it’s okay to hit others.
- Teach them how to interact in a healthy way: Interact with others in a kind and respectful way so that when your child sees you, it becomes an unsaid expectation from them to behave similarly. You can show them that hitting isn’t necessary to resolve conflicts.
- Be respectful towards your child: Children learn to behave by seeing how you treat others and them. Addressing your children in a calm and respectful tone will make them feel compelled to do so also. Being angry or frustrated with them often isn’t going to help, if you feel frustrated take a few deep breaths to calm yourself first before addressing them.
Connect with your children.
- Spend time with them: Lack of attention can also result in aggressive behaviors sometimes. Spend time with them to make them realize they are loved and cared for. Do fun activities and play together to strengthen your bond.
- Don’t expect too much from them: As growing children, they are meant to make mistakes, so don’t be angry when you experience setbacks. Stay calm and teach them again and don’t think of it as a failure on your part.
- Criticize constructively: While discussing behaviors, make sure that you are being constructive. Praise them for their good behaviors first and then when it comes to their mistakes, suggest ways that they could have done better and what the child needs to do to rectify that mistake now. Don’t tell them that they are a bad person for behaving in a certain manner, make them understand that it is not acceptable, but at the same time, they are still loved.
- Physical contact is necessary: When you’re talking to your child about their behaviors, make it a point to hold their hand or put an arm around their shoulders in a loving manner. It will help keep their attention on you.
If you feel these parenting tips aren't working, and your child must be suffering from a mental illness, visit a psychologist immediately.