Dealing with a Child’s Aggression

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“You better give me that or I am going to punch you in the face,” said the son to his mother as he balled up his fist to punch.

The mother felt that this was a good time to give into her son’s demands as it was not worth the fight, particularly over an action figure.

All parents experience aggression from their children in one form or another. For most parents, their child’s aggression can be easily managed while other parents have more of a struggle reining in their child’s aggressive impulses.

Of course parents are not the only ones exposed to aggressive children. Teachers, coaches, and other adults also have to deal with children’s aggression. The goal for parents and other adults who are around children is to minimize the aggression and try to avoid having the aggressive child be ostracized by other children and adults.

There are several ways to minimize children’s aggression. One way is to realize that no child is always bad. This means that every child has times when he behaves well too. Adults need to notice when aggressive children are behaving in a kind or thoughtful manner and praise them for it.

Another way to minimize aggression is to always let children who are aggressive know that they are still cared for and respected, regardless of their actions. It can be easy to label children as “bad” or “no good” after they display aggressive behaviors. Don’t fall into that trap as children are not the sum of a few poor decisions. Children need to know that even when they behave poorly, that an adult will still be there for them.

Sometimes adults don’t feel like dealing with children’s aggressive behavior and simply ignore it. While ignoring behaviors like whining and complaining can be effective, adults should not let more inappropriate aggressive behaviors pass like the mother did in the situation above. Rather, adults need to let children know that inappropriate aggression will not be tolerated and that there are negative consequences for being aggressive.

When adults confront children’s aggressive behavior there are preferred methods to use to intervene. One method is to remain calm and role model a positive way to solve the child’s problem without becoming aggressive. Another method is to not try and rationalize with children about their aggressive behavior or when administering consequences. This will just give children an opportunity to engage in a power struggle with the adult.

A great way to deal with aggressive behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This can start with establishing clear household rules that children have to follow. These rules should be simple and concrete. It is also important for parents to be consistent in enforcing these rules.

Along with household rules, parents can use behavior contracts to assist children in controlling their behavior. A behavior contract should list targeted positive behaviors that are expected and a reward that can be received for meeting a certain number of these behaviors. These behaviors should be framed from a “Do” standpoint versus a bunch of “Don’ts”.

Adults who find themselves dealing with aggressive children can use some of these techniques to control their behavior. Remember that all children display positive behaviors and that a few aggressive actions do not define the child.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on April 26, 2015

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