How to Deal With Childhood Aggression

Whether you are a caregiver, teacher or parent of a child who has issues with hitting, biting, punching, pulling hair or kicking when they get angry or stressed, this is a tricky situation. Many parents and caregivers worry that their child will develop a tendency to become a bully or be aggressive to other children, but often if they are given the right instructions and proper re-direction, this may not be the case.

Little kids, particularly preschool aged children or toddlers, do not have the maturity to handle stress, thereby acting on impulse. Some parents think the only way to handle a child such as this is through physical punishment, such as delivering spankings, hand slaps or other consequences. However, this has the opposite effect and can actually be confusing for a child. Telling a child not to hit and then hitting the child – even with a spanking – is not sending the right message.

However, if gentle discipline does not seem to get the message through to the child, it can be frustrating for a caregiver and also might lead to future actions in an aggressive child. What can be done as an alternative to deal with aggressive behavior in children?

Try some of these strategies:

  • Teach Compassion: First, deal with the child who may be crying and instruct the child who has hurt to sit so that you can console the crying child. Instead of yelling or lashing out at the child, ask him or her to help the child they have hurt and explain why it is wrong. Let them help with a bandage and ask them to apologize to the other child. Explain why it is wrong to hurt others.
  • Set up a Special Ball, Punching Bag or Outlet: If a child lashes out at another child, teach redirection. Tell the child you understand they are frustrated but that it is not okay to hurt another person. Tell them it is okay to take it out on the punching bag or ball instead when they feel angry.
  • Encourage Communication: Asking the child to be part of the steps to reverse their behavior might make them feel more in control of their actions. Say something like, “I understand you are frustrated your sister won’t give you back your toy, but hitting is not okay. What could you do differently next time?” Asking the child for a solution will help them to think of alternative solutions, rather than just yelling, “Don’t HIT!”
  • Redirection: Keep reminding the child what their hands are for, and then ask the child to show you. You could say something like, “Biting people is not okay. Your teeth are for chewing food only.” Or, “Hitting is mean, it hurts people. Use your hands for building things, not hitting, okay?”
  • Better Supervision: As caregivers and parents, we have a lot we are trying to accomplish. Doing chores, cooking dinner, etc. so it might be impossible to stand over your children like a hawk all the time. However, when you see or hear a potential situation, you should let them know, “Hey, I am within earshot so make sure you guys are being nice! I can hear you!” This lets the child know you are still being attentive and supervising them.
  • Observation: You may not have eyes in the back of your head, but your child doesn’t know that. Always be on the lookout when your child starts feeling frustrated or angry. If you intervene before the situation escalates, you may be able to teach the child a different way of handling their feelings.
  • Use Humor or Be Silly: Kids connect with things at their level, so if two children are fighting over a toy, you should offer to put the toy in a “time-out” until it behaves, or you can make a game out of teaching the child to have more control over their hands, feet, etc. Act silly and create your own rules of engagement to teach the child not to take objects and belongings so seriously, because people matter more than possessions.
  • Get Down to Their Level: Towering over the child and yelling or saying mean things only makes them feel worse. Instead, scoot down and look them straight in the eyes and explain very firmly why their behavior was wrong.

Before long, these tots will mature and hopefully get a better handle on their feelings. Signing them up for sports, martial arts and other things can also benefit them in many ways.